Anyone who has been to Rome has experienced the frustration of seeing spectacular ancient ruins and monuments… but sharing this experience with hundreds of others, elbowing each other to get a photo, yelling over one another, crowding, pushing against barriers that keep the masses from seeing the said monument up close and personal. Such is Rome. Sigh.
Not your cup of tea? Escape Rome for a day and experience Ostia Antica, an entire ancient city left to decay in the 9th century. No elbowing, no crowds… just a peaceful day of walking amongst ruins, imaging what this city looked like in its prime. No crowds, no lines, no security guards, no stress.
Founded in the 7th century BC, Ostia Antica was once a thriving port town just 19 miles northeast of Rome. The town served as Rome’s seaport, although thanks to natural composites of sediment, centuries later, it sits three kilometers from the sea.
At its peak during the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, Ostia Antica had 75,000 inhabitants. It is unclear why the city was deserted, although several factors probably contributed to its decay. A new harbor town, Portus, was built in the 1st century AD and became the primary harbor for Rome, causing many to lose business and move to other locations. War was also a factor: there are many reports of the city being attacked by Arab pirates throughout the centuries as well as records of a naval battle in 849 between Christians and Saracens called the Battle of Ostia, which is said to have prompted the remaining citizens of Ostia to move to Gregoriopolis.
The ancient city is a quick train ride from Rome and a beautiful day trip. Highlights include the amphitheater, organized public latrines, public baths, and the Ostia Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in Europe to date. It is an excellent opportunity to see the layout of wealthier homes: many still have portions of the mosaic floors in tact, and several have statues.
Perhaps the most exciting part of visiting Ostia Antica is how up close and personal visitors are to the ruins. There are walking paths; however, visitors are free to walk amongst the ruins, walk through the houses and military camps, and wander through this deserted city. It is a beautiful way to spend a day, and a highly recommended day trip out of Rome.