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Ostia Antica, one of Italy’s most interesting and best-preserved archaeological sites, is also one of the country’s best-kept secrets. Well, that’s certainly the impression one gets when arriving there, due to the distinctly unusual tranquility of the place, and the conspicuous lack of tour groups, roving guides, and buses.
Considering that Ostia Antica is only a 30-minute train ride from the center of Rome, it is truly worth a visit!
Highlights of the former port’s long and colorful history include its establishment by a legendary Roman King sometime around the 7th century B.C (though no-one really knows for sure), frequent raids by arson-loving, river-hopping pirates, being overtaken by numerous Roman emperors who tarted the place up in accordance with current architectural trends, being the place where Santa Monica–the patron saint of married women–died in a local pub, slowly evolving into a country retreat for idle Roman aristocrats, and eventually falling into abandonment and decay somewhere around the 9th century A.D. (Whew!)
Ostia Antica today
Today, Ostia Antica is a sprawling stretch of painstakingly restored ruins which, despite their age, successfully retain the essence of the city’s former complexity and grandeur.
The best thing about Ostia Antica is the fact that, apart from practically having the place to yourself, you can wander around the ruins and easily imagine what it was like to have lived in a thriving and cosmopolitan city like Ostia. You can imagine buying your fruit and vegetables at one of the many shop fronts which line the main thoroughfare. Or, marvel at the almost flawlessly preserved mosaics which formed the hot and steamy Roman baths. Why not have a go at worshiping the sun god in one of the spectacular pagan temples? (Or you could imagine what it was like trying to get a little privacy with twenty other people with you in one of the many communal latrines….)
The Castle of Julius II
Once you have spent a couple of hours walking amongst and climbing over the ruins, it is worth going to have a peek at Castle of Julius II, located just across the road. The castle is situated in the gorgeous little Piazza della Rocca, in which Ostia’s inhabitants go about their daily business and several plump and friendly local cats will happily escort you around.
Getting there and getting in
Take the metro to “Piramide Station” on Line B. From there, get on the city urban line towards “Lido di Ostia.” Get off at “Ostia Antica,” cross the footbridge and follow the signs. Trains leave every half hour and the fare is covered by a €1 metro ticket.
Entry fee is €6.50 for adults over 25. Those between 18 – 25 get in for half price. If you’re under 18 or over 65, you don’t have to pay at all! Open between 8:30 AM – 6:00 PM. Closed Mondays.
Cheapo tip: The eateries in Ostia Antica aren’t fabulous, unless you are willing to pay a little more than you probably want to. So, if possible, pack your lunch!