My Tours in Rome sightseeing center loves to take its customers to ancient Ostia for multiple reasons. First, since there is not that much left of ancient Rome in Rome itself, Ostia can give a good example of how the Romans lived and worked. Secondly, Ostia is still today an undervisted place and therefore never overly crowded. A visit to Ostia antica is a pleasant experience and a cultural enrichment that anybody going to Rome should make.
LEARN WHAT THE NAME OSTIA MEANS
The etymology in Latin of the name “Ostia” means “Mouth” and refers to the strategic position of Ostia that is located at the border between the Tiber River and the Tyrrenian sea. Therefore, we cannot study Ostia if we disjoint the city from the role of the main river of Rome.
YOU DON’T NEED TO GO TO POMPEI TO UNDERSTAND THE ROMAN CIVILIZATION
Although Pompei has the record of being the best preserved ancient town in the Roman world- for having been buried under the volcanic ashes of the Vesuvius vulcan- Ostia, on the other hand, offers a paradigmatic example of how business was conducted 2,000 years ago: after that our bus dropped off your group at the main entrance of the excavations, you can head to the Piazzale of the Corporations, where floor mosaics sponsored by the main local businesses proudly show what jobs were available in that town. The dynamic life of a typical inhabitant of Ostia ranged from being a member of a business in charge of carrying bricks or food to Rome to being a proactive member of the local magistracy.
THE FIRST COLONY OF ROME
As Rome expanded through the sea, the old harbor located near the Tiberine island became insufficient; a new place was investigated in the 4th century BC. Ostia was selected as first settlement outside of Rome not only for its strategic role of being a salt warehouse, but also because the Romans needed supplies from the allies when they were getting ready for the Punic Wars. Ostia is a testimony of the expansion of Rome in the Mediterranean sea.
THE ORGANIZATION OF THE BUILDINGS
For good reasons, Ostia can be considered a smaller version of Rome in terms of town planning. As all the main towns founded by the Romans reflect the military camps with two main roads intersecting in the central point, Ostia is no exception to this rule. Its originary rectangular plan takes into account the need to be also a main defensive post in case threats would arrive throgh the Tiber to Rome. In times of peace, however, roads were flanked by notorious buildings such as the theater restored under Septimius Severus and the new harbor created under Trajan in the II century AD.
THERMAL BATHS AS PLACE FOR SOCIAL GATHERING
Fortunately, Ostia still abounds in thermal baths. Baths were an achievement the Romans were always proud of. Going to the thermal bath was not only matter of persoanl hygiene but also a way to socialize. The most beautiful mosaics that survive still today in Ostia belong to the thermal baths. Some of them were colored and others were black and white, but we can only imagine how beautiful they were when they could be seen through the water ! Mosaics depict marines and mythological scenes that were familiar to the Romans.
OSTIA AS TOWN OF MIDDLE CLASS ROMANS
In Ostia everybody was busy at work, but it is in the residential buildings that we have a clue of the societal level of the Romans. If it is true that Pompei preserves houses that belonged to rich senators, Ostia, on the other hand, had an extensive complex of apartments called “insulae” where Romans spent their private lives. These units had balconies, large windows and were composed of two to three rooms each, telling us that Roman families living in Ostia were not so large.