Our original plan was to trek south to Naples so we could see Pompeii, but time and money did not allow for such a journey. One of my co-workers, Helen Park, suggested that if we couldn’t make that trip, we should visit Ostia Antica instead. It’s only about 30 miles from central Rome and easily accessible via the suburban rail lines. So, we took her advice.
Smart move. The place is actually hard to describe – you’re walking on streets that don’t seem to have changed much in 2000 years. I won’t bore you with a long history (you can find that here), but the gist is this: Ostia was the main harbor city for Rome during the late Republic and Imperial eras. The fall of the Empire, coupled with environmental issues, led the city to be abandoned gradually and covered with layers of silt. Looting and invasions occurred, but they were minimal compared to what went on elsewhere, especially in Rome itself.
Now, it’s a massive archeological site, where you can climb on most of the structures, unassailed by a crush of tourists. Ostia should be much better known than it is, but it’s also nice to wander around without being rendered immobile by the crowds (hello, Vatican Museum!).
Gotta love a city where you’re greeted by the dead
She’ll have what the praetor on the floor is having
You enter through the necropolis, which is where Romans wisely buried their dead (or stored the ashes), outside the city proper. As you pass through the gates, you see remnants of a busy, working-class community’s daily life.
There are insulae, the apartment buildings average people lived in, stacked up along the stone streets. Shops, warehouses, and taverns are everywhere, including one where you can still sit at the bar.
Since public baths were popular places for business transactions, there are dozens of them, complete with elaborate mosaics. The amphitheater is still in good shape. Even the temples can be made out pretty well, although they’re generally less intact than other structures.
We spent four hours there, and I was ready to move in. We ate lunch at the visitors’ center and checked out the gift shop, then ventured to another beautiful spot, looking down over what we thought might be the western boundary of the city.
We were quite mistaken.
Only 6 more hours to go!
By this time, it was nearing sunset, and we were both tired. I could have gone on until we got kicked out, but Mom’s feet were not responding well to the pavements (or lack thereof). Plus, she wanted to go to the beach, which we had assumed we’d be doing by this time.
So, the other half of Ostia is on the bucket list for my next trip to Rome, and we will be spending more time at the beach. It was a little chilly for a full day there, but after Mom kindly indulged my historic (heh) nerdiness, the least I could do was make sure we walked along the shore for a while.
Exhausted as we were, we hopped on the train and went to Castel Fusano, the next-to-last stop on the rail line. The station was three blocks from the water, and since it was off-season, we had free run of the place. We admired the dark sands and tiny, shiny black seashells that cover the beach there. We wrinkled our noses at the jellyfish carcasses that had washed ashore.
And we saw the sunset. It may not have been the seaside excursion Mom was hoping for, but it was a lovely, peaceful way to end our last full day in this extraordinary place.
That night, we finally ate at the little restaurant a block away from our apartment, where the staff had invited us in every day since we arrived. We turned in early, and headed to the airport at waytoodamnearly o’clock. on Wednesday. We changed planes in Munich, which meant getting German stamps on our passports (although l don’t think it really counts if you never leave the airport). We arrived back in D.C. that night, physically destroyed, but absolutely thrilled.
The next day was a cold, rainy Halloween, so we stayed in our hotel room, watching horror movies on cable and ordering in our meals. Mom was still in pain from all the walking, and I had inexplicably gotten sick on the flight from Munich, so it took a full day to recover. We flew home Friday, ready to share our experience – and plan our next trip. Because we are definitely not done.
Final round of pictures below….