Ostia Antica: The First Roman Colony

Ostia Antica: The First Roman Colony

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Ostia Antica is an archaeological site located on the outskirts of Rome. Although the Romans referred to the site as Ostia, this article will use the term Ostia Antica, so as to avoid confusion with the modern Roman municipio of Ostia (known officially as Lido di Ostia). Ostia Antica was the harbor city of ancient Rome and was therefore an important commercial center.

The city enjoyed great prosperity during the Imperial period, but began to decline around the 3rd century AD. This decline was gradual, and Ostia Antica was finally abandoned during the 9th century AD. During the Medieval and Renaissance periods, the ruins of the ancient Roman city were quarried for building materials and sculptor’s marble respectively. Nevertheless, for the most part, Ostia Antica was largely left undisturbed.

During the 19th century, the first archaeological excavations were carried out under papal authority. Under the regime of Benito Mussolini, excavations at Ostia Antica intensified, until about two thirds of the site were unearthed. Today, Ostia Antica is an archaeological park that is open to the public.

Ostia Antica the Ancient Roman Port

The name ‘Ostia’ (which is the plural of ‘ostium’) is derived from the Latin ‘os’, which means ‘mouth’. The ‘mouth’ here refers to the mouth of the Tiber River, where the site was located. In ancient times, Ostia Antica was on the Tyrrhenian coast and had direct access to the sea.

From the Middle Ages onward, however, the natural silting of the delta resulted in the movement of the shoreline further out into the sea. As a consequence, Ostia Antica became landlocked and is today almost 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the sea. The site is situated about 18 miles (30 kilometers) to the west of Rome.

Ostia Antica was originally set on the shoreline. (Ioannis Syrigos)

Human beings may have been present in the area of Ostia Antica as early as the Middle and Late Bronze Age, i.e. between 1400 and 1000 BC. This is due to the presence of salt-pans to the east of Ostia Antica, and salt may have already been extracted there during this period. Additionally, it has been speculated that by the Early Iron Age, i.e. 1000 to 700 BC, a small settlement had already been established near these salt-pans.

Ostia Antica the First Roman Colony

The ancient Romans regarded Ostia Antica as their first colony and according to tradition the city was founded by Ancus Marcius, the legendary fourth king of Rome. Ancus Marcius is said to have ruled over the Roman Kingdom between 640 and 617 BC. Although the ancient sources mention that Ostia Antica was founded in 620 BC, this tradition is not supported by the archaeological evidence.

This is due to the fact that remains dating to this period have yet to be unearthed in or near the site. Some scholars are doubtful of the ancient sources and suggest that it is more likely that Ancus Marcius merely extended the territory of Rome, and that he gained control of the salt-pans near the site. Other scholars believe that while there was a settlement at the site of Ostia Antica by the 7th century BC, it must have been a small outpost.

To date, the oldest infrastructure discovered at Ostia Antica is a road that began at the mouth of the Tiber. This road, which stretched to the southeast, has been dated to the 6th or 5th century BC.

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The Roman road to Ostia Antica began at the Tiber. (Ioannis Syrigos)

The first part of the road (located in the northwestern part of the military fortress that was built later) is referred to by archaeologists as the Via della Foce (meaning ‘Road of the Mouth’), whereas the second part is known as the ‘southern stretch of the Cardo’. Due to this ancient road, Ostia Antica would acquire an irregular layout during the Imperial period.

The oldest settlement that has been discovered at Ostia Antica is the so-called Castrum. This was a rectangular military fortress with walls made of huge tufa blocks. Based on historical events, it has been suggested that the Castrum was constructed between 396 and 267 BC.

A military fortress was the first structure built at Ostia Antica. (Ioannis Syrigos)

Most scholars today believe that the Castrum was built between 349/8 and 338 BC, as this was a period when Rome was facing the threat of pirates and was at war with its neighbors. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that some kind of fortification was built at Ostia Antica during that time to protect the Roman coastline, and the republic’s interests in that area.

During the 3rd century BC, Ostia Antica functioned primarily as a naval base. For instance, during the first two Punic Wars (264 – 201 BC), which were fought by Rome and Carthage over mastery of the western Mediterranean, Ostia Antica served as the main base for its fleet on the west coast of the Italian peninsula . In the century that followed, however, Ostia Antica was turned into a commercial harbor. This was due to the fact that Rome’s population was increasing, thanks to the republic’s military successes.

This growth in the city’s population meant that there were more mouths to feed, and grain was being imported from Sicily and Sardinia, and, after 146 BC, from Africa as well. The grain from these areas would be shipped to Ostia Antica, and thence transported to Rome. Unfortunately, little remains of the settlement that existed during this period, as the city was almost completely rebuilt during the 2nd century AD.

The Defense of Ostia Antica

Ostia Antica was plundered twice during the 1st century BC. In 88 BC, civil war broke out in Rome between Gaius Marius and Sulla. During the war, the forces of Gaius Marius occupied Ostia Antica, and plundered the city. In 69/8 BC, Ostia Antica was plundered once again, this time by pirates.

In addition to sacking the city, the pirates also destroyed a Roman fleet in the harbor. The Romans sent Pompey to fight the pirates and they were soon dealt with. In order to prevent such an incident from repeating in the future the Romans also decided to build new walls for the settlement.

Construction of the walls began in 63 BC under Cicero but were only completed in 58 BC under Cicero’s political rival, Publius Clodius Pulcher. Apart from the new walls, other important monuments built in Ostia Antica during the 1st century BC were the Four Small Temples and the Temple of Hercules. These monuments were commissioned by members of the local aristocracy, who also wielded considerable influence over Rome.

Walls were constructed to defend Ostia Antica. (Ioannis Syrigos)

During the reign of the emperor Claudius, an artificial harbor, Portus, was built about 2 miles (3 kilometers) to the north of Ostia Antica. By this time, Rome had grown into a ‘mega city’, and the amount of grain needed to feed its inhabitants was greater than ever before. Ostia Antica was not able to cope with this growing demand for several reasons.

As a port on the mouth of the river, silting was a constant problem, as it made the river base shallower. Moreover, the Tiber is not a very large river. This meant that the extremely large grain ships had to anchor out in the open sea, and have their cargo transported to Ostia by smaller ships and boats. While out at sea, these grain ships were vulnerable to attacks from pirates, while the currents at the mouth of the river made it difficult for the smaller ships / boats to enter the Tiber.

Claudius recognized this problem and in 42 AD initiated the construction of Portus. The emperor did not live to see the completion of his project, as Portus was completed in 64 AD, 10 years after Claudius’ death . During the reign of Trajan, improvements were made to the Claudian harbor and a hexagonal basin was added.

Thus, Portus superseded Ostia Antica as the main harbor of Rome. Today, however, Portus is largely forgotten. Compared to Ostia Antica, Portus is much less developed, archaeologically speaking.

Since the late 1990s, however, Portus has been the subject of intensive archaeological investigation. The Portus Project, as it is known today, is led by Simon Keay from the University of Southampton, and involves a number of different institutions, including the University of Cambridge, the British School at Rome, and the Archaeological Superintendency of Rome.

Ostia Antica Builds in Grand Roman Style

Although much of Rome’s harbor traffic went to Portus, Ostia Antica did not experience a decline and continued to prosper, especially during the first half of the 2nd century AD. Most of the buildings that have been excavated by archaeologists date to this period. Among the monuments constructed during this era of prosperity were the new barracks built for the firefighters from Rome, the Capitolium, and public baths.

It has been estimated that at this time, Ostia Antica had a population of 50,000. In order to accommodate all these people, brick apartments of three, four, and even five stories were built. Furthermore, the walls of these buildings were painted, while their floors were decorated with mosaics.

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Mosaics covered the floors of the buildings at Ostia Antica. (Ioannis Syrigos)

The fortune enjoyed by Ostia Antica and its inhabitants lasted till the end of the Severan period, i.e. the first half of the 3rd century AD. The era that followed is referred today as the Crisis of the Third Century , which saw political upheavals and economic decline throughout the empire. Ostia Antica was not spared from these troubles.

This is evident in the fact that during this time the construction of public buildings was greatly reduced, and so was trade activity. Additionally, the city was damaged by several earthquakes. The fact that the rubble was often not even cleared (since rebuilding was deemed not to be economical) is another sign of the city’s decline.

Ostia Antica’s Decline

Although Ostia Antica lost its importance as an major port city, it was still a pleasant place to live in, and therefore was transformed into a residential area for the wealthy. Between the second half of the 3rd century AD to the 5th century AD, many luxurious houses were built at Ostia Antica. It is thought that these residences belonged to merchants who were working at Portus.

Ostia Antica became home to the elite. (Ioannis Syrigos)

In 410 AD, Rome was sacked by the Visigoths, who were led by Alaric. Portus was also captured, but Ostia Antica was spared, since it was ignored by the invaders. The city was not so fortunate in 455 AD, however, as it was sacked by the Vandals, led by Gaiseric, who were on their way to attack Rome.

The quality of life at Ostia Antica continued to decline in the centuries that followed. Moreover, raids by pirates became more frequent. In response to this threat, a new town to the east of Ostia Antica was founded by Pope Gregory IV.

This town was fortified and called Gregoriopolis (known as Ostia Antica today). In spite of these defenses, when Muslim raiders plundered the outskirts of Rome in 946 AD, they were able to capture the town and slaughtered the small garrison that was defending it.

During the Middle Ages Ostia Antica was a quiet town. Nevertheless, it became known for its marbles. These valuable stones, once used by the Romans for the construction of their monuments, were being quarried by medieval builders to be re-used. The search for marble at Ostia Antica was not a particularly difficult task, as the ruins of the city were not completely buried.

Marble from monuments at Ostia Antica was taken by medieval builders to be re-used. (Ioannis Syrigos)

Thus, marble from Ostia can be found in the cathedrals of such places as Pisa, Florence, Amalfi, and Orvieto. Marble continued to be quarried during the Renaissance, though during this period, it was used for sculptures.

Between the 15th and 18th centuries, Ostia Antica attracted foreigners as well, who scoured the ruins for inscriptions and statues. These artifacts were then brought back to their home countries and kept in private collections.

In the early 19th century, Carlo Fea, the director general of antiquities, put a halt to the random searching of the ruins at Ostia Antica. Not long after, the first excavations of the site were initiated by Pope Pius VII, since the area was under papal authority. Archaeological work at Ostia Antica continued in the 130 years.

By 1938, a third of the ancient city had been unearthed. In the following year, Benito Mussolini initiated a program of extensive and hurried excavations. At the conclusion of the project in 1942, more than 600,000 cubic meters of earth had been removed, and another third of the city uncovered.

Nevertheless, due to the nature of the work, detailed records were not made during the excavations, and much valuable information has been lost. As for the unexcavated areas, some important discoveries have been made in recent years, thanks to geophysics. During the 20th century, many excavated buildings were restored and the site is today an archaeological park open to the public.

Exploring Roman History At Ostia Antica, Rome’s Ancient Sea Port

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My first view of Ostia Antica was from the air, as the plane came in to land at Fiumicino Airport. I could see its position in relation to the sea and the River Tiber. And I could see the size of the place, the ruins of an entire Roman town. This was going to be a good place to explore Roman history, a site to rival Pompeii.

Discover Ostia Antica, the Port of Rome

Sitting at the mouth of River Tiber at about 25 km from Rome, Ancient Ostia was the first colony of Rome and developed its crucial role throughout the growth of the Empire, becoming the central Port of the Eternal City.

The name Ostia comes from the Latin word Ostium , meaning mouth of a river. Today, the modern Ostia lies just a few kilometers from the Ancient town due to the siltation of materials carried by the continuous flow of the waters, whereas the old town is now abandoned and turned into an incredibly well preserved archaeological site.

Walking through the charming alleys of the historical location means traveling back in time to a glorious past within easy reach, so this is the ideal day trip from Rome if you wish to maximise your time. Comparing it to the more famous Pompeii, Ancient Ostia has nothing to envy to its Southern counterpart as it gives the visitor an interesting insight into the Roman Empire and Rome itself.

Being so close to the Capital City, you can comfortably arrive there both by car or public transportation, getting on the Roma - Lido, a suburban train that connects Ostia with Rome center.


According to the legend, Ancient Ostia was originally founded by Ancus Marcius, who was the fourth king of Rome. Previously, along river Tiber there was another town that was soon destroyed by the king who established a roman colony and a military base to protect his brand new town.

The first step to a new established role of Ostia was under Julius Caesar dictatorship. At that time, Caesar ordered Ostia to perform a central role in Rome grain supply to feed the fast-growing amount of people through a new Port. Soon Ostia grew more and more through trades and warehousing.

During Roman Empire, several Emperors strongly believed in the importance of having Ostia as the central Port of Rome. Among these Emperors, Tiberius was the one who enriched it by ordering the construction of Ostia&rsquos Forum. His successors, Emperor Claudius and Trajan, kept on renovating this valuable city by building up a harbour each. Claudius&rsquo Harbour, located on the northern mouth of the river, was soon replaced by the larger hexagonal Trajan's Harbour to avoid siltation.

What to see in Ancient Ostia

The true highlights of the archaeological site of Ancient Ostia are definitely the Baths of Neptune which hosts well preserved stunning mosaics.

The Baths of Neptune are located in the eastern part of Ancient Ostia, near the main street called Decumanus Maximus . As other public baths of Roman Empire, this one is fully equipped with heating and cooling facilities and even a gym. Romans knew all about training so they built their public baths in the way that each visitor could go through a healthy path, across cold, tepid and hot rooms to strengthen both body and soul.

Climbing up to the top of the Baths, an impressive view of huge black and white mosaics depicting marine scenes will take your breath away. These brilliant mosaics are inspired by mythical characters such as mermaids and sea creatures and the God Neptune, who gave his name to these marvellous Baths.

Another must see is Ancient Ostia Theatre , located in the area nearby the Decumanus and Baths of Neptune. This is a semi circular theatre originally built under Emperor Augustus by his friend Agrippa. Although the back wall had been ruined and destroyed throughout the last centuries, the rest of the theatre is almost entirely preserved and both the majority of seats and the marble floor at the bottom are still in use. Going up to the top, there is an astonishing view of the ruins of the archaeological site.

Last but not least, we cannot forget to mention the Decumanus Maximus , the main fascinating street of the Ancient Ostia. Starting at Porta Marina, where many centuries ago the land was embraced by the deep blue waters of the Sea, this 1 kilometer long road divides in two the ancient site and all the relevant buildings were located by the side of it.

Undoubtedly, Ancient Ostia is a worth seeing alternative choice for a day trip from Rome at a short distance, the ultimate destination for anyone interested in archaeology and Ancient Rome.

Ostia Antica: The First Roman Colony - History

GUIDO CALZA (1888-1946)

English translation of: Paola Olivanti, "Guido Calza", Dizionario biografico dei Soprintendenti Archeologi (1904-1974) , Papadopoulos J. (ed.), Bologna 2012, 160-166.

With his wife Raissa in the thermopolium on Via di Diana.

Born in Milan on 21 April 1888 from Arturo and Teresa Bedolo, he graduated in Rome in 1911 with a thesis on the Roman conquest of Crete, written under the guidance of Giulio Beloch. During his studies at the Roman university, Calza followed, among others, the courses of Emanuele Loewy, Orazio Marucchi and Dante Vaglieri. It was precisely under the guidance of the latter that Calza, following a regular competition, took up service at the Direction of the excavations of Ostia Antica (at the time dependent on the Royal Superintendency for Antiquities of Rome) as Inspector of Antiquities (1912). At the Direction of the Excavations of Ostia Antica, which became Superintendency for Antiquities of Rome III in 1939, Calza covered all the stages of his career within the Administration of Antiquities and Fine Arts, until obtaining, in 1939, the degree of II class Superintendent.

After the premature death of Vaglieri (December 1913), Calza remained in service at the same office, under the direction of Angelo Pasqui (1914) and then of Roberto Paribeni, until the end of 1923.

In these years, after acquitting to military obligations (1916-1918, including one year of temporary leave "to remain available to the Administration of Antiquities and Fine Arts of Rome"), he served at the office of Fine Arts in Trieste (1919). He obtained his free teaching in Epigraphy and Roman antiquities at the University of Rome (1922) and was promoted to the rank of Chief Inspector (1923). His main scientific commitment was to complete and perfect the program outlined by Vaglieri in 1912, which indicated as a primary necessity the excavation in depth as well as in extension, to recover, in addition to the imperial buildings, even the most ancient phases of history of the city (D. Vaglieri, Introduction, in L. Paschetto, Ostia Roman colony. History and monuments, Rome 1912). In this period (1914) Calza established his residence in ancient Ostia and for this reason works of adaptation were authorized in three rooms of the Castle of Julius II, in which he will live against payment of a regular rent.

In the posthumous volume on Ostian topography (1953), Calza illustrates the objectives of his first years at the Excavations of Ostia: "the enlargement of the excavation of the imperial city, taking advantage of every clue and any area favorable for exploration of the subsoil in order to add to a broader vision of imperial monuments a broader knowledge of republican remains the search for the ancient boundaries of the imperial city and the republican city still unknown solving the problem of the origins of Ostia by finding the traces of the ancient foundation" (p. 37). The completion by the Administration of the expropriation practice for the acquisition of the land owned by the Aldobrandini family on which part of the ancient city rested (1917) was decisive for the realization of this ambitious program.

Always fighting with inadequate funding (according to him, small compared to those paid for the Roman Forum and Pompeii, which in the years immediately preceding the First World War absorbed most of the financial resources destined for archaeological investigations), Calza therefore at first conducted his research in the wake of his predecessor, defending his work and method from the attacks of those who would have liked different and above all more immediate results from the excavations of Ostia Antica, especially in relation to the knowledge of topography and urban development of the city and who looked with some skepticism at the program started by Vaglieri, which instead aimed at a "continued and methodical exploration of the city, studying and reintegrating its history and life, both as regards its architectural organism and inasmuch as it is a social organism", but which in ten years "has not added a line to the texts of Servius and Florus" (Calza 1916, Scavo e sistemazione).

From this moment on, and for the next thirty years, the professional story of Calza will be identified with the history of the excavations of Ostia.

Despite the difficulties caused by the wartime events, the activity of Calza, assisted by the designer Italo Gismondi and soprastante Raffaele Finelli, continued without interruption, giving life to some of the most fruitful lines of research in the field of Roman archeology, placing Ostia Antica at the center of the cultural debate and himself at the center of a network of relationships with colleagues and scholars that will last, increased, until his death. The excavation of the so-called House of Diana and the subsequent reconstructive restoration of the building preserved up to the first floor, carried out by Gismondi on the basis of the fragments of collapsed masonry found in the excavation of the road on which the building rests, offered Calza the opportunity to start the study of a building and residential typology, the insula (a multi-storey building, with several apartments probably rented and premises used for commercial activities on the ground floor), until then absolutely unknown for the Roman imperial age. These are the years in which other research directions also start, which will prove to be decisive for understanding the history of the ancient city: the reconstruction of the theater questions on chronological seriation and on the function of the Square of the Corporations with the temple in the center the discovery of the Grandi Horrea, which will lead to formulating a series of new considerations on warehouses and in general on goods storage facilities. In 1923 Calza had completed the cataloging of the objects exhibited in the Antiquarium, set up by Vaglieri in the halls of the Castle of Julius II inside the Renaissance village of Ostia Antica and in 1925 he published Ostia. Historical-monumental guide, accompanied by a plan drawn by Gismondi, which forms the basis for all subsequent updates.

Appointed Director of the excavations of Ostia Antica in December 1923, Calza completed the investigations already started during the direction of Paribeni, also starting the excavation of the Terme del Foro, the Horrea Epagathiana, the building complex consisting of the Caseggiato del Serapide and the Terme dei Sette Sapienti, of the necropolis of via Laurentina, in addition to the delimitation of the so-called Castrum and, outside Ostia, investigations in the necropolis of Isola Sacra. The wall circuit, already excavated by Vaglieri in the western section near Porta Romana, was brought to light throughout its perimeter.

The institutional activity of Inspector first and then Director was constantly joined by that of scientific disseminator of the results obtained during the investigations, through timely reports sent to the editorial staff of "News from the Excavations (Notizie Scavi)" starting from 1914, in addition to a large number of articles on specific topics, as can be seen from the rich bibliography at the bottom.

In 1935 the Minister for National Education, Giuseppe Bottai, proposed to Mussolini to organize the 1942 Universal Exposition in Rome. The Duce, who had already been interested in the Ostia affairs by attending the inauguration of the Museum in 1934, accepted the proposal, seeing in the "resurrection" of ancient Ostia the possibility of recreating the image of a prosperous Roman city of the imperial age, according to the ideological schemes of Fascism. The idea of the Universal Exposition, to be held in a specially built neighborhood, the EUR, responded to the dual need to celebrate the new condition of Italy as an imperial nation, in the aftermath of the war in Ethiopia (1936) and the 20th anniversary of the fascist revolution. For the occasion, an Autonomous Body was set up to manage the project. Among the main purposes of the initiative was the construction of stable buildings, infrastructures, public services and green areas capable of constituting, once the Exhibition is over, the nucleus of expansion of Rome towards the sea. In this context it is evident that the recovery of Ostia Antica was of fundamental importance, both for reasons related to exploitation in the tourist sense, and for the ideological suggestions it proposed. As is known, due to the events of the war, the Universal Exposition in Rome was never held.

In 1937 Calza presented the project of intervention on the Ostia Antica area to the Entity for the Universal Exposition, illustrated by a plan by I. Gismondi. Including all ancillary works (lawn arrangement, trees, gardens), the cost estimate, amounting to 10,500,000 lire, was attached. Calza planned a large sum in his project to be allocated to the restoration and arrangement of the area, in order to make it usable for visitors. The amount requested was fully financed and the first funds were available in March 1938. The advertising campaign supported by the Government and the Autonomous Body for the Universal Exposition immediately began to place Ostia at the center of attention both in the political world and in the cultural debate. The Propaganda Office of the Authority distributed outlines for articles on Ostia and also disseminated a document on the "Discipline of the journalistic propaganda work for the excavations of Ostia", dated between February and March 1938. Calza's satisfaction for the inclusion of Ostia Antica in the E42 project is reflected in various writings published between 1937 and 1939, as well as by a large series of articles published in the newspapers of the time. The opportunity was truly unique: regardless of the leading role that Ostia came to play, it was finally possible to return to hoping for adequate financial means.

The program envisaged not the total discovery of Ostia, which would have been impossible in the space of just four years, but the greater enhancement of the ancient city by highlighting an area of about 18 hectares of land, that is to say more than what had been put in light in the 29 years from 1909 to 1938. The excavation of this area led to: "the joining of all partially discovered ruins, except the so-called Imperial Palace the entire discovery of the two main arteries of the city, the Decumanus Maximus from Porta Romana to Porta Marina, and the Cardo Maximus from Porta Laurentina to the Tiber, with the adjacent buildings the exploration of Ostia not only on the northern side from the Decumanus to the Tiber, as had been practiced so far but also on the southern side towards the walls, in an area that is still entirely unknown, consequently reaching the limits of the city both on the side of the sea (west) and on the side of Laurentum (south) in order to obtain the most complete topographical knowledge the continuation, where it was possible, of the exploration of the subsoil for the knowledge of the republican city" (Calza 1953, p. 38).

The area intended for excavation, between the axis consisting of via Epagathiana and its extension towards the Decumanus (via del Pomerio) to the east and the ancient coast line to the west, was divided into four lots, the excavation of which was contracted out to two firms: this system obviously allowed simultaneous intervention on different fronts and therefore greater speed of the works which, given the limited time available, were obviously carried out at very high rates. Flanked by Italo Gismondi, Giovanni Becatti, Raissa De Chirico and, until 1939, by Herbert Bloch, Calza found himself coordinating a daily average of 150 workers located on different excavation fronts. In just four years the surface of the ancient city came out doubled, so as to reach about 34 hectares of the 50 that are estimated to have been built in ancient times.

Already in September 1938 Calza could present, in a short essay distributed to the participants in the Augustan Conference organized by the Institute of Roman Studies, the first brilliant results of his enterprise which, as he himself pointed out, pursues "both the scientific and cultural purposes which are expected from a broader knowledge of the city, and the aesthetic and touristic purposes which with the almost total vision of Ostia can be achieved within the framework of the Universal Exposition of Rome".

The intense technical and managerial work did not prevent Calza from continuing his dissemination activity, briefly illustrating the new discoveries, but also by deepening themes dear to him on the Roman building typologies (Ostian houses with porticoed courtyard, 1941). In 1940 the important volume on the discovery and excavation of the necropolis of the Holy Island (Isola Sacra) also came to light.

The excavations for the E42 were suspended on January 1, 1944 already in the previous year the excavations of Ostia had been evacuated and Calza had had to face the problem of the protection of the works of art: in the photographic archive of the Ostian Superintendency shots are preserved relating to the arrangement of a group of sculptures protected with bags of sand, while the photographic plates of the Archive were delivered, packaged in thirty boxes, to the Superintendence for Antiquities of southern Etruria. At the end of the war Calza resumed the activities on the Ostian soil, carrying out, once again with the collaboration of Gismondi, the expansion project of the Museum, which was inaugurated in June 1945, the year in which he also obtained the assignment of Superintendent of the Antiquities of the Forum and Palatine Hill, as successor to Alfonso Bartoli.

At the end of the intense and fruitful excavation campaign of the years 1938-1942 the problem of the scientific edition of the rich and complex results presented itself and Calza had already prepared a work plan that included a series of volumes on the Ostian monuments divided by classes and types, with a first volume dedicated to the topography of the city, from its oldest to the most recent phases, commenting on the new general plan. This volume, of which Calza had left in manuscript the entire part relating to the archaic and republican phases of the city, was completed by his collaborators as regards the imperial phases (G. Becatti), the study of building techniques (I. Gismondi), the comments on the brick stamps (H. Bloch) the observations on geology (G. de Angelis D'Ossat) and came out posthumously in 1953. In it, still essential for those approaching the studies on Ostia romana, came together in a more or less succinct manner all of Calza's previous studies.

During the many years spent in service at the Directorate first, then the Superintendency of Ostia, Calza has always had a particular eye for the efficiency of the office, urging on several occasions the Ministry in order to obtain funds for all the adaptation works that were necessary from time to time.

Although linked to the excavations of Ostia, these were not the only place to see Calza engaged as an archaeologist in the field. In the years of his military service, in fact, he dealt with the antiquities of Venezia Giulia (1919) together with Gismondi and Becatti he followed the excavation and restoration works of Leptis, Sabratha and Cyrene (1940).

Numerous were the honors obtained and memberships as an effective member of Italian and foreign cultural institutes: Knight of the Crown of Italy (1920) Cross of Commander of the Crown of Italy (1933) Second Degree of Merit with a Silver Medal from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1942) corresponding member of the German Archaeological Institute since 1925, effective since 1928.

Calza died on April 17, 1946 he is buried in the chapel of S. Ercolano, at the cemetery of Ostia Antica, next to his master Dante Vaglieri. On his grave is written: ubi vixit, vivet ["May he live where he lived"].

Photo credits: Parco Archeologico di Ostia.

Guide to Ostia Antica: An Archaeological Treasure

Commonly compared to Pompeii, Ostia Antica is a marvelous archaeological site located right outside the current Roman city lines. Ostia, the first Roman colony, became immediately a river port acquiring a commercial function to supply Rome with food stuff, particularly wheat, even if its strategic military function as naval base certainly prevailed. The first settlement can be traced back to the beginning of the 4th century B.C., immediately after the defeat of the Etruscan town of Veio, situated on the right bank of the river, which fell to the Roman army in 396 B.C

From Rome using public transportation: from the Piramide metro station take the train heading towards Ostia and get off at the Ostia Antica stop (approx 25 minutes.)

Ticket Information: You can easily purchase tickets from the ticket office. Full Price is €8. (special discount rate for EU students) All major credit cards accepted. If you prefer, you can purchase online

Roma Dolce Roma Tip: During the summer months, there are usually outdoor evening performances in the Amphitheater

Archaeologists restoring the mosaics at Ostia Antica

Drive an authentic Italian Vespa with this private tour

Come and discover the majestic ruins of Ostia Antica aboard a Vespa, a true Italian icon. This unique tour, departing from Rome, will take you on a journey full of history, pastoral landscapes and relaxation, just a few kilometers from the city. Walking through perfectly preserved ruins of Ostia Antica, makes you feel like to be in a mysterious and timeless place
Ancient Roman colony named Ostia is one of the largest archaeological site dating back to ancient Rome, looking at the remains that can be found close to modern Ostia. Join a trip into Roman Empire’s olden times and we set out to discover more of the magnificent attractions close to Rome.

The Best Roman Archeological Sites Outside Rome

Are you looking for the best Roman Archeological Sites, outside Rome? We all know the famous Romans sites of Rome, the Forum, The Colosseum, The Pantheon, etc. But not many of us know that there are some stunning roman sites outside Rome. To be sure, some are in better shape than the ones from Rome! Let’s explore these best archeological sites outside of Rome together.

Tivoli Hadrian Villa

Tivoli is a small town located about 40km east of Rome. Therefore, you can get to Tivoli in about 40 minutes by train from Rome Termini Station. Once you reach Tivoli, the main Roman attraction is Emperor Hadrian’s Villa.

Indeed, it is the archeological site of one of the best preserved Roman Villas. It is massive, it covers almost 250 acres. It was built around the year 128 AD by Emperor Hadrian, and he used it as his primary residence.

The Villa has many different pools, fountains, and baths. It also includes many areas with columns (Known as colonnades), libraries, gymnasium, and theater.

If you want to have a real inside of the Emperor’s life, you should visit the small island retreat, which was the Emperor’s private place to go away from the government. On the island, you’ll be able to see even Hadrian’s private toilet!

The Villa is massive, and it will take a few hours to explore and a lot of ow walking, sometimes on very uneven surfaces.

While visiting Tivoli, you should spend some time visiting another fantastic site that has nothing to do with the Romans.

Villa D’Este

Cardinal Ippolito D’Este built this incredible Renaissance villa between 1560 and 1579, and it is most famous for the amazing gardens and fountains. The Villa is also known as the “Villa of hundreds of fountains” because of the enormous amount of fountains and water features.

Ostia Antica Is One Of The Best Roman Archeological Sites

Ostia is about 35km southwest of Rome. In Roman times, the city was the port of Rome. The archeological site, Ostia Antica, is massive. As a result, plan at least half a day if you wish to explore it.

According to many people, it is even better than Pompeii because it is less crowded with tourists. Above all, it’s an archeological site that best represents the roman lifestyle. The city got abandoned because the sand from the Tiber River slowly made the port unusable. For this reason, Ostia feels like it’s frozen in time.

If you plan a visit, some of the most remarkable sites are the theatre, the Bath of Neptune, the old military camp, and the ancient Synagogue. The Synagogue is considered the oldest one in Europe. On top of that, you can explore some incredibly preserved roman shops, apartment complexes, warehouses, and the famous public toilet.


Herculaneum is a Roman site, located about a half-hour south of Naples. You can reach the site quite easily from downtown Naples either by train, bus or taxi.

Herculaneum is one of the two Roman cities destroyed in 79 AD by Mount Vesuvius eruption. Even though it is smaller and less famous than its sister city, Pompeii, Herculaneum is still incredibly remarkable. In fact, in Herculaneum same building have the second floor intact, and some of the furniture inside of the house did not burn down. As a result, a visit to Herculaneum offers some differences from the Pompeii. On top of that, Herculaneum is slightly less famous than Pompeii, making it less crowded with tourists.

Image by Allan Lee from Pixabay

The most famous sites in Hecolaneum are the baths, The house of Neptune, the gymnasium, the home with the Mosaic Atrium, and the Villa of the Papyri that is considered one of the most luxurious villas in the Roman world.


Pompeii is probably as famous around the world as Rome itself. Indeed, it is It is about 25km south of Naples and like Herculaneum can be easily reached from Naples by train, bus or taxi.

Since it is incredibly famous, the site usually gets packed with tourists. I suggest you visit off-season (late fall, early spring) if you can.

Some of the best features of Pompeii are the perfectly preserved streets, with sidewalks, pedestrian crossings, and carriages tracks. Also, some of the magnificent mansions are still intact, like the famous House of Vietti. On top of that worth, a visit is also the bath, the amphitheater, the forum, and the renowned brothel. Finally, no tour in Pompeii is complete without looking at the casts of the people of the city frozen in time at the time of the eruption.

Paestum Is One Of Best Roman Archeological Sites You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

The Roman archaeological site is about an hour and a half south of Naples, and one of the best ones you’ve likely never heard of. The city was originally a Greek colony with some impressive Greek temples still standing. In the year 273 BC, the roman captured the town and made it a Roman city. The Romans added some features to the city that are still standing like the amphitheater, the city walls, and an outdoor swimming pool.

Temple of Neptune


The city of Baiae is a perfect example of a roman beach resort town for the rich and the famous of their time. It is located in the Gulf of Naples, about 25 km north of the city. At its peak, Baiae had some of the best villas in the Roman times. Even Emperor Augustus used to spend time there. Augustus also built a grand thermal bath in the city.

Unfortunately, due to the volcanic activity of the Campi Flegrei volcano, most of the city is now underwater, and it can be explored by snorkeling or by glass-bottom boats.

The Rich City of Aquileia

Aquileia is located in Northern Italy, about one and a half hours away from Venice. Alos, Aquileia was one of the wealthiest cities of (Roman) Northern Italy until the Attila the Hunn attacked them in 425 AD. To be sure, Attila the Hunn almost destroyed the city. The survivors of Aquileia fled to the nearby lagune and founded Venice.

In the archeological area, you can still see the amphitheater, the forum, and some grand houses. The main church in Aquileia got built on top of the ancient Roman basilica. There, you can still admire some incredible roman mosaics.

The sites in the post are just some of the most famous Roman relics in Italy, almost every town in the country has some Roman history. I hope I inspired you to visit some great sites that tell us the story and the culture of one of the most influential civilizations of all time.

Andrea was born and raised in Northern Italy. At the age of 30, he moved to Vancouver Canada. Over the years he traveled extensively in North America, Europe, Central America, and Asia. He is passionate about traveling, cruising, and travel photography. He likes to write about his traveling and shows his travel photos.

• Ostia Antica Tour •

Ostia Antica was the Ancient harbor of Rome and is the best preserved ancient Roman town with its Emporium, amphitheater and residential area.

Ostia was the first Roman colony and quickly became a river harbor with a commercial function, supplying Rome with food and also had a strategic military role as naval base.

The city reached a peak of almost 75,000 inhabitants in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD and its location at the “mouth” of the river Tiber guaranteed its status as an active and prosperous colony!

The Ostia Antica Tour is a full immersion into the everyday life of the colony. Our local, licensed guides will show you the river port’s districts, its cults and religious buildings, houses and spas with their beautiful mosaics and remnants of artworks.

If you don’t have the time to go to Pompeii but would like to get a glimpse of the Ancient Roman life, visit the ruins of apartments in a condominium, an ancient fast food eatery, spas, warehouses, villas, a laundry and a dye works, temples and a marvelous theater – come with us to Ostia and see life as it was 2000 years ago!

The political, commercial and religious center was bustling with activity and typical of a Roman town – you’ll see the Forum, the Baths, the Capitolium, the Small Market and the fishmongers’ shops.
Along the “Decumanus” (one of the main streets) you’ll explore the commercial heart of Ostia with its public buildings, the huge “Piazzale delle Corporazioni” (Square of the Guilds), taverns, various handicraft workshops – like the very interesting “Fulloniche” (Fuller’s workshops).
There are also houses and “modern buildings” in Ostia Antica and near Porta Marina, you’ll find sepulchral monuments.

Ostia Antica Roman Excavations

Tourist information on the Ancient Roman port of Ostia that include information on tours of Ostia and the main attractions of the excavations.

The history of Ostia Antica stretches far back in time: according to tradition, although not yet confirmed, to the 6th Century B.C., when it was founded by King Ancus Martius as the first Roman colony.

In reality, the oldest remains of Ostia only date back to the 4th Century B.C. and belonged to the first fortified citadel. The name Ostia comes from the Latin "ostium", meaning mouth of the Tiber.

The sheer size and number of buildings found in the excavations of Ancient Ostia rival those of Pompeii and you can enjoy Walking Tours of Ostia in the company of one of our Licensed Expert Guides

For a long time Ostia was Rome's only river port, where large freight ships that arrived here had unload their cargo onto smaller boats that were able to go up the river to Rome. The barges, drawn by long lines of buffalo moving along the banks, reached the harbor of Forum Boarium, located near the Isola Tiberina.

Ostia Antica – The Roman Port

Ostia Antica is an archaeological site and harbour of ancient Rome, near the modern-day Lido di Ostia in the X Municipio of the commune of Rome.

Ostia Antica was founded on the mouth of the Tiber River and was attributed by the Romans to the fourth King of Rome, Ancus Marcius who reigned during the 7th century BC.

The earliest archaeological evidence dates from the 4th century BC, with a Roman castrum being constructed in the 3rd century BC to protect the coastline of Rome that later developed into one of Rome’s first colonia.

During the Punic wars (a series of three wars fought between Rome and Carthage from 264 BC to 146 BC), the Republican navy was stationed at Ostia and the harbour served as the main fleet base on the west coast of Italy.

The harbour town was further developed in the 1st century BC, with the construction of a forum and a new harbour called Portus, established by Claudius and enlarged by Trajan, with Ostia serving as a commercial and storage centre for Rome’s grain supplies.

Ostia grew to 50,000 inhabitants in the 2nd century, reaching a peak of some 100,000 inhabitants in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD and contained several temples, a lighthouse, public baths, a theatre, curia, basilica, granaries and various shops and dwellings. Archaeologists excavating the site in the 1960’s also discovered the remains of the Ostia Synagogue, one of the oldest synagogues in the world.

The town’s decay can be attributed to a series of factors that effected most Roman population centres in the Western Empire. The Germanic incursions disrupting the ability to properly maintain an economy and effectively tax its populous, the mismanagement by consecutive Emperors, a reliance on mercenaries without a strong standing army and the loss of territory all contributed to a widespread deterioration of the Western Roman world.

The population of Rome contracted to 700-800,000 in AD 400 and to 200,000 or less in AD 500 leaving Ostia sparsely populated as a result. Ostia was abandoned after the erection of nearby Gregoriopolis by Pope Gregory IV in AD 827–844. The Roman ruins were quarried for building materials in the Middle Ages and for sculptors’ marble in the Renaissance.

Sarcophagi from Pianabella: (above) Centauromachy (fight between men and centaurs) at Museo di Ostia Antica (below) Sarcophagus of Titus Flavius Trophimas at Museo Nazionale Romano

Archaeologists found at the necropolis of Pianabella many interesting and finely executed sarcophagi. Their fronts were usually decorated with mythological scenes, but in some instances the scenes were related to everyday life. The sarcophagus of Trophimas tells us that not only the very rich could afford being buried in a sarcophagus. It shows on the left craftsmen at work (a shoemaker and a rope-maker) and on the right two musicians or perhaps two worshippers of Isis performing a ritual dance. From the inscription we know that Trophimas was a Greek artisan from Ephesus and the two craftsmen might have been friends of his.