Ostia Antica vs Pompeii: Why You Should Take a Day Trip to Ostia Antica from Rome

details from theatre at ostia antica italy

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Are you in Rome and have your heart set on visiting an ancient Roman city, but can’t face the long journey to Pompeii and its crowds? Then why not take a day trip to Ostia Antica from Rome?

One of the most underacknowledged archaeological sites in Italy, Ostia Antica was once the thriving seaport for Ancient Rome. This wonderful site is a super easy and inexpensive day trip from Rome and can rival all that Pompeii can offer.

street sign in ostia antica italy

 

Reasons to visit Ostia Antica from Rome

It has huge historical significance

Even in Ancient Roman times, it was location, location, location.

According to legend, Ostia was founded by Ancus Marcius, the fourth king of Rome, as a castrum (military fortification) to guard the mouth of the Tiber. In the 3rd Century AD, the city developed into the port of Rome and was the gateway for Rome’s exports and imports, notably the supply of grain to the capital

The town was named after its location, Ostia meaning “mouth” in Latin.

 Ostia developed into a busy and important city, integral to Rome’s commercial operations, and also became a naval base.

Its slow decline began at the time of Constantine (306 – 377 AD), who favoured the newer port of Portus built by Claudius to the northwest. In subsequent centuries, Ostia’s decline was accelerated by a loss of trade and increased prevalence of malaria.

It’s thought that the city was largely abandoned by the 10th Century. At the height of its prosperity, Ostia had 80,000 inhabitants; in 1756 its population numbered 156.

Over the millennia the shoreline has moved seawards, due to silting of the Tiber, and Ostia Antica now lies three kilometres from the sea.

 

Ostia Antica lacks the crowds of Rome or Pompeii

Don’t get me wrong. I love Rome on so many levels and have lost count of the number of times I have visited.

But, oh my. At any time of the year, the crowds can be something else.

Ostia Antica is a perfect refuge from the crowds, traffic horns and selfie stick-wielding tourists of Rome.

Equally, Pompeii is a wonderful archaeological site but is not exactly a well-kept secret. There are extremely good reasons why it is popular, but this is of little comfort when you are trying to navigate a path around coachloads of tour groups.

ostia-antica-theatre-detail

 

Getting to Ostia Antica from Rome is super easy

Equally, Pompeii is a LONG day trip from Rome.

Consider this. It will take you at least 2 – 3 hours to travel from Rome to Pompeii, involving a change of train at Naples. After this journey, you then have to do the massive site of Pompeii justice before jumping back on your return train to Rome.

I know that many people do visit Pompeii as a day trip from Rome. But not me.

By comparison, getting to Ostia Antica from Rome is a breeze with frequent connections from the city centre.  Depending on where you start in Rome, the journey time is approximately 30 – 45 minutes.

 

How to get to Ostia Antica from Rome

 From Rome, take Metro line B to the Piramide stop (direction Laurentina .

From Piramide, it’s a one-minute walk to the Roma Porta San Paolo train station.

Transfer to the Rome-Lido line headed towards Cristoforo Colombo. Get off at the stop for Ostia Antica (30 minutes).

A normal metro ticket will cover you for the entire journey.

On leaving the station take the footbridge that crosses the motorway running between the station and the archaeological site.

Easy!

 

However, if you feel more comfortable visiting Ostia Antica on an organised tour, check out one of the day trips from Rome.

 

Ostia Antica is an inexpensive day trip from Rome

Let’s do the maths.

Your one-way metro ticket from central Rome to Ostia Antica will cost you €1.50 (2020 price).

An entrance ticket for Ostia Antica costs €12.

Therefore, a day trip to Ostia Antica from Rome will set you back €15. Ludicrously inexpensive.

In contrast, when booked in advance, a one-way train ticket between Rome and Pompeii will cost at least €30. As ItaliaRail has dynamic pricing, you are looking at significantly more expensive fares if you book near the day of travel. You will need to plan in advance.

An entrance ticket for Pompeii costs €16.

This brings the minimum cost of a day trip from Rome to Pompeii to €76.

Not so cheap

 

Ostia Antica provides insight into the everyday lives of Ancient Romans

Pompeii and Ostia were two very different towns.

Pompeii was a cosmopolitan resort town inhabited by wealthy Romans who were known for lavish spending on their homes. Archaeologists have found a motto on one of the town’s walls that celebrates wealth.

Ostia was a working port town, not a wealthy city like Pompeii, populated by a spectrum of social classes.

In its heyday, although Ostia was ruled by a small number of aristocratic families, it was immigration and the import of slaves that swelled the town’s population. Once freed, slaves often remained active in the trade of their former patron.

 

It is a wonderfully preserved archaeological site

I’m not suggesting that this isn’t the case with Pompeii. Volcanic lava took care of that.

But if you are looking for spectacular archaeology that represents everyday life, Ostia Antica is Pompeii’s equal.

Most of what we see in Ostia Antica today dates from the 3rd century BC. The excavated structures – houses, apartments, temples, bars, public baths, workshops, stores and latrines –  are a window into what life was like in a commercial town at the zenith of the Roman Empire.

statues at ostia antica

 

What to see at Ostia Antica: The highlights

Decumanus Maximus

Immediately on entering the site you will find yourself on the Decumanus Maximus, Ostia’s main street. Some of the town’s most important buildings flank this street.

Roman city planning

In Roman city planning, the Decumanus Maximus (or Decumanus) ran from east to west.

This was intersected by the Cardo Maximus (Cardo) running north-south

 

Baths of Neptune

The Baths of Neptune, built between 117 and 161 AD, are one of the first buildings that you’ll come across walking along the Decumanus Maximus. One of the biggest excavations in Ostia Antica, these baths have several rooms and a palestra (the exercise area).

Climb the steps for a great view of the massive black and white mosaic, depicting the god Neptune riding four horses through the sea.

 

The Theatre

The adjacent Theatre of Ostia is not exactly understated.

Built in the 1st Century BC by Agrippa, and later expanded between by Commodus and Septimius Severus, this theatre could host up to 4,000 spectators. Not unlike today, the best seats were close to the action; the cheap seats up in the gods.

theatre at ostia antica italy
Theatre, Ostia Antica

Most of the original seating area is intact as is the orchestra’s marble floor.

Climb to the higher levels for a great view of both the theatre and the town.

Did you know?

The size of the theatre in towns and cities in Ancient Rome, and especially its seating capacity, are used to estimate the size of their population.

 

Forum and Capitolium

At the crossroads of the Decumanus and Cardo, is the Forum, which was Ostia’s administrative centre.

In Ancient Rome, important buildings were clustered around the Forum. Ostia was no different and the Capitolium, the temple dedicated to the three main Roman gods – Jupiter, Juno and Minerva – still stands.

Capitolium, Ostia Antica
Capitolium, Ostia Antica

Baths of the Forum

On the eastern side of the Forum are the 2nd Century Baths of the Forum, one of the largest baths in Ostia. Off the north side of the baths is the town’s forica, the public latrine, with its 20 perfectly preserved marble seats.

 

Tips for visiting Ostia Antica

  • Make an early start to give yourself enough time to explore Ostia Antica.  In summer, arriving early will also allow you to start sightseeing at a cooler time of day
  • As with many archaeological sites, there is little shade and it can get hot. Wear a hat, sunglasses, slather on sunscreen and bring a big bottle of water with you.
  • Due to uneven surfaces, a comfortable pair of shoes are essential
  • Bring a packed lunch. There is a restaurant on-site, but it is not cheap.
  • Pick up an audio guide at the site’s entrance or bring a good guide book. This is necessary as, with the exception of the major buildings, many of the structures at Ostia Antica are unmarked.

Recommended guide book

There is an excellent section on Ostia Antica in the Blue Guide: Rome

  • Photography is allowed (but no flash)
  • As there is no luggage storage facility at Ostia Antica, bring only what you are able to carry.

Ostia Antica opening times

Ostia Antica is open Tuesday – Sunday from 8:30 am, except for Christmas Day and New Year Day. Closing time depends on the season and ranges between 4:30 pm to 7:00 pm.

Check opening hours for Ostia Antica here.

Buy your ticket at the small ticket office by the entrance to the archaeological site or the day. Advance purchase is not necessary.

 

Final thoughts: Ostia Antica vs Pompeii

Both Pompeii and Ostia Antica are fascinating archaeological sites.

Each has intact public buildings, a theatre and a bathhouse. Pompeii has many more houses to see than Ostia Antica, which has mainly public buildings. Thanks to its dramatic backstory, Pompeii is better preserved.

However, if I was pushed to choose between the two, I would plump for Ostia Antica.

Ostia’s ruins, providing a remarkable insight into the domestic and commercial life of the Roman Empire, are set in a beautiful park of stately cypresses and umbrella pines.

Embrace the slower pace and fewer crowds of Ostia Antica. Whilst you are unlikely to have the site to yourself, it is not so well established on the tourist radar. There’s a lot to be said about being able to walk along the streets of an ancient Roman town in near solitude.

Accessibility is a key factor too. To preserve the ruins, Pompeii is thoroughly fenced or roped-off to stop you from entering some buildings. Exploration of the site is via a prescribed route.

Exploration of Ostia Antica, on the other hand, is much more laissez-faire. Getting from A to B is more random but allows you to “discover” something else to explore further.

Having said this, if you are visiting southern Italy and have the time, I would urge you to include Pompeii on your itinerary.

But if you are staying in Rome, don’t go all the way to Naples and visit Pompeii to see Roman life. Instead, choose Ostia Antica. You won’t regret it.

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