Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Ostia Antica

Yesterday we spent a very enjoyable (and hot) day exploring the ruins of Ostia Antica, about 10 minutes from our house, towards the beach. Ostia Antica refers to the ancient Roman town of Ostium which means "mouth" in Latin. (Today there is a town called Ostia which has nothing to do with Ostium/Ostia Antica, so to avoid confusion I will refer to the ancient city of Ostium as Ostium, known today as Ostia Antica, or "Old Ostia".) Ostium was situated at the mouth of the Tiber River, where it empties into the sea. It served as Rome's port city and first line of defense against invaders. Today however, the ruins of Ostium are 4 kilometers from the sea, due to the change in course of the Tiber River, and the accumulation of silt and debris which has grown and re-shaped the coastline. As the Roman Empire declined, so too did Ostium, sped along by pirate attacks and fires. Eventually it was abandoned as malaria ran rampant, and was buried under silt. Since then, archaeologists have uncovered the city, which is quite well preserved.

There is some speculation as to when Ostium was founded, but the earliest ruins have been dated back to the 4th century BC. It originated as nothing more than a military camp, but as Rome's trade grew with the outside world, so too did Ostium grow into a metropolis of massive proportions. To give you an idea of its size, it is 3 times the size of Pompeii, and requires several days to visit.

Here is what you see as you approach the town, the street of tombs, containing the niches where they would put their dead. In this picture you can see the most ancient style of wall building in Ostia, known as Opus Incertum. They would take blocks of tufa and set them in mortar at 45 degree angles for strength, so the weight of the wall was pushed to the extremeties. This particular wall dates from the 2nd century BC.

Here are the niches where they would put the ashes of their cremated dead.

Philomena sitting on top of an arch. Ostium is very user-friendly. They let you wander in and around the ruins.

Andrew puts a head on a statue.

This wall marks the entrance to the city. The inscription in Latin tells how the wall was decreed for the protection of the colony of Ostium by the Senate and the People of Rome, at the initiative of Cicero, in 63 BC.

Ostium served as Rome's pantry, and was where all the grain from colonies such as Africa was unloaded. These were warehouses that the grain was stored in before distribution.

Because of its trade, Ostium flourished, and soon had a lively "social scene", including these baths. They were built by the Emperor Hadrian in 117 AD.

The baths were quite luxurious, as you can tell looking at this picture. The walls were covered in marble, of which only fragments such as this one remain. Gives new meaning to the term "sheetrock".

Detail of the floor in one of the rooms.

Here's a scene from the floor mosaic showing a man hauling grain.

One section of the baths was covered in small tiles of marble. 23 different types of marble have been identified, from as far away as Greece, Africa, and Corinth. Look at some of the colors!

The baths were named the baths of Neptune, as you can imagine after looking at this mosaic. This was one of the best preserved ones. It was strange standing there looking at it. Today we view it as merely a wonderful piece of artwork, but back then those folks actually believed in that stuff, and imagined Neptune really existed as depicted here.

Our next stop was the theatre. According to an inscription in the wall, the theatre was inaugurated in 196 AD. It was used for speeches, plays, and public announcements.

Here's a shot inside the half-moon theatre.

A close-up of some of the ornate carving on the marble stage.

Various pillars depicting masks.

Here's a pedestal depicting Romulus and Remus, the legendary twins of Rome.

Continuing on we came to the section of the city where restaurants and markets were located. This particular piece of marble was in a restaurant. It would have been a counter, with the basin used to hold soup. A fire would be built underneath the counter, heating up the marble and keeping the soup warm.

Here's the Capitol Building. It is about 60 feet high and was built in the 2nd century AD.

A section of shops. The little niche was where the statue of the god of shopkeepers was put.

Here's a fish and meat store. On the floor you can see a mosaic of fish, dolphins and an octopus. The table was where the meat would be cut up, and behind the picture (out of sight) was a large marble tank where the live fish would be stored.

This wall was inside a house in Ostium's smarter district. Note the colored marble facings.

This is the main road that led back to Rome (and still does).

Here we have a bakery. You can see the mills, and in the background an oven.

We stopped in the museum where much of the sculpture from Ostium is. This is a statue of Artemis.

And here's one of the Emperor Trajan.

Continuing to the other side of the town we came across this temple. I'm not sure which one it was though, because there were several. Because of Ostium's age, and the fact that it was preserved, instead of being destroyed to make room for new growth it contains a slice of the evolution of the religions of ancient Rome. There are temples to Romulus and Remus, temples to various Greek and Phoenecian gods, temples dedicated to the Persian Cult of Mithridates, temples dedicated to the Roman gods, and finally a Catholic church dedicated to St. Cyriac, a martyr from the 1st century AD.

As mentioned earlier Ostium was a booming grain-trade town. This whole row of offices belonged to shipping companies from overseas. The mosaics in front of the offices listed where they were based.

This particular mosaic reads "Shipowners from Kalaritani", which today is Cagliari, in Sardinia.
One of the other things shipped into Ostia was marble. This picture shows part of a huge marble-yard where marble blanks were sold. Senators, artists and wealthy Patricians from Rome would travel to Ostia, and choose a piece of marble for whatever their project might be.

Unfortunately we couldn't finish seeing the entire town, but we intend to return. Here are Andrew and Augustin standing on top of the theatre saying goodbye to Ostium.


eleonora said...

hola a besos!!
..anthony i supposed you're surprised that i find you're blog...i hope you'll edit our photos too..see ya!

DelGrosso said...

Really interesting history in this trip. I enjoyed viewing this one and look foraward to your next trip here. I remember your dad mentioning Ostia Antica when he first told us you were going to Rome. Thank you!!

Aggie said...

the detail in the floor is incredible considering the age and we would think - limited tools/skill, but how wrong we are!

Erika said...

That's a lotta rock.