Why do a rushed day-trip to Naples to visit Pompeii, when the splendid ruins of Ostia Antica are a 20-minute train-ride away? Unlike its Neapolitan counterparts (i.e. Pompeii and Herculaneum), Ostia did not perish overnight, submerged in a volcano’s fiery spew. After hundreds of years of economic prosperity, Ostia followed Rome’s downward trajectory in the 400s A.D. The city that once enjoyed a singular–and strategic–position on both the Mediterranean Sea and the Tiber River eventually lost its importance and its neglected port slowly silted in. Ostia’s demise did nothing to diminish its spirit: after excavations in the early 1900s, this ghost town, with its theaters, baths, apartment buildings, temples, villas, restaurants, bars and cafes, still feels like a living, thriving city!
We walk into town using the same road that ancient travelers, businessmen, vacationers and residents would have used when coming directly from Rome: the Via Ostiense. As we stroll along it, we will poke into the tombs that line the road — when we’re not avoiding speeding horse-drawn wagons heaped with goods, heading to the markets in Rome! Getting out of the ancient traffic and into a public piazza, we’ll head to the Decumanus, the city’s main drag. We’ll bump into ancient drunken sailors on shore leave, peek into a temple or two, and stop in at several eateries. At one highbrow cafe, we’ll find senators and magistrates attending business lunches. At a greasy spoon, locals consume their fried chickpea patties while gulping down local white wine. Ancient vacationers idle and play games, while the waitress brings them another plate full of green olives.
At a well-preserved public bath, we’ll discuss ancient hygiene and Romans’ talent as plumbers. We’ll visit a relatively intact forica or public restroom (which is seen on the right). Our walk will take us through residential districts: both well-built tenements for dockworkers and sailors and high-end homes, which were well-appointed with frescoes or marble “wallpaper.” And we’ll talk about entertainment at the theater.