Ostia: Rome's Seashore
The history of Ostia stretches far back into time: according to tradition, although not yet confirmed by archaeological documentation, to the 6th century B.C., when it was founded by king Ancus Martíus as the first Roman colony. In reality, the oldest remains of Ostia, whose name comes from the Latin “ostium”, meaning “mouth” (of the Tíber), date back to the 4th century B.C. and belong to the first fortified citadel, the ruins of which can still be seen in the archaeological area, near the Forum.
For a long time Ostia was Rome's only river port, together with Pozzuoli, even if its access was difficult because of the banks formed at the mouth by the detritus from the Tiber. For this reason, the large freight ships that arrived here had to unload their cargo onto smaller boats Rome.
The barges, drawn by long lines of buffaloes moving along the banks, of the Forum Boarium, near the Isola Tiberina.
Ostia was a shipyard, distribution and provisioning centre for the city of Rome; the inhabitants of Ostia were merchants, ship-owners, provisioners and river sea and land transport operators; there were also craftsmen, labourers, freedmen and slaves, of different languages and religions. Ostia's Cosmopolitan natur can be seen in the sanctuaries, temples and shrines < dedicated, to the local gods, as well as to the Eastern ones, mainly Persian, Phrygian and Egyptian.
When visiting the excavations of Ostia Antica, we recommend that you start from the Piazza delle Corporazioni, to evoke the city's harbour traffic and frenzied economic activity. Across from the theatre, shaded by pine trees, the square, with a temple in the centre, was surrounded on three sides by an arcade. Under it were 64 offices (stationes) of mercantile agencies and small shops in which the administrative clerks worked.
Marvellous mosaics, many of which are still perfectly preserved, decorate the pavements of the square, providing us with a goldmine of information on the cities with which Ostia carried on trade, on the goods dealt with and on the guilds working at the port: well represented are naviculari (shipowners), caudícari (raft owners), stuppatores (oakum makers) and negotíatores (merchants) of wood, oil and wine.
For a lovely panoramic view you should go up the steps of the theatre, founded in the age of Augustus and heavily restored in 1927.
In the year 54 the emperor Claudius gave Rome its first seaport, north of the mouth of the Tiber, in the area of what is now the Fiumicino Airport. The almost immediate filling up with sand of this first unfortunate harbour made it necessary to build a new one, Trajan's port, in the 2nd century. With the passing of time, the built- up area which developed around it became an important city (Portus, today's Fiumicino), which the emperor Constantine named a municipality. The recognition of Portus as a privileged place for trade led to the slow end of Ostia, by now stripped of its municipal powers.
Across the street from the archaeological area of Ostia Antica is the “Borgo” (village) with its Basilica of Sant'Aurea, and Castle of Julius ll, erected over the military stronghold known as Gregoriopolis, after the name of Pope Gregory IV (9th century).
The basilica was built between the 4th and the 5th century as a monument for the tomb of the young Aurea, martyrized in 268 under the emperor Claudius “Cothicus”. The present-day construction, dating from 1475, was built by Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, the bishop of Ostia and future Pope Julius ll. This was probably the burial place of St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine, whose body, found in 1420, was transferred five years later to Rome, to the church of Sant'Agostino.
The castle, which dominates the village, was commissioned by Cardinal della Rovere himself between 1483 and 1486 to the Florentine architect Baccio Pontelli, and was the result of the most sophisticated mathematical-geometric and ballistic studies of the time, which developed following the adoption of firearms.
The fortress, which was also the bishop's summer residence, was surrounded by a moat, which was filled when necessary with water from the Tiber, a loop of which passed by the castle.
The decline and abandonment of the fortress is connected with a particular event: in 1557 the Tiber overflowed its banks, changing its route afterwards to about two kilometers further north, depriving the castle of its moat and of its important functions as a military garrison and customs. The merlons crowning the fortress are, instead, the result of restoration work done in the 194Os; the original ones had been eliminated in ancient times because they were considered dangerous: if they were hit by cannon fire they could fall inside the castle.
After leaving Ostia Antica, we continue our itinerary seaward, where we find Ostia Lido, the capital's nearest bathing resort, established about a century ago, when the State Property Office turned over to the Municipality of Rome, on a perpetual use basis, the coastal zone between Castelfusano and the left bank of the Tiber.
The marshy area was reclaimed by the work of six hundred labourers from Ravenna, still commemorated today by the name of the most important square on the seacoast.
The beach area became easy to reach after 21 April 1924, with the inauguration of the railway that still provides a fast, convenient connection between the city centre and the seaside.
Today Ostia is a great centre of attraction in the Summertime, both during the day, when the beaches fill with people, and at night, when the bathing establishments are transformed into discothèques and piano bars. The bathing resort town is truly able to meet any need, in particular with the establishments near the 4 stations located along the seaside promenade.
Continuing southward along the coast, we find the beach of Castelporzìano, with free access for every- one. It is possible to find bars, beach umbrellas, deck-chairs and showers made available by the lifeguards along the lovely stretch of beach, whose dunes are covered with a rich natural Mediterranean vegetation. lt is a part of the private estate of the President of the Republic, and is known by Romans as ”i cancelli”, referring to the 7 access gates which are closed each evening at around 7.30 p.m. The farthest stretch of beach is called Capocotta here, where it is still possible to find shrubs of myrtle, juniper and lentisk, nudism has become an authorised practice today: in fact, the City of Rome has set aside a specific area for nudists.
After having spent a few hours relaxing at the seashore or in the Castelfusano pine forest, the ideal place for walking and cycling, it is undoubtedly advisable to go for a walk along the seafront, reaching the pontile (pier), which offers a beautiful view on the many Liberty-style buildings.