One of my favorite stops on our itinerary for Rome was Ostia Antica, an archeological site very easy to visit on a day trip. It was, for a few centuries, the port city that supplied Rome, but went into a gradual decline and was fully abandoned by the 9th century. The Tiber River, a silting phenomenon, slowly filled in the harbor and covered up the city. The river took a few centuries to swallow everything, and in the meantime, marble was scavenged from Ostia Antica to be reused in cathedrals around Italy.
According to the official Ostia Antica website, treasure hunters, official and unofficial, rooted and dug through the mud and ruins through the 1800s while the site was still owned by the Vatican. In 1870 the city became part of the new Italian state, and scientific excavations began in the early 1900s and have continued so that now visitors can see much of the city, but apparently there is still more to discover.
Our group spent an afternoon at the site and barely scratched the surface. I found it to be restful because it was not at all crowded – we saw scattered visitors but our mighty dozen appeared to be the largest group of wanderers on the grounds that day. Around back of the partially restored amphitheater’s stage, costumes hung for a live performance that night were left without watchers, a stark contrast to Rome, where we were told be constantly on guard against theft.
While much was taken from this site, much still remains to astound and impress, such as the Piazzale delle Corporazioni, or guild offices, where the mosaic-adorned floors depict the type of business or service offered. Mosaics at
the public baths are a marvel as is the amphitheater, and a four-sided altar to Mars and Venus and more. Definitely on my must-return list, and only two train stops from the coastal suburb of Ostia.
Rick Steves has a chatty little post online about this site: A peek into ancient Rome at Ostia Antica.