5 Reasons Why Ostia Antica Beats the Roman Forum!

Ostia Antica
Ostia Antica

When most people think of Ancient Rome, the Roman Forum usually comes to mind as the top place to see what life was like in ancient Roman times. There, you’ll find yourself immersed in the grandeur of an ancient city center surrounded by large monuments, stately buildings, and ancient temples and churches.

The Roman Forum

But there’s actually a lesser known place, just outside of Rome, that beats the Roman Forum for providing a more closer, intimate view of what life was really like in ancient Roman times. That place is Ostia Antica.  Here are five reasons why Ostia Antica beats the Roman Forum for giving you a much closer look into what day-to-day life was like in Roman times.

1. Ostia is in Better Shape

Ostia Antica is Rome’s original Port city. Founded around 600 BC near the mouth (ostium) of the Tiber river, it developed into the headquarters for one of the commanders the Roman Fleet around 267 BC. Ostia started to become an important grain storage area for the military, and from there developed into a major commercial trading center.

Artist's Depiction of Ostia Antica
Artist’s Depiction of Ostia Antica

Because of the booming commercial trade in Ostia, the city soon ran out of capacity to dock ships. In 98 AD Emperor Trajan started work on a new harbor about 3km north of Ostia to provide extra ship capacity. As the urban center around this new harbor (Portus) developed and at the same time Rome’s population started declining, Ostia faded in importance, and around 800 AD it was finally abandoned, hastened by repeated Saracen pirate attacks.

Most of Ostia was gradually covered by silt from repeated flooding of the Tiber and by its changing course.  All of the silt accumulation helped to preserve the remaining structures until excavation of the site started in the early 1800’s, resulting in the really well-preserved ancient city that you can see today.

To help us to better understand the history of Ostia and everything there is to see there, we signed up for the “Daily Life in Ostia Antica” private tour through tripadvisor, which was hosted by Maria from viator. Maria is a trained archaeologist who actually lives in the present-day city of Ostia. Maria’s knowledge of the history and background of Ostia Antica was amazing, and we learned so much from her on our 3-hour tour with her. Here she is pointing out some details of the necropolis, a burial site near the park entrance, to Chris:

Chris and our tour guide Maria
Chris and our tour guide Maria

According to ancient law, burial places had to be located outside of the city walls.  Here we could see elaborate tombs for people of upper social classes.

Raised Tomb in the Necropolis
Raised Tomb in the Necropolis
Tomb of the Little Arches
Tomb of the Little Arches

The entrance to the city, the Porta Romana, is marked by the remnants of an elaborate marble entrance.

Porta Romana
Porta Romana

Inside Ostia Antica itself, we were amazed by the excellent condition of many of the areas we saw. For example, in a shop near the Roman Baths you can clearly see a beautiful marble bar counter with shelves and basins for washing dishes, along with a built-in stove!

Shop Near the Forum Baths
Shop Near the Forum Baths

There are also plenty of well-preserved murals and paintings still visible in their original locations including a mural showing items you could purchase in the shop.

Mural
Mural Showing Shop Offerings

Even some of the mosaic tile floors are still in great condition!

Tile Floor in the Baths of Neptune
Tile Floor in the Baths of Neptune

2. Ostia Isn’t Crowded

Because Ostia is outside of Rome’s historical district and is somewhat off the beaten path, fewer people venture out to see it. We visited Ostia twice, in June and also in September, and on both occasions we never encountered more than 20 people in the entire 84-acre site. You can practically have the place to yourself when you visit!

Decumano Massimo, Ostia's Main Street
Decumano Massimo, Ostia’s Main Street

3. Ostia is Cooler in the Summer

Because Ostia is only 2km away from the sea, it’s cooler in the summer compared to the Roman Forum where you can bake in the noonday sun. There’s quite a bit of shade from the many pine trees on the site. That said, especially during July and August, I’d suggest you visit either early in the morning or late in the afternoon when it’s cooler and when the lighting is more subdued compared to the middle of the day.

Lots of Shady Pines!
Lots of Shady Pines!

4. Ostia Gives You a Better View into Roman Life

A visit to Ostia lets you get a good idea of what day-to-day life must have been like for Romans living and working in a large commercial center.

You can see how people lived in apartments at the House of Diana.

House of Diana
House of Diana

For daily entertainment for the city’s residents, the city had an impressive theatre.

Theatre Entrance
Theatre Entrance
Amphitheatre
Amphitheatre

The city had two bath complexes, with the much of the original structure of the Forum Baths still visible.

Forum Baths
Forum Baths
Form Baths
Form Baths

You can even see the remnants of a complex system of hollow pipes that ran warm water through the floors and walls in the  Forum Baths.

Forum Baths Plumbing
Forum Baths Plumbing

There’s also a museum onsite that houses many artifacts found in Ostia.

Clay Pots Outside of the Museum
Clay Amphorae Outside of the Museum

5. Ostia is Close to the Airport

Ostia is a great place to visit if you’re at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport for an overnight stay or even for a short layover, since it’s only about a 15-min. taxi ride away.

Directions for Fiumicino to Ostia Antica
Fiumicino to Ostia Antica

If you are in Rome for an overnight visit, I’d recommend you stay at the Best Western Hotel Rome Airport; it’s a nice basic hotel with a good restaurant, it has a regular shuttle service to take you to the airport terminals (5 min. away), and it avoids you from having to go into Rome itself for an overnight stay (a 60-euro, 45-minute  taxi ride).

Ostia Antica is located at Viale dei Romagnoli, 717, 00119 Roma RM. Information on tickets and opening hours is at the Ostia Antica website.

Contact us if you’d like more details about visiting Ostia Antica or any of the other exiting destinations in Italy!

Rome’s Jewish Ghetto, A Beautiful Little Secret

Jewish_Ghetto
Rome Jewish Ghetto
Rome’s Jewish Ghetto, a Beautiful Little Secret

A few years ago, Pete and I were visiting Italy and chose as our accommodations a charming little apartment in Rome’s Jewish Ghetto.

Finishing our trip there was ideal. After running all over Southern Italy it gave us pause and left us with a nice taste in our mouths like the perfect after dinner mint after a perfect dinner.

Air BNB
Our apartment

One of the main factors that made it so perfect was that we stayed in a lovely little apartment overlooking the main piazza.

Air BNB overlooking the main piazza
Air BNB overlooking the main piazza; Jewish Ghetto

The Jewish Ghetto has a long and unpleasant history. It was created back in the 1500’s at which time all Jews in Rome were required by Pope Paul IV to live in the walled portion of the city.

The Jews were not allowed out at night and were only allowed into the city proper during the day.

SPQR
Roman plaque; SPQR Senatus Populusque Romanus; The Senate and People of Rome; Designates the area an archeological site

Because Rome was a Christian city under papal rule, the Jews were treated as less than second class citizens. They were not allowed any skilled labor position and were subject to base humiliation regularly by Christians.

Additionally they were not allowed to own property and were forced to listen to compulsory Christian sermons every week.

When the Jews did venture outside of the gates, the men were forced to wear a yellow cloth and women had to wear a yellow veil.

Roman Sparrow
Roman Sparrow

The Jewish Ghetto was the poorest and worst real estate in the city. Every year the Tiber River which bordered it flooded filling the streets with water and mud. This made the area a breeding ground for the plague which ravaged the Jewish population in 1656.

Over time, the population of the Ghetto grew and since there was nowhere else to build, the inhabitants built up creating high density housing that further subjected the population to decimation by virulent illnesses whenever one came through.

This deplorable state went on intermittently until the Italian Risorgimento (the final unification of the Italian Papal States which resulted in the papacy losing its power and the power being established under the Kingdom of Italy in the 1800’s.) and the Ghetto walls were torn down.

At that point, Jews were allowed to live anywhere in the city and the Ghetto, as a ghetto ceased to exist.

Much has Changed
Much has Changed

Much of the Ghetto was demolished and new apartment houses were built in its place. What remains of the Ghetto today is a tiny area where Kosher foods dominate and a small slice of Jewish culture remains to be savored and enjoyed by those passing through and who stop to experience it.

Our visit there started with a BnB rental that advertised itself as a cute Jewish Ghetto Apartment.

It was indeed cute and very centrally located. The apartment is located in the Sant’Angelo neighborhood in a small piazza right across from the oldest Jewish Bakery in Rome.

Pasticceria Boccione
Pasticceria Boccione

This bakery alone is reason enough to stay in the Jewish Ghetto. Pasticceria Boccione has sat in the same place and had the same family running it for the last 200 years. It has seen poverty, slavery and humiliation as well as final freedom and notoriety for its fabulous creations.

Pasticceria Boccione is known for its pastries, such as ricotta cake and cinnamon almond biscotti. The star in this line-up however is the Jewish Pizza.

Jewish Pizza
Oh. My. God. This is Jewish pizza, the most buttery, crumbly, sweet and delicious thing you will ever eat short of actually going to heaven.

This is not a pizza at all but a cookie type confection which is obviously stuffed with butter and filled with almonds, pine nuts and candied fruit (not the hideously dried out stuff you get in Christmas fruitcakes, this is not too sweet and it is very soft and chewy.)

The angels who bake this serve it up warm and fresh from the oven. It falls apart in your mouth and is a swirl of sweet nuttiness that I simply cannot picture life without after having tasted it.

The piazza containing Pasticceria Boccione leads off into a wide street, the Via Del Portico D’Ottavia. If you click on this link you can see a photo of this street. Above the white umbrella on the right, the second window up is the apartment in which we stayed. On the right hand side in the ancient building with the white awning is Pasticceria Boccione.

Ruins in Rome's Jewish Ghetto
Ruins In Rome’s Jewish Ghetto

The Via Del Portico D’Ottavia extends in both directions and is designated an area pedonale (Area where cars are not permitted.)

Therefore the restaurants have seating outside under the incredible Roman sun where you can have your perfect cappucino and a piece of Jewish Pizza that will hold you over until lunch.

The restaurants in this area are good but pricey. That said, I did have a spectacular antipasto of mussles and clams in an out-of-this-world broth containing garlic butter and tomatoes at G. Spizzichino a few steps from the apartment.

Although my dish was an appetizer, it was enough food for me as it came with bread to sop up the ecstasy-inducing broth that accompanied it. And the portions were almost too hearty as is the norm with Italian restaurant portions in my experience.

Restaurants Jewish Ghetto
Restaurants Rome’s Jewish Ghetto

The next day we ate at the restaurante Al Portico where I ordered Carciofo ala Guida. This is an artichoke that has been trimmed and chucked into the deep fryer. It comes out all brown and crispy.

I had never had a deep fried artichoke quite like this so I asked the waiter how to eat it. He said you eat it with a knife and fork and unless I misunderstood, I was supposed to eat the leaves and choke as well as everything else. Of course I tried it but the leaves were too chewy and fibrous so I ate it like a normal artichoke.

It was fantastic. Once out of the deep fryer it was dressed in olive oil and salt which tastes spectacular on a hot Roman day after sightseeing.

There is something about deep frying anything that brings out the natural flavors which is the only explanation I can see for the recent America craze of deep frying Snicker’s bars.

The artichoke’s natural nutty flavor was beautifully enhanced and it was a perfect opening act for my main course which was grilled lamp chops all in a pile with  a delightful sauce drizzled sparingly over the top.

(Click here for a Google Street View tour of the Jewish Ghetto and you will find these restaurants as you pass through)

Toward the end of the Via Del Portico D’Ottavia, there is an archeological site where you can walk off your fattening artichoke and view ancient Roman columns being excavated.

Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona

Situated very close to the Jewish Quarter are most of the famous monuments and attractions that one looks for in Rome.

On a three day visit to Rome and while staying in the Jewish Quarter, my husband and I did not have to take one bus or metro ride because everything we wanted to see that trip was within walking distance.

Click this link to see a map of Rome. Zoom in on the bend in the Tiber River between  the Castel Sant’Angelo and the Piazza Navona. The Jewish Ghetto is right there. You can also type in Via Della Portico D’Ottavia and you will find it.

Spice Campo Dei Fiori
Spice mixes at Camp Dei Fiori, Rome

From the apartment on the Via Del Portico D’Ottavia, the Campo Dei Fiori ,or Field of Flowers, named for its flower market which now includes stalls for any gastro-gnome (my word, I made it up) was a short walk.

The morning market there is quite lovely and after passing the fruit and vegetable stalls along with the obligatory T-shirt and tourist stalls, we were able to purchase some beautiful prosciutto for lunch and in the stall next door, spices specifically blended for well known Italian dishes.

From the Campo Dei Fiori, the Piazza Navona is only a block or so. The walk is not made through crowded streets filled with cars but through tiny winding alleyways with shops and beautiful architecture around every corner.

Do wear good shoes because the alleys are paved with cobblestones and the ground tends to be uneven. If you are wearing heels or shoes with no support, it could be dangerous as well as simply annoying.

My recommendation is Sketchers Air Walks. My chiropractor recommends these to all his patients as they have great padding and support.

Tiber at night
Tiber River at Night

Also nearby are the Colosseum, the Forum, the Trastevere neighborhood, the Tiber River with its famous bridges, The Vatican and many other attractions.

Bridge Sculpture Rome
Bridge Sculpture, Rome

At night, in Summer, the Tiber river has shops and restaurants set up along the Lungotevere (The walkway that extends along the Tiber River). You can go there and have a meal, watch the soccer match, shop or just wander.

There are marvelous street musicians along the way and the weather is generally really warm and nice.

Happy Travels
Happy Travels

All in all I can’t say enough wonderful things about this area and our recent trip there.

Contact your Super Savvy Travelers team, we would love to book you the perfect trip to Italy or anywhere in Europe.