From Ostia Antica to Lido di Ostia
Ostia was, and up to a point still is, Rome’s connection with the Mediterranean. Ostia is the Latin word for mouth, and this is what the ancient Romans called the place where the river Tiber met the sea.
Due to silting, however, this place has moved considerably over the last 2000 years, which is why today, you can walk through the open countryside – for about 5 km – from the ancient harbour to the new one, or, to give them both their proper names, from Ostia Antica to Lido di Ostia.
On tourist maps and in travel brochures, Lido di Ostia is generally referred to simply as Lido. Perhaps visitors were confused by this profusion of Ostias, and the Lido inhabitants grew tired of tourists who were erring through the New Town’s modern streets asking everybody where they could see the ruins.
Read also: The Road to Rome
To see the ruins of the ancient harbour town, take the Metro to Piramide station in central Rome and change over to the Lido line which runs overground and whose trains depart in a separate wing of the station.
Even though you have to leave the Metro section, however, this counts as a single ride (remember last week’s brief explanation of the Roman public transport network), so you can use the same ticket (costing only € 1.50) for the entire ride. Leave the train at Ostia Antica station, cross the footbridge and just keep on straight until you reach the site.
The place looks interesting and I am sure that it is well worth a visit, so don’t make the mistake we made by coming on a Monday when the entire site is closed to the public.
Closed or not: you should always take the time afterwards to explore the small Old Town nearby around Santa Aurea church …
… and the Castle, which was built by the man who later became Pope Julius II (the one who commissioned the Sistine Chapel from Michelangelo, Rex Harrison quarrelling furiously with Charlton Heston in The Sound and the Fury).
Ostia Antica was used as a harbour throughout antiquity, but also saddled with many problems, and the Romans experimented with alternatives as early as the first century AD when the Emperor Claudius ordered the Portus harbour to be built 4 km to the north.
Portus was later extended and connected to the Tiber by a canal. (Civitavecchia still further to the north, modern Rome’s main port, was also an early rival.)
After your visit to the archaeological site, return to the train station and follow the arrows that indicate the trail to the seaside (Percorso al mare), walking around the car park on the left hand side and crossing the road bridge before turning to your right.
Continue past the cemetery for a pleasant walk down a country lane through some typical Lazio scenery.
After about three kilometres, you will reach a restaurant. With no Percorso arrows or other signposts in sight, we followed our instincts, turning left around the restaurant – we could already see the first buildings of the town shimmering through the trees in the distance – and into the forest, which turned out to be, as we discovered on approach, separated from the town by a perimeter wire fence.
Fortunately, we ran into a bloke who told us to keep to our right hand side where we would find an exit. This exit proved to be a little improvised, as so much else in Italy is. Therefore, we still don’t know whether we took the right way, but this was certainly a way.
It also turned out that the buildings that we had seen shimmering through the trees belonged to a vast council estate – ugly enough to rob even the most Italophile visitor of any illusion about the presumed beauty of all Italian architecture.
Turn right out of the exit, left into the main street and continue alongside the railway tracks past Lido Nord station. When the rails take a sharp turn to the left, continue straight down Via Ostiense which will – after another 500 metres – lead you directly to the coast.
There are many small restaurants and sandwich bars along the way, and we bought a piece of vegetable pizza for an impromptu picnic by the sea.
During our visit (in November), the whole place had a somewhat abandoned feel, but it is easy to imagine that in summer, Ostia becomes a totally different town. The infrastructure to cope with tens of thousands of visitors on a sunny day – from restaurants to beach huts for rent – is certainly in place.
Ostia may no longer be Rome’s main harbour but it still is her nearest beach.
Look for the cupola over the roofs on your right hand side: that is the town’s main church, and near-by you can find a pedestrianized street with more restaurants and cafés.
Lido Centro station is a couple of blocks behind the church, on the other side of the hill: from here, you can return to Rome. (Trains run frequently in either direction, normally about every 15 minutes.)
Modern Ostia is certainly not the prettiest town in Italy, but at least we have seen the Mediterranean – and no visit to Italy feels complete without a trip to the seaside, not even in November.