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Ostia -fraction of the commune of Rome, Italy

July 14th, 2006 / / Links: Google Earth, Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, Virtual Earth / Nearest places

Ostia is a fraction of the commune of Rome, Italy, on the coast facing the Tyrrhenian Sea. It was the harbour of ancient Rome and perhaps its first colonia.

Located at the mouth of the River Tiber, Ostia was said to have been founded by Ancus Marcius, one of the kings of Rome, in the 7th century BC. A later inscription records the supposed event [Anco Marcio regi quarto a Romulo qui ab urbe condita primum coloniam --- deduxit]. However the most ancient archaeological remains so far discovered, are no earlier than the 4th century BC, and the most ancient buildings currently visible are from the 3rd century BC, notably the Castrum (military camp) and, of a slightly later date, the Capitolium (temple of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva). The opus quadratum walls of the original castrum at Ostia provide important evidence for the building techniques that were employed in Roman urbanisation during the period of the Middle Republic.

Although Ostia was probably founded for the sole purpose of military defense — since through the Tiber's mouth armies could eventually reach Rome by water — in time the port became a commercial harbour , and a very important one too.

Many of the goods that Rome received from its colonies and provinces passed through Ostia - above all the all-important grain supply to the city of Rome. In this role, Ostia soon replaced Pozzuoli (Puteoli, near Naples).

In 87 BC, the town was razed by Marius, and again in 67 BC it was sacked by pirates. After this second attack, the town was re-built and provided with protective walls by Cicero. The town was then further developed during the 1st century AD, mainly under the influence of Tiberius, who ordered the building of the first Forum. The town was also soon enriched by the construction of a new harbour on the northern mouths of the Tiber (which reaches the sea with a larger mouth in Ostia, Fiumara Grande, and a narrower one near to the current Fiumicino international airport). The new harbour, not surprisingly called Portus, was excavated from the ground at the orders of the emperor Claudius; it has an hexagonal form, in order to reduce the waves strength.

The town was provided with all the services a town of the time could require; in particular, a famous lighthouse. Archaeologists also discovered the public latrinas, organised for collective use as a series of seats that allow us to imagine today that the function was also a social moment. In addition, Ostia had a large theatre, public baths and a fire fighting service. You can still see the mosaic floors of the baths near today's entrance to the town.

Trajan too, required a widening of the naval areas, and ordered the building of another harbour, again pointing towards the north. It must be remembered that at a relatively short distance, there was also the harbour of Civitavecchia (Centum Cellae), and Rome was starting to have a significant number of harbours, the most important remaining Portus.

Ostia grew to 50,000 inhabitants in the 2nd century and in time focused its naval activities on Portus. With the end of the Roman Empire, Ostia fell slowly into decay, and was finally abandoned in the 9th century due to the fall of the Roman empire in combination with repeated invasions and sackings by Arab pirates; the inhabitants moved to Gregoriopolis. In the Middle Ages, bricks from buildings in Ostia were used for several other occasions. The Leaning Tower of Pisa was entirely built of material originally belonging to Ostia.

A "local sacking" was carried out by baroque architects, who used the remains as a sort of marble store for the palazzi they were building in Rome. Soon after, foreign explorers came in search of ancient statues and objects. The Papacy started organising its own investigations with Pope Pius VII and the research still continues today. It has been estimated that two thirds of the ancient town have currently been found.

(Source: Wikipedia)

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