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Ancient Rome: Via Appia and Ostia Antica

Ancient Rome: Via Appia and Ostia Antica

Roaming through Rome means also going back in time and travel through history, walking on ancient roads like the famous Via Appia, or strolling through the ancient city ruins of Ostia Antica

In today’s episode, we’re not only Roaming through Rome, but through time as well!




BONUS FEATURE for this episode on A Road Retraveled Travel App: What famous historical hero who became legendary in movies and TV series is said to have met his demise on Via Appia….or did he? …… You’d never guess which infamous Italian figure  was responsible for initiating the excavations of Ostia Antica. …..And what would Ostia Antica and salaries have in common? Find out the answers to these questions AND how to get to Via Appia and Ostia Antica on public transportaion in this episode’s bonus feature segment on the official A Road Retraveled App available at the iTunes App Store.


Via Appia Antica (Ancient Appian Way)

Via Appia Antica (Ancient Appian Way)

Rome became an empire by expanding beyond their small city of Rome throughout Italy, and spreading out into Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Such expansion required a network of roads to and from Rome, thus the expression: All Roads Lead to Rome. If this was true, then Via Appia was one of the earliest and most important roads in Ancient Rome. By no means a Route 66 or German engineered autobahn, it was, however, the “queen of the long roadsAppia teritur regina longarum viarum.  The highway of Ancient Rome.

 Named after Appius Claudius Caecus, the Roman censor responsible for the construction of this road in 312 BC during the Samnite wars, Via Appia was used as a main route for military troops and supplies for the wars.  Romans became experts in road construction, and like many of the monuments still in existence, it’s evident that when ancient Romans built something, it was built to last.

In the video you will see how the Romans build their roads to endure centuries of traffic.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, everything went to pot: aqueducts, monuments….and of course, via Appia. As with the Pantheon and the Colosseum, it took a Pope, in this case Pope Pius VI to order its restoration, with a new Appian Way built parallel with the old appian way which is now called Via Appia Antica.

Via Appia Antica, like it’s other ancient companions, has become a tourist attraction. The 2 via Appias are easy to tell apart: the new Via Appia has relatively smooth asphalt and used by cars and buses…Via Appia Antica requires comfortable walking shoes and durable ankles in order to walk on it…and driving would make for a very bumpy ride – you definitely don’t want to drink and drive on this road, for sure you’ll spill your drink all over you!

Nearby off the new Via Appia you can visit  Porta San Sebastiano…the contemporary name for the ancient Porta Appia. This gate is also part of the great Aurelian Wall of Rome.  San Sebastiano Fuori le Mura, or Saint Sebastian Outside the Walls, is one of the basilicas in Rome that up until the Great Jubilee of year 2000, it was one of the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome, and still considered so by traditionalists.

Ancient Christian Catacombs

You can also go underground and visit the Saint Sebastian catacombs, as well as the Catacombs of San Callisto that offers guided tours in various languages.  Make no bones about it, it’s a unique experience walking through underground tombs….but no, you won’t see any bones laying around these ancient Christian burial chambers.


Ostia Antica Ancient Roman Ruins

Ostia Antica Ancient Roman Ruins

Say you’re in Rome, and can’t make it to Pompeii to visit the ruins of one of Rome’s former glorious cities, then why not spend a day in Ostia Antica?

Just outside Rome, it’s a metro ride away, and in some ways, far better preserved than Pompeii and less crowded with tourists.

In its hey-day during the 2nd century AD, Ostia was a densely populated harbor city that although started out as a military defense to protect Rome, in time it grew into a commercial nucleus with various large commercial and residential buildings, and an international population of more than 50,000. Ostia, meaning mouth in latin, was at the mouth of the Tiber River, and its history goes back thousands of years.  Ostia was founded around 7th century BC by the 4th King of Rome, Ancus Marcinus.

Most of the buildings that have been excavated here were built in the first half of the 2nd century during the reign of emperors Trajan, Hadrian, and Antonius Pius.

In 410 AD the Goths and Huns sacked Rome and plundered Ostia leaving it in rumbles.  Those were the last days of Ostia.

For centuries,  Ostian marble and stone were quarried and used to build cathedrals in Florence, Amalfi, Orvieto, and  Pisa, including the leaning tower of Pisa,. A special kiln was used to burn marble to be used as mortar. Later on, what the locals didn’t plunder, foreign tourists looted whatever they could get their hands on to add to their  private art collections in England, France, Portugal, Spain, US, and Russia. Most are now in national museums….which is way better than being turned into mortar, or carted off as spare materials for more palazzi and churches.

 Interesting highlights worth checking out in Ostia Antica

In the video you can see these fascinating places discussed below 

Ostia Antica Ancient Roman Ruins

When you come to Ostia, you can’t help but imagine it in terms of being a modern city….and like most modern cities today, Ostia had their own apartment complexes, called insulae. For example, Casa Diana is thought to have been a high riser of those times at 7 stories high.  Because Romans didn’t reinforce their concrete with metal or steel rods like we do today, buildings higher than 7 stories easily collapsed, especially during an earth quake. Because of that, building codes did not permit buildings taller than 7 stories, or walls thinner than 2 feet.

Unlike modern apartment buildings, there were no elevators, no kitchens, no bathrooms, and no running water!!  Obviously the Penthouse was NOT the most coveted apartment in the building!!

Because building a fire on the floor to cook posed a huge risk, and buildings did burn down because of that, the solution for lack of apartment kitchens were local fast food joints and bars, conveniently located right across the street! Right here is the Thermopolium, a very well preserved bar that served food and drinks. And since pictures are worth a thousand words, the menu was not written, it was frescoed.  Most locals were illiterate, so painting the services offered was the way people communicated back in those days. In Pompeii, brothels were found to have displayed frescoes of types of services offered…

Bread was an important food staple in Ostia, but without kitchens and ovens, people relied on the neighborhood bakery, and the mill that ground the wheat into flour. 

Lack of bathrooms posed another problem for the Ostian apartment dwellers! They had to walk down, go out and do their business in the public latrines. And by public, I really do mean public. “Privacy” was not a concept invented by the Romans.

Watch the video to see what public toilets looked like in Ancient Rome, and what they used instead of Toilet Paper!!


 You can’t imagine not having a movie theater in your town!!  Ok, so movies were not around 2000 years ago, but Ostia had its own theater too! Not an amphitehater like the Coliseum, just a regular semi circular one, but none-the-less people needed their entertainment!

Ostia Antica’s Commercial Center

Behind the theater is Piazzale dele Corporazioni…a commercial district that housed some 60 official headquarters of the shipping society. Around the three sided portico were small rooms and in the front of each one, black and white mosaics with symbols and in some cases texts advertising the trade of each business. Some of these mosaics indicate grain, a lighthouse, dolphins, mythological figures, and many I didn’t get to photograph.

These beautiful mosaics, that you can watch in the video, have been preserved in nearly perfect condition, considering they’re 2000 years old!

Ostia’s Ancient Cemeteries 

With nearly a million people living in Ostia at its peak, and with high mortality rates of those times, the city needed a place to bury their dead. Cemeteries in Ancient Rome were always built outside of city walls for health and sanitary reasons.  Here, you can find the cemetery just as you walk into Ostia Antica at the main entrance. Luckily you won’t be seeing any dead people as you walk on through…

In today’s highly disposable society, we don’t find many things that are made to last. Here we walked on a road built during the 4th century BC, and entered a bar that’s in about as good enough condition as it was when it was in use some 2,000 years ago! Maybe we can learn a valuable lesson from these ancient builders: build something durable, on a strong foundation, and it will last through time.



~ When visiting ancient sites such as Ancient Appian Way or Ostia Antica, be sure to wear comfortable shoes and mind your step as the terrain is uneven, and scattered with rocs, stones, or ancient remnants.

~ The ancient Roman ruins are not to be used as sit or stand on. they are fragile and can break. Please treat these ancient treasures with due respect.

~ To find out more about the Catacombs, hours and fees,  visit www.catacombe.roma.it  and www.catacombe.org

~  Find out more about Ostia Antica, hours and fees online at www.ostia-antica.org

~ If taking the metro and train to Ostia is not your cup of tea, you can book a half day tour to Ostia Antica with Stefano Rome Tours and have a personal driver take you inside a private vehicle to Ostia Antica, wait for you and then take you back. They can also arrange for a private tour guide to take you on an in depth journey through the ancient city. Click on the blue title to go to their Ostia Antica half day tour and find out more about it.

~ If you are a true ancient history buff, combine your Ostia Antica visit with a visit to the ancient Etruscan Banditaccia Necropolis in Cerveteri located in the countryside of Lazio outside of Rome. The Etruscans were the highly advanced yet profoundly mysterious pre-Roman civilization, and you will have the opportunity to explore their tombs in this spectacular necropolis. Visit Stefano Rome Tours’ website or click on the blue tour titles to find out more about Ostia and Cerveteri Day Tour : www.StefanoRomeTours.com


Thank you for joining me today in Ancient Rome…until next time, ciao for now!


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