Ostia Antica, Italy

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The beautifully preserved ruins of Ostia lie twenty miles from Rome, in the meadows between the Tiber River and the Tyrrhenian Sea. It was founded, probably in the 4th century BC, as a military colony to guard the river mouth against seaborne invasions. Later, during the centuries when virtually all imports reached the Capital via the Tiber, Ostia gained prominence as the domestic landing for cargo boats. By the 2nd century AD, it had become a flourishing commercial center inhabited by upwards of 100,000 people, whose apartment buildings, taverns, and grocery shops are still intact.

Ostia may have been Rome’s first colonia. According to the legend Ancus Marcius, the semi-legendary fourth king of Rome, first destroyed Ficana, an ancient town that was only 17 km (11 mi) from Rome and had a small harbour on the Tiber, and then proceeded with establishing the new colony 10 km (6 mi) further west and closer to the sea coast.

Ostia was a well planned colony with many amenities – Beautiful Baths with mosaic measuring 55 feet by 36 feet, the sea god is seen riding a chariot drawn by four pawing horses. An amphitheater, next to the bar erected in 12 BC, is a quiet, wonderfully preserved series of steep semicircular stone bleachers that hold 3500 spectators. Behind the theater is the Forum of the Corporations, so called because its great rectangular portico housed the offices of sixty-four maritime companies. Laundry shop is next to the public baths. Outside was the gymnastics field, where bathers practiced sports or calisthenics, or walked beneath covered porticoes. One important facility shared by all was the communal forica, or latrine. Beyond the baths is a cluster of three and four-story apartment buildings.

With the end of the Roman Empire, Ostia fell slowly into decay, and was finally abandoned in the 9th century.

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