Hang out your shingle in Ostia Antica

February 12, 2013 / Art & Archaeology
Ostia Antica, Lazio
IMG_20130210_124733For most of the time while visiting Ancient Rome’s port town, you’re looking out and up, all around you at the breadth of visual clues and archaeological remains. At very few other sites is one able to imagine what a Roman town and daily life was like 2,000 years ago.

Here are the warehouses that stored the goods… now you’re in a residential neighborhood, Roman condos if you will, lucky tenants these that have a nice balcony that looks onto the street! And there’s the theater. The forum.. the gym and bath-houses… it’s all here, commerce, domestic life, government, health and sports, culture, and so on.

IMG_20130210_125905And when you aren’t looking up and out, your nose is pointed downwards at the incredible mosaics that cover so much of the public spaces, and quite a few private homes too. (Was the mosaicist who added color ostracized or acclaimed as a genius!?)

No matter what, it is nice to see this much attention given to elegance and graphic design. The mosaics cover everything from general decorative motifs, to the underfoot equivalent of street signs.

For example, as you walked under the portico that constitutes the large piazza delle corporazioni, you would look at the floor mosaics… if you were in the market for wood, you would want to find the office with the mosaic out front that read Naviculariorum Lignariorum (Wood Shippers Corporation).

Or if you were in need of shipping to or from what are now the areas of Languedoc and Provence (so called because the Romans named their first transalpine permanent conquest Provincia Nostra or Provincia Romana), you would obviously transact the deal with the good folks over at Navi Narbonenses (the Narbonne Shippers/Line).





by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

15 Responses to “Hang out your shingle in Ostia Antica”

  1. francesco costa

    non so se il mosaicista era ostracizzato dai suoi contemporanei oppure acclamato come un genio per aver aggiunto il colore alle sue opere, ma quello che so di certo รจ che i tuoi pezzi sono fantastici! hai davvero l’occhio di un artista! quanto mi piacerebbe fare una volta insieme a te una di queste passeggiate nel passato e farmi prestare il tuo occhio per individuare la bravura dei nostri antenati! ne sarei felice! un abbraccio e buon lavoro, f.

  2. Joan Schmelzle

    Reading this and looking at the pictures make me wish that I had managed to add Ostia for return visit while I was in Rome. Even a month turned out to be less time than I needed to go back to all the places I wanted to return too. I hope for a next time while I continue to read about my favorite city and country to visit.

  3. Toni DeBella

    GB, Ostia Antica is one of those places we often forget about when we only focus only on Rome’s center. It’s astounding the beauty that is in the details of what the Romans created – their focus was always on aesthetics – even in the simplest things..like signs. Great note.

  4. Dan Johnson

    When we arrived in Rome we stayed in Lido di Ostia with the intent of a day spent in Ostia Antica before heading for Abruzzo and Tuscany. Unfortunately, due to my wife’s illness, we didn’t see any of Ostia Antica, but, thanks to you we got to catch yet another glimpse of what we missed. Thanks GB.

  5. Bill Crowe

    This was wonderful! What is the object (structure?) to the right of the ship in the Navi Narbonensis?

    • GB

      In many of the “office-sign” mosaics, lighthouses are often featured. These all display a customary lighthouse eye-like opening up top, something this one doesn’t show however.
      I think this one might be a loading dock/warehouse. Seems there’s some kind of crane/boom that’s loading goods into/off of the ship.
      Could refer to either an Ostia or Narbonne construction, not sure.
      I’ll have to ask my archaeologist friend for more details…

      • Bill Crowe

        Thanks for your reply. Agreed, it does look rather like the base of the Alexandria lighthouse, but then what is the gibbet affair at the base? And what are the balloon-like things off the bow of he ship? In any case, fascinating.

  6. David Bridges

    I think Ostia Antica is one of the most interesting places in the Rome area. One gets an excellent look at the life of a Roman town 2000 years ago and one can admire the beautiful mosaics that decorated the town. I especially remember the marble slab in the butcher’s shop. A glimpse of everyday Roman life gives one a kind of deeper connection to the culture.

  7. Wow! Wow! Wow!

    Many, many times, I have been within minutes of Antica Ostia, and I have never seen or known about it. What a special place! (My friends live in Pomezia). This is very exciting to me.
    You have added to my “to do” list- Grazie, Grazie Mille! :-)

  8. GB,
    OK, I’m coming back to Rome…too much wonderful food and too many fabulous places to visit and revisit! Victoria

  9. Giuseppe Spano
    Giuseppe Spano

    It is said man does not know which way to walk, I suppose the ancients were attempting to help those without direction…

  10. visiting Ostia Antica was one of the most exciting parts of my trip to Rome! A keyhole look at the past of the ‘middle class’ instead of the super wealthy.

  11. ah!bella italia-i wonder if the merchants of that far-away time had the same trails and tribulations that we are faced with in these”modern-times”i will be 90 in june-so much yet to see and do and so little time-but no matter-questa e la vita!

  12. The last time I went to Rome I promised myself I’d go to Ostia. In the end I went on my last day. How I wish I’d had more time as it was superb, rivalling even Pompeii as the crowds were missing. What struck me , apart from the mosaics, was how cramped the public toilets were. People must have been much smaller that time.


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