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M. Starke, Travels in Europe and in the Island of Sicily: With an Account of the Remains of Ancient Italy

Paris 1836, p. 243-245


The distance from Rome to Ostia (anciently Ostia Tiberina) is about sixteen Roman miles: and the price commonly charged for an open carriage, with six places and three horses, to go and return, is five scudi, buonamano not inclusive. By setting out early, this excursion may be accomplished in one day; but, as Mal'aria prevails dreadfully at Ostia, it should be visited in cold weather; and persons unaccustomed to this pestiferous air ought not to encounter it, without drinking a glass of strong wine. The time occupied in going from Rome to Ostia is about three hours and a half; and, in returning, about four hours. The Road is good, and lies on a gentle descent parallel with the Tiber; the sinuosities of which river are, on one spot, very picturesque. The country near Ostia is a dreary Marsh, interspersed with Salt-works, and a dead Lake, literally covered with wild fowl.

The modern road to Ostia follows the course of the ancient Via Ostiensis. The Porta Trigemina, which appears to have stood under the Priorato di Malta, between the Aventine Hill and the Tiber, was likewise called Porta Ostiensis, before Aurelian extended the walls of Rome; but after that period the Gate now called Porta di S. Paolo became the Porta Ostiensis. Beyond this Gate the road passes the ancient Almo, consecrated to Cybele; thence proceeding to the ruins of the Basilica of St. Paul; and farther on, passing the site of the Vicus Alexandri, an ancient Roman Village. Upward of four miles from the Gate is the Via Laurentina, still a carriage-road, which leads to Decima and Prattica: and nine miles from Rome is the Ponte della Refolta, an ancient Bridge, beyond which the road crosses another ancient Bridge thrown over the Salinae, or Salt-works, which are mentioned by Livy as having existed in the days of Ancus Martius, who, according to all the Roman historians, founded Ostia. Under the last-mentioned Bridge are Ruins of an Aqueduct.

Travellers who wish to make the most of their time should, when they arrive at the spot leading to ancient Ostia (from which the modern Town is about a quarter of a mile distant), get out of their carriages, and send them to Castel Fusano (about a mile and a half distant), where stabling may be procured; and where, in a Casino which belongs to the Chigi family, persons who bring their own dinner are usually allowed to dine, paying for the room they occupy.

The Tiber has two mouths: and therefore is called by Virgil, "King of horned floods." Near one of these mouths Ancus Martius founded Ostia; which was, in ancient days, so pleasantly situated, that the Romans frequently spent part of the year there; and its widely-spread and thickly-scattered ruins prove that is must once have been large and populous. The site of its Walls, which, according to appearance, were semicircular, and remains of the Towers which defended them, may still be discovered; although, generally speaking, Ostia is more completely demolished by time, war, excavations, and lime-kilns, than almost any other ancient town of Latium. The Theatre likewise may be traced, by remains of some of the foundations of its Seats; as may the Cella of a Temple, called that of Jove, but without good authority. Its walls are constructed with brick, and nearly perfect: they exhibit the best style of ancient Roman architecture: and seem to have been cased with marble on the outside, and also within: and as the remains of the Cornice, Frieze, and Architrave resemble, in beauty of execution, the embellishments of Trajan's Forum, it appears probable that this temple was of the age of Trajan. Its interior displays remains of a Cella, under which is a Penetrale, or Recess, now filled with earth. The Vestibule of this Temple seems to have been formed by six fluted columns of the Corinthian order; fragments of which may be discovered in the vicinity. The pavement of the Edifice was giallo antico, mixed with Numidian marble. The statue of the presiding divinity stood on a loft pedestal, similar to those in the Temple of Venus and Rome: the interior of the Building likewise contained six Niches for other statues; and as there is no appearance of windows, perhaps it was lighted by means of its door (1). Beyond the remains of this Temple is a Circular Edifice, with niches, and some well-preserved Paintings, considering that they are exposed to the external air. This edifice is called L'Arca di Mercurio, the word Arca being a corruption of Area. In the same mass of building another apartment is discoverable. Farther on are four Pedestals with ancient Inscriptions, perfectly legible; one being in honour of Julia, the Consort of Septimius Severus: and still farther, that is, still nearer to the mouth of the Tiber, are a Corinthian Capital of the lower ages, and a building called Tor Bovacciana, which commands this branch of the river; where, according to Virgil, Aeneas landed, after his flight from Troy. Although the earth here has gained considerably on the water, and several of the woods have been felled, still, the savage wildness of the country, and the awful magnificence of its forests of gigantic maritime stone-pines (extending upwards of twenty miles along the coast, accord well with this description in the Aeneid (...).

Adjoining to Tor Bovacciana is a green field, in a semi-circular shape, which probably was the ancient Port; though the spot so denominated is nearer to modern Ostia, and opposite to the Cella of the Temple supposed to have been dedicated to Jove. Contiguous to Tor Bovacciana is a Ferry to the Isola Sacra, a flat square piece of ground, about half a league broad, which projects into the sea between Ostia and Porto; and is formed into an island by the two mouths of the Tiber: it was probably Sacra, because festivals in honour of Castor and Pollux were celebrated there.

(...) Modern Ostia is a dirty wretched place, which affords no accomodation for Travellers; neither does it usually contain more than a hundred inhabitants during winter, and in summer not a quarter part of that number; though lately the extension of the Salt-works has increased the residents at Ostia; but they all look cadaverous; and a country, once teeming with healthful inhabitants of the human species, is now occupied by immense herds of buffaloes, vast flocks of wild-fowl, wild boars, deer, and, in the forests, wolves.

(1) The magnificent columns, and other precious marbles, which embellish the Palazzo Braschi in Rome, are said to have been taken from this Temple; and among the Ruins still seen at Ostia is a block of African marble, nineteen feet six inches long, four feet ten inches wide, and two feet deep.


[jthb - 19-Jan-2007]