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Old November 23rd, 2010, 05:15 PM   #1
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The less familiar architectural sights of Ancient Rome and Ostia Antica

I've decided that the best way to approach these sights is thematically (dividing them into public buildings, baths, commerce, houses, funerary monuments and religious buildings), rather than geographically or chronologically, because, as you can imagine, everything in Rome has been built one era on top of the other for millennia!

I've chosen these two places because they provide between them a good mix of the incredibly ostentatious and powerful in Rome, and the more industrial run-of-the-mill type working town in Ostia

I hope anyway that this gives some insight into a few of the perhaps less-appreciated buildings, and that others have more to add to the marvellous variety of the architectural collection!


This large wall by the Forum of Augustus served not only a structural purpose but also acted as a fire-break and provided security. The various districts of the centre of Rome were surrounded by these walls, and access could easily be shut off if necessary

This is the main temple structure of the Forum of Augustus, and you can see that same wall in the background:

The circus of Maxentius, just outside Rome on the via Appia - arguably the best preserved Roman circus anywhere. The entire complex was built as a funerary dedication!

This was a bar in the centre of Ostia (that block on the left is the bar itself, complete with sink and plumbing system underneath), even complete with a garden and fountain outside!

A bakery in Ostia: in the background is one of the several grinding stones in the building. All in all it was a massive operation, taking grain from the warehouse across the road, grinding it, and then baking bread in the massive ovens - all on the one site!

One of the less ingenious pieces of Roman urban design: a public lavatory (left) right next to a public water fountain (right)


It really can't be emphasised how much Roman baths were a feature of public life. They were enormous, and filled with fine art and mosaics, and either free or extremely cheap for any citizen to use. It was seen as one of the defining characteristics of Roman civilisation, eventually declining in the Christian era. They really do capture the grandeur of the Roman vision more than pretty much anything else

The enormous Maritime Baths at Ostia (they used to be right on the seashore, hence the name. Now due to centuries of silting they are a few km inland)

The Baths of Caracalla in Rome: like other baths in Rome, the word 'bath' doesn't really do it justice - more like a leisure complex with baths, gymnasia, parkland and a library. Also, these photo's don't do justice to just how BIG they are!

And there were multiple floors!

Also well worth a visit are the baths of Diocletian opposite Termini station


If you want to trace the origins of the shopping arcade, here's something that will look very familiar. These photos are from the Forum of Trajan, essentially a huge mercantile complex with shops arranged in halls and a grand hemicycle

One of three sides of a shopping complex in Ostia. Rather beautifully there are mosaics outside each of the shop fronts (not really shops with shelves, more like a room where people could meet to discuss purchase/exchange). It's not known whether these relate to the exchanges that went on inside, but it's possible, and nice to imagine so

'stuppatores' means rope-makers, i.e. for shipping (appropriate since Ostia was a major port town):

There's many, many more of these mosaics if you're interested

The other major feature of commercial architecture in Rome itself was the 'basilica'. There were no Christian connotations about the word, it basically meant a place of financial administration - taxes, currency exchange etc. They also I believe often served as law courts. They were generally very ostentatious, full of different colours of marble from all round the then-known world

The Basilica of Maxentius:

The Basilica Aemilia beside the Roman Forum:


A typical street in Ostia

Evidence of balconies on upper stories:

The so-called House of Cupid & Psyche in Ostia

Apartment building with central atrium. Generally the ground floor always had the nicest rooms - the poorer you were the higher up you lived

Another courtyard. Despite the awfulness of the picture quality, the pipework beneath the central pond and fountain is clearly visible:


If you've got this far, good on you; these are among my favourites, and certainly among the most perplexing pieces of Roman design I know of
The pyramid of Cestius: dating from the late Republic, it shows obvious Egyptian influences, which is slightly bizarre since we know from stories about Cleopatra that they were very suspicious of everything Egyptian. Nevertheless, it was something of a craze at the time

The tomb of the freedman (i.e. former slave) and baker Eurysaces. Fair to say its unique! Also the fact that a baker who used to be a slave could afford such a monument gives some idea how important the food imports were

That whole site is something of a spaghetti junction of roads, gates, aqueducts and monuments

Even more remarkable, these underground 'columbaria' were used to house the ashes of those who paid for this first known form of insurance policy (those who signed up would be guaranteed a good burial even if their family could not afford it).

There's a good reconstruction in the Baths of Diocletian Museum if you happen to be there...

Finally... there are also some religious buildings a bit off the beaten track.
There are a good number of them underneath (or even built into) Rome's old churches, which I'm happy to elaborate on, though maybe not here or this post will go on forever!

This Mithraeum (sanctuary for a mystic cult) can be found under the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin on the Aventine Hill in Rome

A completely different example of religious architecture is this synagogue in Ostia:

There's tons more of this stuff out there I'm sure. If anyone's got any examples to share then please do! In sum I just hope this thread goes to show there's more to the classical style than amphitheatres, arches and temples! Not that they aren't lovely too...
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Old November 23rd, 2010, 06:44 PM   #2
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Very nice,so is this for sights only in Italy or anywhere?
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Old November 23rd, 2010, 09:24 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by Rocky031 View Post
Very nice,so is this for sights only in Italy or anywhere?
As I see this is only Rome and it's neighbour town Ostia Antica.
Сьогодні я українець.
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Old November 23rd, 2010, 11:41 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Index_LT View Post
As I see this is only Rome and it's neighbour town Ostia Antica.
o I didnt understand the title right...when i saw ancient rome I thought it means whole empire...i didnt pay attention to that other part
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