St. Augustine of Hippo was a North African convert who, after his conversion, became one of Catholicism’s greatest educators.

Ostia Antica (Latin for “Old Mouth”) is an ancient seaport located outside of the Eternal City itself at the mouth of the River Tiber.Back in 2003 or 2004, it was my privilege to lead a group of pilgrims to some of the hot spots in and around Rome. One of my favorite sites is Augustine’s hometown of Ostia Antica, the ancient Rome seaport. Today I share a few personal photos from some of his favorite hometown haunts.

Well, actually, it isn’t really a seaport today.  Time and tide have reworked the landscape, leaving the old port city landlocked.  The sea, if you go there today, is nearly two miles away.

The town of Ostia needed to accommodate the large crowds—and so the settlement sprawled across the Italian plains, including down its narrow streets shops and schools, administrative buildings, a theatre, public baths, small homes and apartments, public ovens, even a latrine that requires no explanation.But in the fourth century, Ostia was a bustling seaport serving the city of Rome.   Merchants from the warehouse district greeted the incoming vessels, then sold their goods to people of the city.  Sailors on shore leave mingled with Roman citizens, shopping, dining in restaurants, perhaps enjoying a good stage play before setting sail once again.

One of my favorite spots (Darn! Where is that picture?!) was a restaurant which resembled your local hamburger joint.  In the restaurant were small round marble tables with smaller round stools, providing comfortable seating.  There was a counter where the Roman soldiers and citizens could place their orders; and—oh my gosh!—behind the counter, stuccoed onto a wall in still-bright colors, were pictures of the foods one could find there:  green vegetables, various plants and cuts of meat.

It was, as one of the pilgrims exclaimed, just like the McDonald’s Point Menu!!

So here, in bustling Ostia, was where Augustine spent his time.  

Later, after Augustine’s conversion to Christianity, his mother Monica followed him to Rome; and here at Ostia is where she died at the age of 56.  St. Monica is buried in the town, under the Cathedral of Santa Aurea.Remember that at age 29, Augustine abandoned his mother and slipped away in the night, boarding a ship for Rome and high adventure.  Here, at Ostia, is where he landed.

Our guide, Fr. Joseph Fox O.P., explains the layout of Ostia Antica

View of the city from the old Roman road

Shops and once-thriving businesses along an old Ostian road

Apartments–many with community ovens in the center

A peek into the public baths, with their elaborately tiled floors

The amphitheater–where Ostians gathered for performances and speeches

The Cathedral of St. Aurea, where St. Monica is buried

This is–sure enough!–the public toilets. Not much privacy, huh?