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The Project: aims and objectives

The OsTIUM project aims to understand, through the study of the ancient city of Ostia, how, with what means and for what purpose humanity has transformed, over the centuries, the urban space in which it lives, to adapt it to the changing needs of its existence, the available resources and the historical contingencies.


In all human history, the Roman civilization is perhaps the most representative of the ability to transform itself in order to last in time and to adapt itself as soon as Rome expands itself out of its boundaries. Roman cities, in particular, represent one of the most tangible manifestations of this ability. Most of the cities founded by the Romans in the western world are still occupied today or, are considered as a model for contemporary cities by virtue of their functional and modular organization. One of the most complete sites in the world where it is possible to follow the transformations of a Roman city over a long period is the ancient city of Ostia, the harbour of Rome.


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Ostia, in fact, as the only Roman city of which we know almost entirely the plan, offers an accurate view of its roads, temples, public and private buildings, but also of its inhabitants, during a period of almost a thousand years (4th c. BC-6th c. AD). During its long history, the city transformed itself completely, in order to adapt itself to a series of challenges, whether positive (economic boom, demographic increase, social mixing, public and private investments) or negative (flooding, silting, fires and other natural catastrophes, invasions, social segregation, progressive abandonment).
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In every situation, the city and its population have shown adaptability and resilience, but also a capacity to keep its original layout over the centuries by re-using, recycling and requalifying spaces, buildings and even building materials.


The project intends to explore the historical, social, economic, architectural and urban dynamics driving these transformations, by analysing the urban fabric of Ostia on the one hand, and the population of the city on the other, through an innovative and interdisciplinary approach, combining archaeology, economics and urbanism. Moreover, we aim also to study how Ostia’s transformations can be used as an urban model, whereby the choices made in ancient times and their consequences can help propose new solutions to challenges that contemporary cities still have to face today, especially in terms of sustainability, lower environmental impact and recycling of raw materials.

The project combines archaeology, economics and urbanism, synergistically integrated in a logic of cross-fertilization, to contribute to the general scientific questions structuring the project: who were the actors of the urban transformations? How did they put them concretely into action, with what material, economic and human resources, in order to face the challenges the city encountered in its long history? How did the population change and react in the evolving city, how did it occupy its spaces? What effect did the social changes have on the functioning of the city, the housing, and the building techniques? Finding the answers to these questions will help us reconstruct how the urban space has been structured and inhabited in time, and how the ancient city can become a model for contemporary ones.


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