Cycling the Lazio Coast: Part 2 Cerveteri and Ostia Antica

Published on:  | Last updated: 11 March 2018

This section of the route takes you from Civitavecchia to Cerveteri with its Etruscan necropolis (listed jointly with Tarquinia as a UNESCO World Heritage site). From there it skirts around the Rome’s Fiumicino (Leonardo da Vinci) airport before coming to the town of Fiumicino at the mouth of the Tevere (Tiber), and continues to the seaside resort of Ostia. Nearby is Ostia Antica the port of ancient Rome.

From Civitavecchia the Via Aurelia (no longer a dual carriageway) follows the coast via the seaside resort of Santa Marinella and on towards Ladispoli. The road is still quieter as here as through traffic turns off and takes the motorway.

On its way, the Via Aurelia passes Pyrgi. There's not much to see there now but there was once a major Etruscan temple here that was sacked by Greeks from Syracusa

Again you have a choice between heading for the Cerveteri and its Etruscan necropolis and museum, of continuing on via Ladispoli to Fiumicino and Ostia.

Cerveteri: necropoli della Banditaccia

Although it's only a few miles south along the coast from Tarquinia, Cerveteri has a very different feel: the tombs are above ground and you can walk along the streets between them.

“ There is a stillness and a softness in these great grassy mounds with their ancient stone girdles, and down the central walk there lingers still a kind of homeliness and happiness. True, it was a still and sunny afternoon in April, and larks rose from the soft grass of the tombs. But there was a stillness and a soothingness in all the air, in that sunken place, and a feeling that it was good for one's soul to be there. ”

I didn't spot any larks but otherwise Lawrence's description from 1927 still captures the feel of the Banditaccia today.

Estruscan tombs in the Banditaccia necropoli Etrusca (Cerveteri - Lazio)

Estruscan tombs in the Banditaccia necropoli Etrusca (Cerveteri – Lazio)

While the tombs in Tarquinia are protected by glass doors, in Cerveteri you can walk into the tombs and have a look around. The necropolis is an testament to the skills of the Etruscan stonemasons with some of the circular tombs seeming to be carved out of a single piece of stone.

Probably the star of the show is the Tomba dei Rilievi, its walls covered with carvings of a variety of objects – including swords and shields and a small dog.

The museum at Cerveteri is one of the best in the region and includes some very clever interactive holographic displays (so clever I needed a member of staff to show me how to use them). Sadly, for the museum most of the masterpieces from the Cerveteri are on display in the Villa Giulia and the Museo Gregoriano Etrusco in Rome. This includes the Sarcofago degli Sposi (sarcophagus of the husband and wife) – perhaps the greatest masterpiece of Etruscan art – as well as a fabulous haul of Greek vases.

Opening hours etc: cerveteri.beniculturali.it

Opening hours etc: comune.cerveteri.rm.it

The Tevere (Tiber) at Fiumicino

The Tevere (Tiber) at Fiumicino

Fiumicino and Ostia

The route takes you on relatively quiet roads on the seaward side of Rome's L airport – more commonly known as Rome Fiumicino. Fiumicino itself is a little town at the mouth of the Tevere (Tiber). The quayside would be a nice place to have lunch.

A short ride from Fiumicino takes you to Ostia. Ostia is also the nearest beach to Rome. Much of the coastline is occupied by stabilmenti balneari (bathing establishments – Google ImageSearch results).

Many of these were established under the Mussolini period in a bid to encourage workers to participate in healthy leisure and sporting activities. There's a lido for the bus drivers and metro staff as well as for the airforce, and tax inspectors and customs staff. Look out for the Miami Lido – a modernist lido that has been stylishly restored and updated – for the staff of the Istat (national institute of statistics).

If you want to go for a swim or have a little beach time yourself then look out for a spiaggia lib era (literally a free beach). There are five at Ostia for more information (in Italian) check out ostiabeach.it

There's a very funny video about a day out at Ostia beach:

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You don't need to be able to speak Italian, or the Roman dialect, to get the joke, but the chorus 'la sabbia bruccia' means the sand burns and the final straw for the long-suffering boyfriend is when the girlfriend asks him to fetch her bag. When he asks where it is she says 'in the car'. ‘What do you mean in the car?’ he asks ‘We're parked at Acilia'’ (several kilometres away). Well you can take the dog for company, she replies. 'Non te scordar er drink' is Roman dialect for don't forget the drink.

Ostia Antica

Ostia Antica is the port city established by the Romans in its heyday it had a population of 100,000. It was a cosmopolitan city: people came from all over the Mediterranean to trade. The city was home to the oldest synagogue outside Israel. The went into decline as the coastline changed: the present-day coast is 3kms further from the coastline as it was in the Roman era. It was finally abandoned in the 8th century because of the difficulty of defending it against attacks from the sea by Saracen fleets. It was abandoned and covered by the sands. Visiting Ostia Antica you can get a sense of what ancient Rome was like.

Ostia Antica is well worth a half a day. The site is at least as important and interesting as the better-known Pompei. This video skilfully bonds footage of Ostia Antica as it is now with reconstructions of how it might have looked at its height. With its huge warehouses and apartment blocks the reconstructed city has a surprisingly modern feel.

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Visiting Ostia Antica

For information about ticket prices and opening hours visit the official website: ostiaantica.beniculturali.it.

You can get a helpful (free) pdf guide from ostia-antica.org a voluntary not-for-profit enthusiast site (in English) direct download link: Ostia Antica Tourist Guide ). The site has lots of videos about the city.

Map and altitude profile

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Lazio Coast Distances Table
Civitavecchia – Cerveteri 38kms
Cerveteri – Fiumicino (town) 40.5kms
Fiumicino – Ostia 14kms

Options

From Civitavecchia there isn't any alternative to the Via Aurelia (although at this point most through traffic takes the motorway). Without a doubt the most scenic and interesting route through northern Lazio is a via the Lago di Bracciano and the Lago di Bolsena.

This route is probably of most interest if you want to visit Cerveteri and Tarquinia, but may also want to consider it if you are on a charity ride with a deadline or you need to get to Fiumicino airport to catch a plane.

If you are really in a hurry you could bypass Tarquinia and Cerveteri, and do the northern Lazio section in a day.

When to go

Bear in mind that that this route takes in a number of seaside resorts and in high summer (especially in August and at weekends, these roads are likely to get very busy. If you can, avoid travelling at weekends July and avoid altogether in August.

More information

Places to stay

Hotels and B&Bs

Yes staying overnight in Roma is appealing, but there are good transport links between the coast and the centre of the city. So staying on the coast and catching the train into town is a practical option.

Find and book places to stay with Booking.com

Booking.com pages for places on this section of the route:

About these links

If you use these links to book accommodation Booking.com will pay me a small part of their commission. This helps support the costs of producing this site.

I use Booking.com to find and book places to stay when there are no campsites in the area. The large majority of hotels and many hostels are now on ‘Booking’. I like it because it means that I can get almost-instant confirmation. The rating system is also a reliable guide to the quality of the accommodation.

I’ve never had a problem finding places to keep my bike —even if it’s a cupboard or store room. I always use the ‘special requests’ field on the booking form to tell the hotel that I’m travelling with a bike, which gives them the opportunity to let me know if there’s a problem.

Many properties offer free cancellation but it’s a good idea to check the conditions as these vary from property to property.

Camping Internazionale Castelfusano. A nice site in a wooded area on the dunes. It's reasonable value for money considering the proximity to Roma. This is quite a good bet if you want to spend some time sightseeing in Roma; the campsite is a shortish walk/bus ride (2km) from the metro line into central Roma meaning that it's quicker to get into Roma from here than it is from campsites that are much closer. Update: the campsite has now been taken over by the Baia Holiday group who seem to be investing heavily in the site.

  Map of campsites along the route:  LazioCoast-campsites-map-show map in overlay    |    LazioCoast-campsites-map-show map in new window   

Transport and services

Train and ferry services

There’s also an excellent train service between Ostia and Rome – this is part of the metro network and will get you into the centre of Rome in about half an hour. On Saturdays, and at certain times of the day you can take your bike on the train from the Lido see 060608.it

You should also be able to catch the regional trains into Roma from the stations at Ladispoli and at Maccarese.

Resources

Other resources about Ostia Antica

John Higham has produced a pdf guidebook Ostia Antica: The Port of Ancient Rome (£1.95). Very good value with lots of pictures.

There's an excellent series of 8 videos on youtube Ostia Antica Rome's Mirror from the American Institute for Roman Culture (youtube channel).

colonia-ostiensis.com is the site of Angelo Ceccotini who makes 3D reconstructions of Ostia Antica.

If you really believe in doing your homework, there’s a free online course on the archaeology of Portus on futurelearn.com.

Articles in this series

Ostica Antica - the Thermopolium

Ostica Antica – the Thermopolium (an ancient fast food restaurant)


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