In a piece of land known in the past as Isola Sacra, rises the old Necropolis of Portus, an enchanting archeological site very close to Leonardo Da Vinci Fiumicino Airport.

This island is located north of the Fiumicino canal and west of the Tyrrhenean Sea and the Tiber flows through it on the south-east. During Roman times it was called Insula Portuensis but in the 6th century a.D., due to the strong presence of Christianity in the land, it took the name of "Sacra" (Sacred).

Necropolis of Portus - Isola Sacra

The city of Portus, around the 1st century BC, reached a great development and, specially thanks to the proximity to the harbour of Claudius, gradually replaced the city of Ostia Antica in mainly supporting sea activities.

The island was crossed by a main road, the Via Flavia Severiana, which linked the city of Portus with Ostia Antica. The inhabitants of Portus themselves built the necropolis close to the road.

The characteristic red tombs have been optimally preserved since the whole area was covered with sand due to the river floodings.

The characteristic red tombs of the Necropolis of Portus

The characteristic red tombs of the Necropolis of Portus

The Necropolis was discovered in 1925 after the land reclamation works in Isola Sacra. Further excavating in following years brought to light the whole necropolis, which is 400 meters wide and counts with around 150 sepulchres.

The buildings are grouped in small blocks, separated by green areas, small squares and crossing tiny streets. The most common burial homes are Familiar Tombs, big square rooms. It is also possible to find the so-called "poor" tombs, spread along the necropolis.

The tombs were used to reveal the status of the deceaded and their family within the society. That is why they face the road and are decorated with paintings, mosaics and inscriptions.

An open space among some decorated sepulchres in the Necropolis of Portus

An open space among some decorated sepulchres in the Necropolis of Portus

On the façades of some tombs there are inscriptions and terra cotta reliefs to show the professions of the deceased. This inscriptions provide information regarding the class of those whom the cemetery accomodated. It is pressumed that it was intended for the middle class professionals including artisans, shopkeepers and traders.

On the tomb number 100 appear for example at both sides of the door, the surgeon Marco Ulpio Amerimno, concentrated on the leg of a patient, and the obstetrician Scribonia Attice, bending over a woman in labour. There are also some mosaics that describe the activities of painters, smiths and harvesters. Being a fishing town, there are many references to jobs related to the sea. The mosaic in tomb number 43 represents a beacon with two ships, accompanied by an inscription in Ancient Greek that says: "Qui cessa ogni affanno" ("Here ends every effort").

The necropolis of Portus has been amazingly well-preserved to present date! A city of the dead that has been able to outlive the city of the living. Still today it offers an enchanting proof of the Romans relation to the after-life.

Both this article and your visit end here. If you still have some time left, you can visit in the area the remains of the Old Port of Trajan, the Basilica of St. Hippolytus inside the  medieval village of Episcopio di Porto and, for nature lovers, the delightful Oasis of Portus, that looks out into the small Trajan Lake.

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Useful information

Necropolis of Portus - Isola Sacra

HOW TO GET THERE

From Civitavecchia: take the highway A12/E80 and continue until you pass the toll both of Maccarese/Fregene. Take the exit towards Fiumicino Airport and take A91. Take the exit towards Ostia-Fiumicino and continue to Via Arturo Dell'Oro. At the roundabout take the second exit and turn into Via Alessandro Guidoni. At the next rounabout take the second exit again and continue along SS296 towards Via Pal Piccolo to Isola Sacra.

From Rome: from Cristoforo Colombo take A91 and continue like described above.

TIMETABLES
Necropolis of Portus can be visited every first and last Thursday of the month, prior booking, calling +39 06 6583888 or writing to sbao-osan@beniculturali.it
- Admission: 9.30 - 13.30 (visitors exit until 14.00)
- Closing days: 25th of December, 1st of January and 1st of May.
PRICES
Free admission.
*The Necropolis does not have snack bars.
*The area of the Necropolis is partly accessible to disabled people as long as they are assisted.
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