The Appian Way (via Appia) is an ancient roadway that highlighted the greatness of Rome. Today, it is one of the best attractions in Rome. Strategically important, it intimidated foes and friends alike since it meant that Roman legionnaires could mobilize and move out quickly. The Appian Way was one of Rome’s earliest roads—the first section was completed in 312 BC and used as a route for military supplies and the Roman legions during the Samnite Wars.
Its history includes gory moments such as the crucifixion of 6000 slaves thought to be involved in a revolt started by Spartacus in 73 BC. Walking down the street, I imagine what a gruesome (and threatening) sight it would have been to see all those bodies hung along the side of the via Appia.
The road played important roles in modern times too, especially during WWII when Allied troops who had landed at Anzio re-took Rome from Nazi occupation. Today, ruins of marble statues and benches line the road giving visitors a place to sit and an idea of how impressive it would have looked to those setting their sights upon Rome for the first time.
Ancient stones still line part of the Appia Antica (Ancient Appian Way) providing a snapshot into the past and allowing one to feel as if they have just walked down the road to a different millennia.
Where It Is: just outside the city walls starting at Porta San Sebastiano. A well-preserved massive gate giving access through the Aurelian Walls, the San Sebastiano gate is an impressive place to start your journey. The port is right near the Pyramide metro stop and gives easy access to the no. 118 bus that runs the Appian Way route. Not only is there a cool pyramid built into the wall nearby the gate, there is a museum there that details Roman walls and roads providing a nice overview for the rest of your Appian Way sightseeing. For more information on the Museo delle Mura: http://en.museodellemuraroma.it/
How to Get There:
- Public transportation is your cheapest and best bet, since taxis can be pricey and there is no guarantee you will be able to summon one to take you back. The 118 bus runs fairly frequently (about every 40 minutes) and has several stops on the Appian Way including Porta San Sebastiano, the Visitor Center, Domine Quo Vadis Church, various catacombs, and the point where the Appia Antica (the ancient Appian Way) splits off from the Appian Way. You can pick the 118 bus up from the Pyramide stop on the metro.
Things to Do & See:
- Porta San Sebastiano—a gate in the Aurelian Walls with a museums that covers Rome’s walls and roads.
- Visitor Information Center—this is a good starting point as you can get a map of the vast Appian Way and its attractions. You can also rent bicycles there, which will be necessary if you plan to take in more of the Appian Way Park than just the first couple kilometers.
- Bike riding—I highly recommend riding bikes. The older part of the Appian Way (via Appia Antica) doesn’t start until further down the road. Via Appia Antica is not to be missed though, nor are the ruins (and some fabulous modern villas) that dot the road once you get further away from the city. Riding by bike you get out into nature—the hustle and bustle of Rome falls away and is replaced by peaceful pastoral scenes. We even spotted a herd of goats being driven across the road! The noise from their bells was the only loud thing we heard once we were out on the via Appia Antica. The stones that pave the road are also distinctly older and give better insight into its original condition.
- Picnic—there are marble rocks (formally benches or statuary) that provide excellent seating to stop and have a picnic. Stop at a local COOP (pronounced kind of like ‘cope’) and pick up the fixings. The deli workers will cut you enough prosciutto for however many panini you indicate…due, tre, quatro. There are usually other tasty goodies in the deli case: cheeses, olives, marinated artichokes, salads. You can pick up a baguette for each sandwich, some fruit, a bag of chips, and some bottles of water and you’re ready to go. There are a couple water fountains along the Appian Way where you can refill, too.
- Church of Domine Quo Vadis—this church is located on the spot where St. Peter reportedly met Christ. The church dates from 1637. It is free to enter; plan on a 15-20 minute visit.
- Catacombs—there are three main catacombs: San Domitilla, San Callixtus (Callisto), and San Sebastiano. Not every catacomb is open every day, so check into the individual one you decide to visit. The San Domitilla are the oldest catacombs, but aren’t directly on the via Appia so you will need to venture off the path a little to get there. There are less things to see than the other two, but it is generally less-crowded so you can a more intimate tour. The tombs of San Callisto tend to give a favorable impression with high ceilings, over twelve miles of tunnels, numerous frescoes, carvings, and drawings, and having been the final resting place of 16 popes. The tombs of San Sebastiano do not seem to get as favorable reviews as the other two. I’ve provided a website link by each of their names so you can research them and find your perfect fit.
- Tomb of Cecilia Metella—this building looks like a run-down castle, but is the tomb of the daughter of Quintus Caecilius Metellus Creticus (a consul in 69 BC) and the daughter-in-law of Marcus Crassus, a political and financial patron of Julius Caesar. The massive fortress is neat to roam around, but I’m not sure I would pay individually to see it. It is included, however, if you visit the Baths of Caracalla (which I highly recommend). There is a combo ticket for 6€ that includes: Tomb of Cecilia Metella, Baths of Caracalla, and Villa of the Quinitilii
- Villa dei Quintili—this is a vast archaeological site further down via Appia Antica. It is included in the combo ticket mentioned above. There is a rack to leave your bikes. We started walking the grounds on foot, but it is quite expansive. We later found out that there was another entrance not off of the Ancient Appian Way that would have gotten us closer to the actual villa.
- Parco degli Acquedotti (Aqueduct Park)—if you veer off of via Appia Antica and cut over to via Appia Nuova (new Appian Way) you will reach the Parco degli Acquedotti—the impressive remains of one of the engineering feats that made Rome great.
The Appian Way will take at least a half day to visit. If it’s your first time to Rome and you have three days or less, it is probably best reserved for a time when you can truly relax and enjoy it. But do make it at some point! It is a treasure not to be missed.
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