Via Appia Antica (Old Appian Road) was one of the first seven roads built leading to Rome. Connecting the Rome to Brindisi in southeast Italy for 560 km, the road was built by Appius Claudies Caecus, a Roman censor in 312 BC.
The road was believed to be built firstly as dirt-surfaced road before then mortar and small stones were laid on it. Next, gravel with interlocking stones became the iconic appearance of the famous ancient road. Built with such a high level precision, historians claim that the stones covering the road fit each other perfectly so that no one could even stick a knife between them.
Appius Claudius Caecus
It was a Roman censor Appius Claudius Caecus who ordered the project of the road which was then named after him, Via Appia. People knew Appius Claudius as a popular leader who always advocated public policies did good for common people. He was also believed to be blind, thus his name “Caecus” which means “blind” in Latin. Some of his popular projects were the building of an aqueduct called Aqua Appia which supplied water to the city of Rome.
Roads were also his favorite projects. Building a road that went all the way from the Pontine Marshes to the coast northwest of Naples to Capua, Appius Claudius Caecus made the moving of troops and military supplies to Rome easy without hindrance from terrain or enemy.
Because of his remarkable achievements, Appius Claudius was chosen for the second time as consul and later appointed as a consultant for the state.
Via Appia Antica
Inside Rome, the road started from Forum Romanum, passing Servian Wall and Clivus Martis before leaving the city. Years later, Aurelian Wall was built alongside the road and required a building of a new gate, Porta Appia. Outside the Rome, Via Appia went all the way through Alban Hills to a coastal town 56 km south of Rome.
In 295 BC, the road was extended to Benevenutum, Venusia, and Tarentum. The extension was a result for Rome’s victory over Samnites in the Battle of Sentinum which created new colonies of Campania and Samnium. The road was furthermore extended by the emperor Trajan through Via Traiana to Brundusium. The extension of the road was marked by the arch of Beneventum.
Via Appia Nuova
In 1784, Pope Pius VI ordered the construction of a new road alongside the old Appian Road until Alban Hills. The construction was ordered due to the old road which started to fall out of use and was done after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.
The Historical Monuments
Along Via Appia which is lied for 560 km long, numerous prominent monuments like tombs, churches, and temples can be found. The placing of tombs alongside Via Appia just outside the Rome border was a result of the policy that no tomb was allowed in. Therefore, people built tombs along roads leading out of Rome.
Important people had extraordinary tombs which sometimes as big as a house. There were shapes resembling the Pyramid or small temples. Some of these tombs can still be seen until today. One of the most preserved tombs is the tomb of Cecilia Metella, the wife of one of Julius Caesar’s generals. Some other tombs of important people which are preserved well are the tombs of emperor Maxentius’ son, Romulus, the tomb of Seneca, and the tomb of Sextus Pompeius Justus family.
Some other prominent monuments alongside Via Appia are Temple of Hercules, Circus Maxentius which was a large arena where chariot races were held, Church Quo Vadis, and gothic church of San Nicola.
The treasure in Via Appia Antica is, however, hidden under the ground. Under Via Appia, there are tunnels full of monuments and tombs of ancient Christians. The tunnels, or known also as catacombs, were also used as secret meeting place for early Christians to hold their secret church services.
Today, some parts of the catacombs are open to public. There are some early Christian arts remaining which visitors can see in a tour led by local priests or monks.
Via Appia Antica has become a witness of several historical events including the crucifixion of Spartacus and his army, and the World War II battle of Anzio. In 1960 Summer Olympics, the road served as part of men’s marathon number track which was won by Abebe Bikila from Ethiopia.
Via Appia Antica Today
Today, Via Appia Antica is a recreation spot for Rome citizens to have a Sunday lunch picnic. This is half following the traditional practice of pagan people who dined in the holy day of the sun god. The tradition died away after the road started to be open to cars and motorcycles. However, since the policy of closing of Via Appia Antica every Sunday initiated in 1990s, people started to have picnic, skating, and cycling on the road every Sunday.
Visiting Via Appia Antica
The best time to visit Via Appia Antica is definitely on Sundays when it is closed to all cars and motorcycles and join the festivity of the Romans enjoying their holiday. However, if you cannot make it, there are still monuments and catacombs to see.
There are several route options to reach Via Appia Antica.
Bus 218 Take the line B bus from San Giovanni Metro stop. The bus will not only take you to your destination road but also follow the road a bit.
Bus 118 Take the line B bus from Piramide Metro stop. The route will pass Baths of Caracalla nad Domine Quo Vadis Church.
Bus 660 Take the bus from Colli Albani Metro stop. It will take you to the Tomb of Cecilia Metella.
This bus is an open-top tourist bus. It will take you on a tour around historic centers and finally end up in Via Appia Antica. The ticket cost €12 which can be bought on board. The bus operates from 09.00 am to 4.30 pm and passes every 30 minutes.