Appian Way, Rome - First Highway In Europe

Antiquity is so present in the City of Seven Hills that you can’t help marveling. Look at that stone - you will see thousands of years behind it. Look at that ladder! It was created in the times of Renaissance. Look at that fountain. It has survived since patricians ruled this place. Now, look at the road that was created more than 2300 years ago. This is the Appian way, the queen of the roads, the most important artery between Rome and the rest of the world - the first highway in Rome and one of the most ancient roads of all in the whole Europe.

No matter if you are a first-time visitor or you’ve visited Rome more than once, you will definitely want to explore this extraordinary landmark. The Appian Way was started in 312-264 BC by Appius Caecus (Caecus, meaning "blind') and step by step connected Rome with Brindisi, a city on the coast that still exists today 476 km away from Rome. The road was made of heavy stone blocks, had an excellent drainage system, was wide and so important that no effort was spared to build it. In fact, road curators, among whom the first one was Appius, held a very high position in those times, because of the great importance of roads in the Roman Empire. Many poets, including Horace mentioned Via Antica in their works calling it “the queen of roads”. Today there is absolutely no doubt about how essential this road was for the power of the empire and its meaning for the Great Roman Empire.

Appius who curated this road was a person who involuntarily set a trend after his death. When he died his relatives took his tomb along Via Appia Attica for his name, thus having created a new tradition. For many years to come cemeteries, burials and funerary constructions filled this road from the both sides. So much more that it was law to bury dead outside Rome, the new tradition set tombs in the places where people would travel not only to tribute the dead, but also as a “memento mori” reminder - everyone is mortal. 

Living near the Via Appia Attica was also very prestigious, therefore the first 5 miles (there are more landmarks further, too, actually) contain also an impressive number of historical monuments on the both sides of the Appian Way.

Why Visit the Appian Way, Rome

Today many people admit how picturesque and peaceful the Appian road is. Along the way you will see a lot of greenery, which makes this place ideal for those who seek some coolness during hot summer in the capital. It is also not crowded as the rest of the city. The road is paved with stones and needs thorough preparation in terms of foot equipment. It may be problematic to enjoy this place if you wear uncomfortable sandals or shoes. In terms of historical sights the walk is definitely going to be rewarding: all along the way you will see structures of different levels of antiquity, you will pass the famous catacombs, tombs and villas. Some of the best preserved structures are also very famous landmarks of Rome. For example, the Caecilia Metella’s Mausoleum, the Villa of the Quintili, the first milestone, the Tomb of Priscilla, Vigna Randanini Jewish catacombs etc. By the way, the Appian Way in Rome is exactly the place where the word “milestone” comes from. For Romans a “milestone” meant one thousands paces with “thousand” being “mille” in Latin. Every mile Roman signed with a mile stone, but today we only have the first one preserved. 

This road is so old that you still can see traces from chariots’ wheels, which once passed here. Ancient Romans used the Via Appia Antica for military purposes. In fact, the Appian way witnessed the rise and fall of the Ancient Roman Empire. 

Where to Start And What to Expect

The Appian Way, Rome, starts at the St. Sebastian Gates (Porto San Sebastiano) with the first milestone at it. The most comfortable way to get to this point is by bus 118 from the Piazza Venezia, the Colosseum or the Baths of Caracalla. 

The Appian Way is very long and covers many hundreds kilometres, but the passage of interest for us is the first 5 km. The first mile after the gates is the narrowest and the most uncomfortable of all, especially on Mn-St. On these days apart from Sunday the Appian Way is also a road for cars. So, if you don’t have a choice to come on Sunday you can take a bus (118, 218) that gets you to Domino Quo Vadis and helps you skip this two-miles passage. 

After this church Domino Quo Vadis the famous catacombs start. It’s impossible to visit all of them in one day, because in fact there are around 70 km of them under Rome and not all of them are open for visits. Just choose one the most well-preserved sights, which are the Catacombs of St. Callisto, the Catacombs of St. Sebastian and the Catacombs of St. Domitilla. 

When you finally go out to the light and proceed further you will see the most exciting and interesting part of the Appian Way. From III to V mile you will meet Villa di Massenzio, the Mausoleum of Caecilia Metella, Villa Capo di Bove, Tumuli degli Orazi e de Curiazi, Villa dei Quintili etc.

Ways to Explore the Via Appia Attica

Well, here are a couple of dilemmas about the Appian Way. The Via Appia Attica is though one of the main symbols of Rome, is located outside the city.  Not many buses go this way either and if they do they don’t cover all the way. However, the Appian Way contains too many interesting sights and makes you want either walk 5-7 km or take a bus-tour shaking on the way due the Appian cobbled surface. One more way to see this landmark would be exploring it by bike. So, my personal recommendation will be to take these things into account and know where you are going rather than be surprised and disappointed when you get to see the most ancient road of Europe. If you are sporty and endurable walk, jog or ride on the bicycle, you will totally enjoy it. If you are less active, it would be better to take a guided-tour to cover everything in a couple of hours. Remember, it's all up to you!

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