There is a vast amount to see in Rome, but when you have had enough of the crowds at the Forum and the Colosseum you might want to find somewhere quieter. The Appian Way (Via Appia Antica) is the ideal place: a shady cobbled avenue lined with the remains of Roman buildings. This is just one of many lesser known Roman sites of Rome.
All Roads Lead To Rome
Back in the 4th century BCE it was true that all roads (Roman ones at least) led to Rome, and the Appian Way (known to the Romans as the Via Antica Appia) was no exception. Started in the middle of the 4thcentury and completed in 190 BCE, it ran 350 miles from Rome to Brindisi, connecting the capital with the opposite coast and from there to the eastern part of the empire.
The first section of the road, leading away from the city, was the preserve of wealthy Roman citizens. They lived and died here; there were as many mausoleums as villas. It was also an important way in and out of the city and as you walk along you are reminded of the people who went this way before. The funeral procession of the Emperor Augustus passed along the Appian Way, and when St Paul was taken prisoner he was led down this road.
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The Appian Way Today
Today the Appian Way is part of the Parco Regionale dell’Appia Antica, a nature and archaeology park. You can explore a number of sites along the route, including the Circus Maxentius, where chariot races were held. For many visitors the main attraction are the Catacombs of of San Callisto. These were founded around the end of the 2nd century CE as a cemetery for the Roman Church. The catacombs include many miles of tunnels and once housed thousands of Christian tombs, including those of sixteen popes. Guided tours of the catacombs are available.
The archaeological park is a vast area, but the first mile has the greatest concentration of houses, tombs and other ruins. A few miles from the start you come to the Aqueduct Park, where you can see the remains of the massive structures that supplied the city with water in Roman times. However, for me the main pleasure was in walking along the peaceful old road, peering into the remains of houses and imagining the lives of the Roman citizens who once lived there.
Visiting The Via Antica Appia
The Appian Way begins at the Porta San Sebastiano, which is easily reached by bus, including the hop-on, hop-off Big Bus (purple route). A little way along the route is the Visitor Information Centre, which has maps and also bicycles for hire. A popular way of exploring is to take an e-bike tour.