Do all roads really lead to Rome?
The Via Appia Antica (The Appian Way) aka “Regina Viarum” (Queen of Roads) is one of the most famous roads in Europe and is considered to be one of the oldest in Rome. It was named after the Roman censor, Appius Claudius Caecus, who initiated and completed the first 90 kilometers of the road in 312 BC. In roughly 190 BC, the rest of the road was finished, connecting Rome to Brindisi, one of the largest ports on the eastern coast of Italy.
The primary purpose of this road was to serve as a military road allowing the speedy movement of Roman troops to the south and overpower the Samnites, Ancient Rome’s neighboring regional enemy at the time. The second was to improve and expedite communication and transport of military supplies and other goods across the country.
This ancient road was constructed with huge slabs of stone and during the height of the Roman Empire, beautiful villas and magnificent monuments lined both sides of the road. Today, visitors can still see these villas and monuments but only in their current state of diminished grandeur as time and harsh outdoor conditions had inevitably taken its toll.
The Via Appia Antica has had its share of dark periods in history. In 73 BC, 6,000 of Spartacus warriors (slaves of the Roman Empire) revolted against Rome and lost, and as a consequence, they were crucified on this very road. Represented by 6,000 crucifixes, their bodies were buried on both sides of the Via Appia Antica from Capua to Rome.
The early Christians who were hunted and persecuted during the Roman Empire’s glory days ran and hid in the underground catacombs. They also buried their dead in these catacombs from 1 to 5 AD. There are about 300 kilometers of underground catacombs in the Via Appia but the major and the most-visited are the catacombs of San Callisto, San Sebastiano, and Santa Domitilla. They also house the bodies of several popes of earlier periods.
It is also believed that the Via Appia Antica was the road where Saint Peter met Jesus during Saint Peter’s escape from Rome.
How to Get to Via Appia Antica:
The Via Appia Antica is about 5 kilometers from the center of Rome. You can get there by car or by local bus. If you choose to get there by bus, take the nearest Metro train to the Colosseo or the Piramide station, get on the 118 bus and then get off at the Catacombs of San Callisto on Via Appia (Appian Way). If you get confused, politely ask the driver to let you off at the Via Appia bus stop. There are usually plenty of passengers on the bus who will also get off at the same bus stop so do not worry about missing your stop. Keep walking straight until you reach Via Appia Antica. Once you are there, you will notice the heavy flow of cars, buses, and coaches for the first 5 kilometers but non preoccuparti (don’t worry), as the Italians would say, because as you walk further into the road, the traffic will start to thin out.
This old road is very long and you may want to rent a bicycle to fully enjoy your journey. There are bike rentals around the area that also offer maps and tours for a fee.
When I visited the Via Appia Antica in Rome, I went on foot. This has allowed me to freely take photographs of the original slabs of stone on the road, the ancient tombs, the gates to the villas, and to actually touch the trees. It has also afforded me the opportunity to tread on the same exact road as the people of Ancient Rome did at the height of the Roman Empire.
I never imagined that one day, I would be walking on the oldest road in Rome, a road that I only read about in history books. I also never thought that I would be stepping on the same slabs of stone as the Ancient Romans had done centuries ago. Just reminiscing about it gives me a profound sense of connection to the Old World, a world long gone but never forgotten.