Back in May 2013 we had to make an unexpected return to Italy due to a family emergency, meaning two long-haul flights between our origin in Bangkok, and our destination of Rome.
Arriving into Rome and the company of our friends who live there, we were exhausted and ready for bed – but our friends had a better suggestion.
“Take it easy, dump your stuff and go for a relaxing walk along the Appian Way”
What Is The Appian Way?
The Appian Way, or Via Appia Antica is one of the most well known roads in Europe and possibly the oldest in Italy.
Built in the year 312BC, the road was built during the time of the Roman Republic in order provide an easier transportation network for the army to use in order to defeat their closest regional enemy at the time, the Samnites.
The entire road is made of large slabs of stone that have been bleached over the centuries by year after year of hot Italian summers, and if you were to walk all the way the path (and where it once was), you’d find yourself in the southern Italian city of Brindisi which was one of the largest ports on the Eastern coast.
Named after the democratic leader of the time, Appius Claudius Caecus, who saw a need to improve the road not just for the military to move their troops across more quickly, but also to speed up the process of communication in the country.
Is There A New Appian Way?
The reason that the Via Appia is most commonly referred to as the ‘Old Appian Way’ is because there was a more modern road built alongside of it around the year 1784. To tell them apart locals started referring to one as the ‘New Appian Way‘ and since then the two names have stuck.
At over 2300 years old, calling the Appian Way old isn’t exactly incorrect.
It’s mind boggling to think that the road is older than many parts of the city of Rome itself, and even older than some of the most recognised of Rome’s other attractions, like the Colosseum.
To think as you walk or ride along the road – renting a bike to ride along the Via Appian is highly recommended – that you’re stepping on the same stones on which people also did so many centuries ago is mind-blowing.
We chose to walk the route rather than to rent a bicycle from a cafe near the beginning, and I think it was the best decision that could have been made.
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Without the worry of having a bike to look after, we could stroll slowly and leisurely along the route giving us plenty of time to stop and admire the high quantity of sights and monuments that you’ll find on each side of the road. In fact, near the beginning of where we started our walk was our first sighting of an ancient monument sticking out amongst the green of the grass.
What we were looking at is the former ‘Circus of Maxentius’, the second largest Roman circus that you can still see today and somewhere that, on at least one occasion that is recorded, filled the ground to watch the games.
After that, there are a number of tombs, churches, a number of villas and some Roman baths; and there was one that we chose to enter briefly as we sat on the grass in the publicly open grounds to eat our packed lunch and observed all around us in the Capo Di Bove.
One of the most interesting attractions along the Appian Way isn’t so easy to see on the surface.
The Catacombs of Rome
Along the Appian Way there are a number of off-the-path attractions to be discovered and explored, with the Catacomb of Callixtus amongst the most important and prestigious.
The catacomb is just under 600 years younger than the road itself and was used extensively through the founding years and rise of Christianity in Rome as a graveyard and burial ground beneath the surface.
Although the Roman tradition was to burn the bodies of their dead, there came a time where preserving the body after death became standard religious practice; however, burials within the boundary of Rome was forbidden. To rectify this many of the earlier Christians found that these areas were both cheap and easy to use as an area for the dead to be set to rest.
Over the centuries the catacombs around Rome shifted from being a cheap area in which the poor would inter their deceased, to a place where the rich would pay to have their bodies placed after death in the hope that it would increase the chances of their going to heaven.
Eventually the catacomb came under the guidance of Callixtus, who watched and expanded it prior to his becoming * Pope Callixtus I*. Following his death he was interned into the catacombs he had been the caretaker of and started a 200 year-long tradition of being the final resting place to the popes that followed him.
In total the remains of more than sixteen popes were laid to rest in the Catacomb of Callixtus before the fall of the Roman Empire brought great changes to the church and landscape of Rome.
On The Road Again
Following our rest we decided that it was best for us to get back onto walking the same route of so many legions of Romans before us before the jet-lag kicked in.
Aside from the ancient buildings for the time of the empire that still stand there are some occasional buildings that are certainly newer in comparison to the villas, but still wonderfully aged – and still lived in.
But that’s not what draws you in the most.
What’s really draws you in are the statues and monuments along the way that, again, you can’t believe are still there, still where they were placed by a craftsman so many years ago.
Why Visit The Via Appia
The biggest surprise from the walk isn’t the age of the location, it’s that something that our friends knew we needed after our long flight from Thailand – peace and quiet.
It’s beyond comprehension just how peaceful and free of commotion and noise the Via Appia Antica is. That you’re still very much in the heart of Rome is bewildering and as you’re strolling along staring into the green-green grass and flowers that line the route, you can’t think for one second of anywhere else you’d rather be.
How To Get To The The Appian Way
Getting to the park is remarkably easy with public transport and is best reached via the following way:
- Take the nearest Metro to the station, Piramide.
- From Piramide, take the 118 Bus.
- Depart at stop, Catacombs of San Callisto
- You’re already on the Appian Way!
- Continue straight along the road. Don’t follow the bus as it curves around the corner.
If in doubt, be sure to politely ask the driver to point out the stop for the Via Appia, but given how many people will also be disembarking, you won’t have any trouble getting the right stop.
The Perfect Solution For Jet-Lag
Credit to our friends for the fantastic suggestion. Being out in the open and away from the stuffiness of the more-often-than-not heavily tourist full centre of the capital was perfect for our tired minds and exhausted bodies. It really helped to clear the mind of the past few days of travelling.
If you’re ever in Rome after a long trip to get there, take our advice. Grab a light lunch, grab the bus to the Appian Way Park and stroll through history.
Would you like to walk along the Via Appia?