The queen of (all) roads – Via Appia
The importance of connections since antiquity
The Virtual Network is getting faster by the day to connect people around the world. When Rome began to conquer the world, connections were essential to the war campaigns. Reaching places in a short time could have changed the nature of a battle. The soldiers marched for days and months on roads to bypass swamps, ride over bridges, navigate rivers, and cross mountains. At first, the streets were drawn for military reasons. Thus begins the story of the Via Appia, called Regina Viarum by a verse of Publius Papinius Statius (Silvae – “Appia longarum teritur regina viarum“), a poet who lived in the first century AD, under the emperor Domitian and witness to its great importance.
The first highway in history
Appius Claudius Caecus, the Censor, who gave the road the birth and the name, Appia, planned to connect 2 points on the map with a line and asked the Roman engineers to build a fast, efficient, comfortable, solid, and durable road. The points were the city of Rome and Capua, 210 km (i.e. 131 miles ) south. This happened in 312 B.C. The road was 4.10 meters (i.e. 13.45 ft) wide, had sidewalks for pedestrians, a water drainage system, and a pavement of local volcanic stones (i.e. basoli) perfectly leveled.
The Appian Way, a road built to last
Since the Republican period when the important family of Scipioni built their big tomb, today in the urban part of the Appian Way, the road was flanked by 2 or 3 rows of tombs, rich and poor with different styles and architectures. The mausoleum of Caecilia Metella, the symbol of the Appia, is a stone document about the decorations and style of the 1st century B.C. During the medieval age, the Caetani, an important family, occupied the tomb, transform it into a tower, and built a castle, whose remains are still visible. Like other families, they controlled the street and imposed taxes. The street was slowly abandoned.
The leggend of the old village of Rome
The imposing remains of the Circus of Maxentius and the Villa of the Quintilii, so great that during the Renaissance was thought to be a town, testify to the magnificence of the Villas of the suburbs during the Empire. Lots of busts, statues, columns, friezes, and mosaics are visible in museums around the world. From the 16th century, when the road was considered a quarry, tombs, villas, fortresses, and other buildings were spoiled and depredated, and most of their artworks were sold on the antique market.
Preservation and valorization of the ruins
From the 18th century Popes became aware of the importance of preserving the ruins and the road. The Appian Way was already a symbol in Europe of the poetry of ruins and the travelers of the Grand Tour spread her knowledge and her romantic atmosphere through poems and paintings. Under the papacy of Pio IX, in 1855, the archaeologist Luigi Canina, restoring and lifting the remains that we can see nowadays along the Appian Way created the archaeological walk. In 1909, the first protection law was promulgated but was not enough against the modern barbarians.
The man who saved the Appian Way
First, we have to thank Appius Claudius Caecus and the Roman engineers for their excellent job but on the second hand, we must thank the man who, in the 50ties of the twentieth century, carried on a great battle against the building speculators who would have liked to bury the Appian Way under a flow of concrete and make us forget its memories, its ruins, its environment, its landscapes. Antonio Cederna an intellectual, journalist, and writer created an increasing opinion movement that finally involved associations and citizens. One message: Don’t touch that road! He wrote that Via Appia “has to be saved and protected for its history, legends, ruins, trees, countryside, landscapes, views, solitudes, silence, light, sunrises and sunsets.”
The natural environment of the Park of Appia Antica
The Suburban Archaeological Park of Appian Way was officially born in 1988. It is a route of 16 km (i.e. 10 miles) from Rome to Fratocchie (Bovillae in roman times) involving three municipalities: Rome, Ciampino, and Marino. Moreover, it is a green corridor, that includes the Park of Aqueducts, The Park of Tor Fiscale, Caffarella Valley, and the Park of Tormarancia in fact in 1998 was transformed into an autonomous institution: The Regional Park of Appian Way. Our sustainable guided tour by e-bike along the Appian Way permits us to appreciate the landscape of Agro Romano, the Roman countryside where flocks of sheep and goats graze and where under the expert eye of Angela and Rossella it is possible to recognize and taste … arugula and other wild herbs.
A guided tour of stories and news
The Appian Way leaves the city near Circus Maximus where the Capena Door, which belonged to the circuit of Servian Walls (royal age), was. Nearby, the shadows of a disappeared sacred wood whisper the story of Egeria and the Camene. Two of them, Postvorta and Antevorta were venerated by pregnant women to favor a birth without problems. We are born in water and the nymphs are the patrons of all types of water… Invisible sentinels invite us to go upstairs to the southernmost gate of the Aurelian Walls. The ancient Porta Appia, known as Porta San Sebastiano after the nearby catacomb hosts the Museum of the Walls. From the top, there is a breathtaking 360-degree view. Some black and white mosaics tell a more recent story. Ettore Muti, a friend of Mussolini and secretary of the Fascist Party asked a famous architect Luigi Moretti to redesign the interior transforming some rooms into his studio or maybe a bachelor pad. Muti was mysteriously murdered in 1943…a cold case.
The Appian Way, from a sea to another
A few meters after Porta San Sebastiano there is a copy of the 1st milestone (the roman mile was 1.480 mt i.e. 0.92 English miles) of the Via Appia. Milestones measured the distance from the beginning of a street to the most important cities along the route. In 190 B.C., the Appian Way arrived at Brindisi, in Apulia, which was a springboard for Albania, Greece, Turkey, and the Middle East. After 587 km (i.e. 365 miles) the connection between the Tyrrhenian and the Adriatic Sea was established.
Millions of people along the Appian Way
Soldiers stepped on the basoli of this road for centuries, but also merchants, adventurers, vagabonds, slaves, postmen, Popes and Saints, tourists, and eco-bikers like us. During the Middle Age, we would have met pilgrims who came to Rome to visit the catacombs (along the Appian Way there were Pagan, Christian, and Jewish Catacombs) and the tombs of the Apostles, Peter, and Paul or crusader and pilgrims that walked through the South Via Francigena to reach the Holy Land. Apart from Kings and Popes who enter Rome by crossing the Appian Way, in 1944, the American Army entered Rome to free the city and in 1960, during the Olimpic Games of Rome, an African athlete for the first time won a gold medal running a marathon on barefoot along the Via Appia. Abebe Bikila said: “I run barefoot to listen to what the road whispers”. Can you imagine how many secrets Via Appia told him over her 2.272 years of life?