Sunday was our final day in Rome, and it would be a short day: our flight out was at around 4:00 pm. However, we had enough time to see one more major sight, and decided to do something a little further out of the city. In fact, the sight in question is literally a way out of the city: Via Appia, known in English as the Appian Way.
The Appian Way is the remains of one of the original and most important Roman roads. It is a wonderful excursion into more of the countryside around the city, and is dotted with historical relics of ancient Rome, as well as villas of some of the modern city’s wealthiest citizens.
See the large, flat stones in the photograph? Those are parts of the original Roman road, which began construction in 312 B.C.E. as a way to transport military supplies and troops from the city to the various campaigns. The road was ordered built by the Censor of Rome, Appius Claudius Caecus, who started construction without even waiting for approval from the Senate!
The Appian Way actually starts right at the city, but the first couple of miles have heavy car traffic and almost no decent pedestrian paths. We took a taxi to the basilica San Sebastiano fuori le mura, where the main automobile traffic branches off and leaves the Appian Way for pedestrians and bicyclists.
This church actually has extremely ancient catacombs beneath them that date back to the 2nd century, and were used for pagan burials before Christian ones. The catacombs are open for visits from the public, but are closed on Sundays. (Another catacomb, the Catacomb of Callixtus, also lies on the Appian Way and can be visited.)
In fact, the Appian Way has a number of smaller Roman tombs along its path, as it was a popular spot for such memorials. At the 4th mile, for example, is the Tomb of Hilarus Fuscus, likely built around 30 B.C.E.
We were originally going to walk the Appian Way as far as we could in the time allotted, but there is a small café right at the beginning of the really remote part of the road, and a bike rental shop attached. We opted to bicycle, in order to see as much as we could. Within minutes, we were on our way!
“Appia Antica,” by the way, refers to the “old Appian Way.” A “new Appian Way” was built in parallel to the old one by order of Pope Pius VI in 1784.
Fortunately, most of the road has been restored with smaller stones than the Romans used. Riding an old rental bicycle with poor shocks over old Roman roads is akin to being punched lightly and repeatedly in the groin. The old sections are relatively short, so one can walk a bike across them or ride up onto the dirt furrows on the sides of the road that other bikers have carved.
It does not take long at all to pass completely into the countryside, where ancient Roman ruins provide a somber reminder of our impermanence.
This curious structure is the remains of the Circus of Maxentius, an entertainment venue constructed by Emperor Maxentius around 300 C.E. Apparently the games presented here were funerary in nature and played to honor the late son of the Emperor.
Another major site we encountered early on is the Tomb of Caecilia Metella, constructed during the first century B.C.E. to honor the daughter of a Roman Consul.
We passed a number of other funerary monuments along the way; I present the photos without further comment, as they speak well for themselves.
Ruins were not the only sights to see along the road; as I have noted, there are many modern villas along the Appian Way. The houses seem to have been carefully designed to not be easily seen from the road, presumably for privacy; often the gates of the homes were lovely enough to see.
One other major Roman ruin caught our eye, though I am not certain now of what exactly it is! I’m pretty sure it is the Villa dei Quintilii, the remains of a home built by wealthy brothers around 151 C.E. It was coveted enough by the Emperor Commodus that he executed the owners in 182 C.E. and took the property for himself, building additions to it. We only stopped briefly and didn’t see the full extent of the property; all I have is one panorama photo through the gate to the main room.
Apparently there are tours of the site during the week; on Sunday, it was closed. I did note that there was a sign indicating that they have live concerts at the villa on occasion.
We aimed to see one final sight before turning back, but I would have missed it if not for Taco’s eagle eyes! We stopped to admire, in the distance, the remains of one of Rome’s famed aqueducts. I have been unable to determine which aqueduct this section was part of, but it was impressive to see in person.
With that, our trip was more or less over! We turned around and headed back at a leisurely pace back to the bike rental shop. Along the way, we had a perfect view that summarizes the whole spirit, if you will, of the Via Appia.
From there, it was a lot of transportation! A bus to a metro to a train to a plane to a taxi to a hotel for the night in Amsterdam, followed by another flight for me back home to the United States.
Rome is a truly amazing and unique city, and the trip there was one of the best of my life. I hardly scratched the surface of things to do in the Eternal City, and I hope to return there again someday soon to see more of what it has in store.