The way to go
The Appian Way, or Via Appia Antica, was first built an incredible 2,300 years ago as an important strategic route to Naples and the south of Italy from Rome. The Romans were terrific road engineers; the road needed to accommodate travelling legions and all their retinue, so the Appia Antica is much wider than other ancient roads, and was smoothly covered with volcanic stone, today bearing the marks of carriage wheels. Every main road led back to the Eternal City, giving us the phrase ‘all roads lead to Rome.'
On the weekends, most of the Appian Way is a public park which no unauthorised vehicles may enter, and is a great place to spend the day. At the top of the road is the early Renaissance house of Cardinal Bessarione, who once hosted lavish parties in its frescoed rooms for the greatest minds of the day. Close by are the old Roman Walls which circled the city, known as the Aurelian Walls after the Emperor who built them in order to keep out the attacking Goths. Now their ruins make up a large museum, and you can patrol the walls like an ancient Roman guard. Inside the museum you will also see famous landmarks like the well-preserved gate of Porta San Sebastiano, named for the nearby Christian catacombs, and the Arch of Drusus, part of the aqueduct for Emperor Caracalla’s enormous baths.
An important spot for Christian pilgrims is the church of Domine Quo Vadis. According to legend it was on the site of this church where Jesus appeared to St. Peter
, who was fleeing the persecution of Nero. Domine quo vadis
means ‘Lord, whither goest thou?’ which is the question Peter asked the vision of Christ, who responded that he was going to Rome to be crucified again. Peter then returned to Rome, and was crucified upside down for his faith. The miraculous imprint of Christ’s feet from this fateful visitation are now held in the nearby church of San Sebastiano fuori le Mura.
Dine among the dead
If you get hungry, pay a visit to a fantastic restaurant called Hosteria Antica Roma, housed in an ancient building in which the urns of dead freed slaves were kept. Served by the charismatic elderly owner, customers may eat in the open-aired burial hall or inside the medieval building beside it.
One of the most fascinating sights on the Appian Way is the private chariot racing circus of Emperor Maxentius, which is almost as big as the Circus Maximus
, and better preserved. It once stood beside his magnificent villa, now lost. Close by is the tomb of his son Valerius Romulus within its own walls. If ancient burials are your thing, there are also two ancient Christian catacombs
which can be accessed from the road.
Admired in the poetry of Lord Byron, the huge round turreted Tomb of Cecilia Metella, daughter-in-law of Crassus, member of the first Triumvirate with Caesar and Pompey and the richest man in Rome, is one of the chief attractions on the road for its scale and preservation. With so much to offer, all trips to Rome should lead to the Appian Way.