Via Appia Antica – How to Discover the Ancient road?

Appian way (Via Appia Antica) in Rome, Italy

When I visited Rome (for the second time), I heard about this ancient highway, Via Appia Antica, that connects the capital Rome with Brindisi in the South East part of Italy. I didn’t want to miss seeing this place this time.

As the famous saying goes “All roads lead to Rome”, the Via Appia Antica (or The Appian way in English) is one of those roads that connected Rome with other important places in the Italian empire. It cuts across the Campagna region and ends up in Brindisi.

Brindisi was a major port city in Italy located on the Adriatic Sea. This is where the Roman ships would sail to Greece, Egypt and North Africa carrying the valuable Roman goods. And of course the port was used to import products from other empires as well.

Planned and constructed during the 3rd B.C by Appius Claudiue Caecus (and then extended in the 2nd century), the Appian Way is one of the longest road in ancient Roman empire. The total length of the road is about 600 kms (360 miles). The road is kept in great condition. Even today you can travel along this road from Rome to Brindisi.

So how did they construct this road that stands the test of the time? The foundation for the road was built with heavy stone blocks mixed with lime mortar. And then they laid these polygonal shaped blocks of lava together that made a smooth surface for traveling. This investment paid off Romans when it came to moving their army swiftly across the empire whenever there is a need for a military campaign or put down any budding rebellion.

Brutal history of Via Appia Antica

The road literally carries 2300 years of history marked by several conquests, rebellions, trade and bloodshed.

In the 1st century BC, an ex-gladiator by the name of Spartacus from Capua (in modern day Campagna) rallied a slave revolt against the Roman empire. It was said this revolt was put down brutally by two Roman generals – Crassus and Pompey. Actually, if you bike for 30 minutes from the start of the road, you will come across the Pompey’s mausoleum.

Appian way (Via Appia Antica) in Rome, Italy
Appian way (Via Appia Antica) in Rome, Italy

Crassus had captured around 6,000 rebels from his victory against Spartacus’ main force in Campania. After the defeat of Spartacus, these 6000 rebels were crucified along the Appian way. So when you are walking or riding your bike on this road have respect for the pain and suffering of these people.

How do you discover the ancient road?

The starting point of this historic road kicks off in a big park – Parco dell’Appia Antica and then leads to this cobble stone path way. When I lived in Rome for two months, one of my favorite activities to do was to ride my bicycle to Via Appia Antica. It is especially peaceful during the week days. On the weekends this path is overwhelming with tourists and tour groups so I don’t recommend going during the weekends.

Ancient ruins

Most people come to visit the ancient highway not only to walk the path but also to see the Roman monuments and catacombs. You can appreciate the marvel of the road construction from the ancient world.

When I biked along the historic road, I noticed there are many tombs of rich Roman Patrician family members and military generals. Most of these tombs are in ruins now. Some of the catacombs (St. Callixtus being the famous one) are well preserved and turned into museums.

I stop my bike and pay a visit to one of the tombs. The tomb of Cecilia is one of the best preserved tomb which was built by the Rome’s richest man at that time. The tunnel inside the catacomb stretches for miles and many layers deep.

Continuing with my bike ride. A few minutes down the path is Capo di Bove which used to be a major thermal baths layered with the exquisite Roman mosaics. These baths were actively used by the Romans for a few centuries before it was forgotten and left to ruins.

Appian way (Via Appia Antica) in Rome, Italy
Residence in Appian way (Via Appia Antica) in Rome, Italy
Appian way (Via Appia Antica) in Rome, Italy
Sheeps grazing Appian way (Via Appia Antica) in Rome, Italy

During weekends I see many horses, runners and bikers criss crossing the path just getting some exercise in a car free environment. You see some sheep grazing the fields, vegetable farms and even some vineyards. There are some families who live on either side of the path. There were rumors many of these private residences are owned by Americans.

Horse riding along Via Appia Antica, The Appian Way
Horse riding along Via Appia Antica, The Appian Way

All being said Via Appia Antica is one of the highlights of my visit to Rome (the second time). I highly recommend this place for visitors (and locals too) to walk the path where the Roman emperors walked one day.