“O Appian way, which Caesar consecrates under the form of Hercules, and renders the most celebrated of Italian roads…” Martial, Spectacula 9.101
Via Appia Antica, ancient Rome’s “Queen of Roads”, was once one of the world’s most important roads. It was originally built in 312 BC by Appius Claudius Caecus, the then-censor of Rome, who began and completed the first section as a military road to the south. The Via Appia, would eventually run all the way from Rome to the port city of Brindisi.
The Via Appia Antica, is now part of a nature and archaeological park, the Parco Regionale dell’Appia Antica, and makes a lovely day out away from the bustling city and major tourist attractions.
I started my walk at Circus Maximus, the original starting point of the Via Appia, passing along the Baths of Caracalla, later the Aurelian Walls and the Porta San Sebastiano where the Museum of the Walls (Museo delle Mura) is located.
Just outside the Porta Appia, on the right, is the first milestone column of the Via Appia “Prima Colonna Miliaria”, commemorating the restoration made by Vespasian in 76 AD and by Nerva in 97 AD. This milestone is a replica. The roman numeral I in the top band indicates that it is one mile away from the Milliarium Aureum, the point where all roads were supposed to begin.
From the museum, I made my way down the Via Appia Antica to the Circus of Maxentius. The first part of the road is not exactly pedestrian friendly. There are no sidewalks along the first 2.5 km of the Via Appia and the continuous traffic can be dangerous.
To visit on foot the best preserved stretch of the Appian Way, you should start your journey from Circus of Maxentius: board the 118 bus from outside Circo Massimo Metro Station or outside the Baths Of Caracalla (more info here How To Visit The Appian Way).
The Circus of Maxentius, situated between the second and third milestone, is the best preserved of all Roman circuses and second in size only to the Circus Maximus. It is part of a complex of buildings erected by emperor Maxentius between AD 306 and 312.
These towers would have contained a mechanism for raising the starting gates to allow the chariots to race down the track.
The “spina”, the barrier running down the middle of the 90 meters track, is exactly 1000 Roman feet (296 m) long, and would have been cased in marble during the glory days of the circus. The circus is believed to have had a spectator capacity of around 10.000 people.
The imperial box, the remains of which are identifiable, was situated in the usual fashion to give the most dramatic views of the race.
Just past the Circus of Maxentius lies the well-preserved and imposing tomb of Cecilia Metella, a Roman noblewoman. Thanks to the inscription still preserved, we know that she was the daughter of Quintus Caecilius Metellus, consul in 69 BC; her husband was Marcus Licinius Crassus, who was the elder son of the famous Marcus Crassus.
The mausoleum was built at the third milestone of the Appian Way in the years 30-20 BC atop a quadrangular base consisting of a cylindrical body 11 meters in height, with a diameter of 29 meters. Today the summit of the mausoleum is surmounted by fortifications added during the medieval period. By looking at the cylindrical body, about halfway up, we can see the inscription facing the Appian Way. It reads: CAECILIAE / Q. CRETICI F. / METELLAE CRASSI, or “To Caecilia Metella, daughter of Quintus Creticus, [and wife] of Crassus”.
About 500 meters away lies the recently excavated archaeological site of Capo di Bove. It contains the thermal baths of a vast property owned in the 2nd century AD by Herodes Atticus (a Greek aristocrat and tutor of future emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus) and his wife Annia Regilla. They both controlled a large area of land around the third milestone of the Appian Way.
The stretch between Copo di Bove and milestone VII is practically reserved to pedestrians and is charactised by tower tombs, temple-style tombs and round mausoleums.
The structures have been reduced to strange geometric forms due to erosion but also due to humans, who long ago, removed the revetments materials, the marbles and travertine.
Here is a selection of pictures of the best preserved monuments along the Via Appia Antica from milestone III to milestone VI.
Towards the end of milestone V lies the Villa of the Quintili. It is the largest villa of the ancient Roman suburbs (villa suburbana). Its lands stretched between the Via Appia and the Via Latina (now Via Appia Nuova where the entry of the site is located). It belonged to the brothers Sextus Quintilain Condiamus and Sextus Quintilian Valerian Maximus, both appointed consuls in 151 A.D. They were however put to death by the emperor Commodus in 182 A.D. on the accusation of conspiracy. The true motive was to confiscate all their property, including their suburban villa, which became Commodus’ playground.
Commodus enlarged and enriched the villa, and subsequent emperors continued to use it through the late third century.
The best way to plan your journey along the Appian Way is to visit the official website of the Park of the Appia Antica where you can find information on how to get there, opening times of the monuments, museums and catacombs. You can also download maps and ready made itineraries on foot or by bike. You could easily spend a whole day there so you should start your journey early. Furthermore it is a good idea to collect a map from the Visitor Centre at the very beginning of the road or at the shop of the Catacomb of San Sebastiano (facing the Circus of Maxentius). Alternatively you can use my own Google map:
The road is attractive and atmospheric, especially as you reach the countryside. A long walk along the Appian Way is an amazing experience and I highly recommend it to anyone who has the will and the stamina to do it.
Further photos from the Via Appia and its monuments can be viewed from my image collection on Flickr.
Appian Way video
The Appian Way: From Its Foundation to the Middle Ages (Getty Trust Publications: J. Paul Getty Museum)
Rome (an Oxford Archaeological Guide)