Exploring Rome’s Appian Way: Ancient Road and Archaeological Treasures
How often do you think about the Roman Empire? If you are studying Italian in Rome, the answer to this question can only be “every day”!
As its name might suggest even to the less attentive, Rome was the center of its Empire, one of the world’s greatest superpowers, for hundreds of years, and that has left the Eternal City with an astonishing legacy of historical treasures.
Places like the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Circo Massimo, and the Caracalla Baths are some of the most visited historical sites in the world. They are essential to getting a better understanding of the history and development of Ancient Rome. But there would be no Empire at all without Roman innovation and transport technology.
And the Appian Way, located just to the south of the historic city center, is the perfect place to escape the crowds of the city while still immersing yourself in its historical riches.
The Appian Way was the first of its kind, a road constructed with the purpose of transporting troops to help Rome expand its conquests. First built in 312 BC, during the Republican Age and long before the Empire was established, this road was the model for thousands of miles of roads the Romans constructed across Europe to connect their ever-expanding domain.
The road, rather than being just an essential military and logistic infrastructure, was also used as a burying ground both by Pagans and Christians, as it allowed Ancient Romans to lay their beloved one to rest just outside the city’s sacred perimeter, but in an accessible location. For language learners, understanding the Latin inscriptions along the way can add another layer to the experience.
Through the years, this road saw countless historical events, from the crucifixion of Spartacus and his rebel soldiers to the battle of Anzio, where US troops fought against the Nazis in World War II. Now, the road makes a peaceful place to wander and contemplate the vast sweep of history. If you’re in Rome to enhance your Italian skills, a walk along this ancient road can be both educational and inspiring.
Drop off your bags at a luggage storage in Rome and explore this incredible engineering feat for yourself. Along the way, you’ll be trekking through the history of Rome and Italy as you explore. This is an excellent opportunity to practice your conversational Italian with locals, enriching both your language skills and historical understanding.
Via Appia Antica
The ancient road is an attraction all by itself. Closed to traffic on Sundays, this is the best time to visit, as you can walk or bike the cobbled road in peace and tranquility. It’s impossible not to admire the Roman engineering prowess that built this road that has managed to last for more than 2000 years, as well as the magnificent and elegant villas that have been built (or bought) along the road throughout the years by famous actors, movie directors, and celebrities. Plus, as the road winds through the countryside, you’ll get a glimpse of Italian life outside the city of Rome itself while you stretch your legs and get some fresh air.
One of the major attractions on the Appian Way is the ancient catacombs, or burial grounds, of San Sebastiano and San Callisto. These underground cemeteries were dug out during the second century A.D. and provided burial places for Jews and Christians as well as Roman pagans. Over the centuries they were in use, these catacombs spread to accept more bodies until they became huge labyrinths of underground passages that were the final resting place of thousands of people.
During the early period of Christianity, when the religion was persecuted by the Roman authorities, these catacombs also provided meeting places to hold religious services. Once Christianity became the official religion of the Empire, the catacombs were still used as burial places up to the fifth century.
There are several catacombs spread throughout Rome, but San Sebastiano and San Callisto are two of the biggest and best known. Guided tours can take you to the catacombs from central Rome, or you can get there via public bus from the center of the city.
Tomb of Priscilla
Dating back to the first century, this monumental tomb is famous for being one of the best-preserved tombs of its kind from this period of Roman history. Built for Priscilla, the wife of a former slave, the tomb is around 6 m high and was used as a miniature fortress during the 11th century.
You can access the tomb from the basement of the farmhouse next to it. Although there isn’t a lot to see inside, it’s an exciting site to admire the care and attention Romans put into their funeral monuments and the later uses other people found for them.
Santa Maria in Palmis
This small church is often better known by its alternative name, Chiesa del Domine Quo Vadis. The 17th-century church is built on the spot of a ninth-century shrine that was reportedly constructed on the site where St. Peter fled Rome and had a vision of Jesus that persuaded him to go back to the city to be executed. The church is also home to two footprints embedded in stone that are believed by the faithful to be the footprints of Christ.
This small church is an important site of pilgrimage for Catholics, but it’s also an interesting place to learn about the spiritual history of Rome, even for nonbelievers. Located right next to the Tomb of Priscilla, it’s another of the archaeological sites worth exploring along the Appian Way.
Tomb of Caecilia Metella
Located at the three-mile marker of the ancient Roman road, this massive tomb is one of the most spectacular ruins in the area of the Appian Way. Built in the first century BC to honor the daughter of a Roman consul, or high-ranking government official, this tomb is almost 21 m tall, and its prominent position on a hill makes it tower over the road below.
During the medieval period, the tomb was incorporated into a castle, so this unique monument is a kind of two-for-one archaeological site. Explore the castle and its small museum to learn more about both the ancient Roman and medieval chapters of history in the area.
Exploring the Appian Way
It’s well worth making the short journey from Rome’s historical center to see this incredibly well-preserved Roman road. As well as the road itself, there are several historical sites worth seeing along the way. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to get out of the city and enjoy the Roman countryside for yourself.
Whether you’re in the midst of an Italian language course or simply looking to practice your Italian skills, the Appian Way offers a unique backdrop for immersion in both language and history. Leave your bags behind and see a different side of the Eternal City on this impressive road.