Wander the Via Appia Rome, 'queen of roads', ancient Rome’s original super highway and one of the greatest examples of Roman engineering!
The Appian Way is one of the best ways to understand ancient Rome and see how the ancient Romans lived - read on to discover more about it, including:
The Via Appia (also referred to commonly as via Appia Antica, or the [ancient] Appian Way) is a Roman road which starts in central Rome, and ends in Brindisi in southern Italy - approximately 450km/280 miles from Rome.
More than just an old road, the first 10km (6 miles) of the road lies within a regional park called Parco Regionale dell'Appia Antica - a regional park charged with the preservation of this ancient super highway.
In ancient Rome, the the Via Appia Antica officially started at the Roman Forum.
These days, you’ll find the start of the Appian Way at the junction of Via di Porta San Sebastiano, Viale di Porta Ardeatina and Viale delle Mura Latine, at Museo delle Mura.
The short answer is ‘yes’!
The Appian Way offers something for everyone; for history lovers you’ll find thousands of years of history along its route, for nature lovers you’ll find fresh air and peaceful walks, and everyone else, you'll simply have a lovely day taking a break from hustle and bustle of the centre of Rome.
Construction of the Appian Way was started by Appius Claudius Caecus in 312 BCE (during the time of the Roman Republic).
This is where the name ‘Appia’ comes from – a modern translation of the name 'Via Appia' would read as 'Appius' Road'.
The principal purpose of the road was just like a modern transport system; to enable the faster movement of people, trade and armies.
Over the ensuing decades Rome’s dominion rapidly increased as it conquered swathes of southern Italy. For Rome it was key to consolidate their hold on the area, and being able to move resources and armies quickly was fundamental to this.
The Via Appia was constructed in sections as the influence of the Roman Empire spread further south, where the road eventually ends in Brindisi.
Since the final section was added in 264 BCE, parts of the Appian Way have remained in use ever since, and was even expanded with a new branch by emperor Trajan, aptly named the Via Appia Traiana.
If you follow the entirety of its route through southern Italy you’ll find modern roads have replaced it in parts, whereas in others the original Roman paving remains.
Visiting the Via Appia Antica couldn’t be easier, or cheaper. In fact, if you want to just walk or bike the ancient road you can do so without paying anything!
The park in which the Appian Way starts, the 'Parco Regionale dell'Appia Antica', is free to enter to everyone. Note that some sites along the course of the Via Appia Antica do charge for entrance, see more on this below!
You have a range of options for where to start your exploration of the Appian Way in Rome. For simplicity I’ve summarized these here, but feel free to mix and match, there’s no right or wrong way to visit!
Start your journey at the Villa of the Quintilli on the outskirts of Rome.
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For the purpose of this guide I am focusing on the section of the Via Appia that runs from the center of Rome to the Villa of the Quintilli.
Along the route there are countless fascinating attractions to visit (including dozens of Roman monuments and not one, but two major Christian catacombs!) and if you wanted to see everything, you’d have to split your visit across at least a couple of full days.
As a quick reference I’ve put together the following list of the key sites and note, if you are thinking to start your visit at the Villa Quntilli, simply scroll down and work backwards!
This was, and still is, the largest entertainment venue ever constructed.
During its heyday up to a quarter of a million people would be here watching chariot racing and other games.
The Circus Maximus is well worth exploring in more detail.
Welcome to one of ancient Rome’s largest public bathing complexes!
This imposing structure is most likely the remains of a triumphal arch, much like the arches of Constantine, Titus and Septimius Severus in central Rome.
Its position inside the walls of Rome suggests it was built to honor someone significant, who also wanted to send a clear message to any visitors using the Appian Way to enter the city.
Inside the restored gatehouse you will find a small museum dedicated to Rome's city walls.
Once inside, be sure to follow the itinerary which will take you onto the roof the gatehouse for some special views of the area, and along the walls themselves!
He asked Jesus 'domine quo vadis?'; 'Lord, where are you going?' to which Christ replied that he was going to Rome to be crucified once again. This gave Peter the courage to turn around and return to Rome, where he was ultimately crucified himself.
If you have time, visit inside the church to see stone reported to feature Jesus Christ's footprints, imprinted on the paving that same day that Peter saw his vision.
Several early popes were buried here, along with hundreds of thousands of other souls across five levels.
These catacombs started life as a mine in ancient times - when the Romans had depleted the mine's resources, they began burying deceased slaves and freedmen here in simple graves.
As time went on, more elaborate monuments were constructed to commemorate the dead until the site was covered with the construction of a Constantine-era basilica.
For more information about Rome's catacombs check out our page here.
Here you will find two major Roman monuments, constructed for, and in honor of emperor Maxentius.
The first is a large circular tomb originally intended for Maxentius, in the same style as the Mausoleum of August and Hadrian (the latter now being the Castel Sant'Angelo), which ultimately became the resting place of the emperor's son Romulus who died unexpectedly.
The second is a large stadium and entertainment venue which would have been part of the emperor's out of town villa and estate.
This tomb is one of the most famous monuments along the Appian Way due to its imposing size and generally good state of preservation.
Built to house the remains of Cecilia Metella, the daughter in-law of Rome's richest man (Marcus Crassus) around 20 BCE, it then became a fortress in the middle ages, and now its possible to visit the interior of the tomb space with an Appia Antica Archaeological Park ticket.
These tickets can be purchased here at the tomb and other select sites in Rome - visit the official website for full details (you can also buy online).
This might be one of my favorite places in Rome (I can never decide between here, the Roman Forum or the Pantheon!) because it was here where my girlfriend and I initially stopped to get our bearings after becoming lost on our first ever trip to Rome.
Compared to a lot of monuments, this is a simple attraction. You'll find excavations of an ancient villa with private bath complex, surrounding gardens and a small museum about the site and the Appian Way.
However, you'll almost always find it empty and there is just something special about exploring a site with no one else around!
Note that entry requires an Appia Antica Archaeological Park ticket which can be purchased in advance online here.
As you head further along the Appian Way you'll find the old road comes out into more open territory.
Along this section you will see several tombs lining the road, some in great condition, others not so much.
For the Romans it was the custom for the dead to be buried outside of the city, and for those wealthy enough, they had ornate tombs line the major roads as a sign of the power and respect they commanded while alive and wished to carry through to the afterlife.
This sprawling estate was built by the Quintilli brothers in the second century CE.
You'll find remnants of the main residences, along with private baths, a hippodrome and theater.
Emperor Commodus took over the villa 182 CE because he liked it so much, unfortunately putting the then-owners to death for resisting his initial request to requisition it.
Personally I feel that the Appian Way is one of the few sites in Rome that you can consider exploring at your own pace, without a tour guide or as a part of a tour group.
Why? Maybe because of the sentimental value I attached to it being the first site in Rome I discovered myself, but also because its size and openness lends itself well to self-exploration.
That said, if you feel a little overwhelmed by the scale of the Appian Way, or are limited for time, do consider hiring a tour guide or joining a tour, especially if you want to visit one or more of the catacombs here.
Appia Antica Caffé (mentioned previously as the recommended place for bike rental) – this is my go-to spot along the Appian Way for refreshment.
The family who run the Appia Antica Caffé offer a simple menu of home made traditional pastas, salads and sandwiches are perfect for a light lunch to refuel on your journey.
L'Archeologia – While I have not (yet) dined at this restaurant, it comes highly recommended from a friend who I trust completely! What makes this restaurant particularly special is that it's housed inside restored Roman ruins, with the wine cellar occupying an ancient tomb.
Beyond the above recommendations you’ll find a number of other restaurants, trattorias and hosterias along the Appian Way. I cannot vouch personally for any of these, but know that most have been there a very long time so they must be doing something right!
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