Appian Way, the Queen of Roads
Appian Way, the Queen of Roads
Lately there was quite an interest with our Sunday Appian way Segway Tour, a good enough reason to add some words about the Remarkable yet less visited Via Appia Antica, with its History and Catacombs. The Appian Way was once the world’s most important road. It was the widest and largest road of its time and the most famous of all the roads that radiated from Rome towards the far ends of the Roman Empire. It was called the “Regina Viarum”, or “queen of roads” and was the reason for the famous saying “all roads lead to Rome”. The road today is remarkably well preserved, flanked on both sides by fields punctuated with monumental ruins and other vestiges of Roman and Christian history. Below the road there are miles of tunnels – known as Catacombs, where the early Christians and Jews buried their dead.
Building of the Appian Way
The Road is named after Appius Claudius, the Roman censor who began and completed the first section as a military road to the south in 312 BC and was constructed in order to make a fast and reliable communication between Rome and Capua. Via Appia began at the Circus Maximus, passing along the Baths of Caracalla, and later, the Aurelian Wall. The whole distance of the original road was 132 miles and it took 5-6 days to make the trip. The first stretch was a straight 30 mile line between Rome and Terracina, with the last 10 miles being flanked by an artificial canal that allowed the weight to be put on small boats. The road was lengthened several times until arriving to Brindisi on the Adriatic coast, where boats left for Egypt, Greece, and North Africa. It took about 13 days to complete the 365 miles journey. The Appian Way was revolutionary for the time. It was paved with large “Basoli”, basalt rock in polygonal shape and was the first Roman road to feature the use of lime cement. The surface was said to have been so smooth that you could not distinguish the joints. The roads Width was 14 roman feet (4.15 meters), wide enough to allow two chariots to pass in an opposite direction. The road was crested in the middle for water runoff, and had ditches on either side of the road, protected by retaining walls.
Ancient Times and the defeat of Spartacus
Since it was forbidden to bury the dead inside the city, many were buried along the roads leading out of Rome. Important people built impressive tombs for themselves or for their whole family. Their shapes varied from a tumulus or a pyramid to a small temple and many of them are still visible today. Besides the numerous tombs alongside the road, there are some other monuments like the Temple of Hercules; the church Quo Vadis (where Saint Peter met Christ) and the remains of the gothic church of San Nicola. Nearby the tomb of Romulus is the Circus Maxentius, second in size only to the Circus Maximus and the best preserved of all Roman circuses. Even Roman emperors were buried here, Gallienus, and Geta, both murdered. In 73 BC, a slave revolt under the ex-gladiator, Spartacus, began against the Romans. Spartacus defeated many Roman armies in a conflict that lasted for over two years. While trying to escape, Spartacus moved his forces into the historic trap in Apulia/Calabria where he was pinned between Legions that were brought from all over the Empire. On his defeat the Romans judged that the slaves had forfeited their right to live. In 71 BC, 6,000 including Spartacus were crucified along the 200-kilometer Appian Way from Rome to Capua.
While the Appian Way is lined with monuments and tombs of ancient Roman patrician families, many find what’s under the Appian Way to be more interesting. Below the street are miles of tunnels – known as catacombs – where early Christians buried their dead and, during the worst times of persecution, held church services discreetly out of the public eye. Mile after mile of musty-smelling tunnels whose soft walls are gouged out with tens of thousands of burial niches (long shelves made for 2-3 bodies each) can be seen in the famous Catacomb of Callixtus and catacomb of St Sebastian.
On Sundays, the Appian Way is a car-free zone, making it an ideal place for our Appian Way Segway Tour.