Via Appia Antica, or the Appian Way, is the most famous of Rome’s ancient roads, affectionately referred to as the “Queen of Roads”. Built in 312 BC, the road was built by the then-censors of Rome, Appius Claudius Caecus. The road was of great strategic and political importance at the time, connecting Rome to Brindisi, covering a distance of 350 miles.
Appian Way is a marvel of construction. Experts have stated that the stones were laid so perfectly that one couldn’t stick a knife in the road to mark the gap between the stones. This was achieved by layering small stones and mortar on the surface, topped with gravel and then interlocking stones. The flatness of the road was on purpose, to make it easier for people to travel on it.
The Appian Way started at the Circus Maximus. From there, it proceeded to go along the Baths of Caracalla and then the Aurelian Wall. Once out of Rome, the road passed through some of the wealthiest suburbs of that time, going through the Appian Mountains and the Pontine Marshes, all the way to Terracina. Originally, the road ended at Capua, which was about 130 miles from Rome. In 295 BC, it was extended to Benevenutum and then subsequently to Tarenum, eventually spanning 350 miles.
Purpose of the Appian Way
The main purpose of the Appian Way was to make travel easier for the people travelling to and from Rome. Also, it aided the Roman army move at pace and in particular, transport their supplies as and when required. This proved quite useful and enabled the army to achieve some notable triumphs. In fact, the revolt led by Spartacus ended when the Roman forces conquered the rebels on the Appian Way. Over 6,000 slaves were crucified at various points along the road.
During the Second World War, the Appian Way proved important in a battle won by the Allies, who were able to capture Rome by fighting off German forces using the cover of the road. War is not the only purpose the road served, as it was also used during the men’s marathon at the 1960 Summer Olympics.
Monuments on the Appian Way
The road is lined with hundreds of tombs on the sides. During that time, people were forbidden to bury the dead in the city, which made the Appian Way a popular choice. Among the monuments still present on the Appian Way are:
- Tomb of Caecilia Metella
- Temple of Hercules
- Villa dei Quintili, with nympheum, theatre, and baths
- Catacomb of Callixtus
- Circus of Maxentius
A number of bridges in Rome are also built alongside the Appian Way.
The Appian Way Today
Tourists to Rome can get a guided walking tour of the Appian Way. At present, the road starts from the Aurelian Wall. It is not pedestrian-friendly for the first few miles, only improving once you pass the tomb of Cecilia Metella. Along the way, you can catch a glimpse of the monuments as listed above. The development of Rome as a modern city and the expansion of the urban areas means the Appian Way is no longer the ‘Queen of Roads’ it used to be, but that doesn’t belie its historical significance and importance.
Nora Garibotti is a photographer with a particular interest in Roman antiquity & architecture. More of Nora’s photography can be viewed on her website: Garibotti Photography.