Series – When In Rome
Today’s Rome adventure is all about Via Appia Antica, an ancient road dating back to 312 B.C. Few tourists seem to venture outside of central Rome’s hustle and bustle to experience this incredible stretch of ancient Roman history. That only adds to the charm and ambiance of a day spent along the ancient Appian Way!
Have you ever wondered where the old saying, All Roads Lead to Rome, originates from? Via Appia Antica, that’s where! In its prime, Via Appia Antica stretched nearly 400 miles across Italy, from Rome all the way to the port of Brindisi. Today, we are going to experience a section of this ancient piece of Roman history.
Ancient Beginnings at San Sebastiano
Every story, every adventure, has its beginnings, and this one begins at the basilica of San Sebastiano fuori le Mura, with its ancient catacombs buried deep beneath. Descend underground into 1,900 year old tunnels dug by hand, and past ancient Roman Christian burial chambers.
Visitors to San Sabatiano weave their way through the third level of the catacombs, past the crypt of St. Sebastian and along a maze of hundreds of empty tombs. It is an interesting yet macabre tour beneath the surface, and the perfect starting point for a bike adventure along the ancient Appian Way.
Explorations Along Via Appia Antica
Bikes in hand, it’s time pedal out along this ancient Roman road. The original Via Appia Antica was built using huge basalt blocks. Those original basalt blocks still pave the way today. Hard to believe this quaint carless road is a mere 2-3 miles from Rome’s Colosseum!
Left pretty much as it was during the Roman Empire, it is amazing how well preserved Via Appia Antica is today. Though it can be a bit bumpy for two-wheel bike tires! It’s ok to ride along the equally well worn dirt path paralleling the ancient road.
Via Appia Antica is a road to slow down, to soak it all in. It is a road to stop and explore ancient sites like Circus Maxentius, one of the best preserved Roman imperial circuses, or the Tomb of Cecilia Metella, who was the daughter-in-law of Rome’s richest man.
It is a road that begs one to park the bikes and explore seemingly secret gardens on foot. Who knows what might be hidden just behind the greenery? It could be the ruins of an extensive Roman bath, decorative mosaic floors still intact.
Pause for a moment next to Casale Rotondo, the round farm. This is the largest tomb along the Via Appia, and its top really is a small farm! A nearby wall showcases original reassembled decorations from the casale.
There are no crowds to block your views here along the Appian Way. Best of all, a short distance past San Sabastiano, there’s no more cars to share the road with either! Miles of peaceful basalt paved road, all to yourself and a few other bikers and hikers.
Roadside Ruins of Via Appia Antica
Oh there is so much to see along Via Appia Antica! From massive circuses, tombs and monuments, to the smaller artifacts of ancient Roman life, left where they landed so many years ago. This most certainly is a road less traveled.
Continue biking past modern day villas, through grassy fields, and alongside ancient ruins. Very little seems to have changed since the fall of the Roman Empire. Much along the road remains as it was back in the 4th century A.D.
Stand before granite and marble carvings, their ancient Latin inscriptions still visible to read, if one can read Latin! Ancient Christian stories even placed Jesus on the Via Appia Antica, in an appearance to St. Peter.
Today this road is still strewn with the crumbling ruins of an ancient people, the ruts of their carts remain indefinitely carved into the basalt stone beneath. Imagine along the way. How have these remnants of an ancient life, remained in today’s world, as if it was only yesterday they were abandoned?
Up Close with Villa dei Quintili
Leave the bikes behind for the foot path leading to the most impressive 2nd century ruins of Villa dei Quintili, initially built by the Quintili brothers as their private residence. Though an entrance fee is required to access the ruins, it is nominal, and well worth the price!
With its distance outside the general realm of Rome, visitors here are most likely to have the paths, and the ruins, all to themselves. And oh what splendid ruins they are! Unlike ruins within the touristy corridor of Rome, these ones are not fenced off to one and all.
Villa dei Quintili was a most luxurious, private residence. Sadly, it was the sheer size and splendor of the villa that became the downfall of the Quintili brothers. Emperor Commodus had them killed so he could have the villa all for himself!
Today, evidence of the villa’s once opulent, elegant designs remain. From intricate mosaic floors still intact to faded wall frescoes still visible, it is apparent this was once a place of wealth and stature. Villa dei Quintili even included an immense bathing complex fed by its own aqueduct and a hippodrome!
Our day along the Appian Way, as well as our time in Rome had come to an end. But oh what an end it was! We had no idea what to expect when we decided to spend our last day in Rome outside the city center, biking along the ancient Appian Way. Was it worth trading a day in central Rome for an afternoon of biking in the suburbs?
Have You Explored The Ancient Appian Way?
Unequivocally, yes! Our day spent exploring the Via Appia Antica was one of the most incredible, worthwhile experiences we had during our five days in Rome. It is also an experience we most certainly hope to return to again one day!
How about you? Have you hiked or biked Via Appia Antica? Spent an uncrowded afternoon exploring ruins of ancient Roman civilization, no one standing in your way? Do share!
Traveler’s Tip: If you are in need of bikes, they may be rented for a very reasonable price at the cafe next to San Sabatiano, map included.
Want to learn more about our adventures around Rome? Check out my other posts here!
- 5 Fabulous Days in Rome – Family Adventures in the Eternal City
- Inside The Roman Colosseum – Up Close with Ancient Architecture
- A Rare Glimpse Inside Emperor Augustus Caesar’s Private Residence
- A Photographic Exploration of Rome’s Ancient Forum & Palatine Hill
- Vatican City in One Day – 7 Top Tips to Maximize Your Time
All images by C.Biederman.