Rome’s Appian Way: The Perfect Springtime Stroll

Via Appia

What better way to celebrate spring—and Easter (you know, “quo vadis” and all that) —than a stroll on the ancient Appian Way?

The Appian Way (or, to Italians, Via Appia) was built all the way back in 312 B.C. And it was crucial. The first road linking farther-flung parts of the Roman empire with the capital, it first ran to Capua, just north of Naples; since it allowed Romans to transport soldiers and supplies, the Via Appia proved integral to the Romans conquering the Samnites of southern Italy. In 191 B.C., the Romans extended the road all the way to Brindisi, in modern-day Puglia.

That’s the context. The really cool part?

You can still walk on the Via Appia Antica today. On stones ancient Romans would have walked on.

Via Appia Antica in Rome

Or even take a bike ride. Check out my video of bicycling down the Via Appia Antica (and hold onto your handlebars—those paving stones make for a rocky ride!).

Not to mention that the Appian Way boasts ancient catacombs, tombs, mausoleums, and even fragments of villas that once would have lined this all-important entrance to the city—a way for Romans to flaunt their wealth and status.

On the Via Appia in Rome

But let’s put the Appian Way today aside for a moment. Even if this were just a dirt road—no ruins, no ancient stone paving—it would give you shivers to walk on this path. Let’s just think about what’s happened here:

  • Spartacus, the famous leader of Rome’s largest slave revolt, was crucified on the Via Appia along with 6,000 of his followers in 71 B.C. Just imagine the bodies lining the 125 miles between Rome and Capua. Shudder.
  • St. Peter took this road out of Rome, fleeing Nero’s persecutions, in 64 A.D. According to legend, he saw Christ—crucified years earlier—coming into the city as he left, provoking his famous phrase “Domine, quo vadis?” (Lord, where are you going?), a question immortalized in the name of the church built on the spot.
  • In the villas along the road, early Christian converts allowed their fellow Christians to worship and, ultimately, to be buried beneath their gardens; catacombs sprung up along (and beneath) the Appian Way.

That’s all, of course, aside from the fact that this was a busy thoroughfare that would have been used by soldiers and plebeians, patricians and consuls, throughout the Roman empire’s existence. In other words: Yes, Caesar walked here.

And in a lot of ways, the Appian Way hasn’t changed much. As it would have been in earlier times, the Via Appia remains a chic address, one that shows wealth and breeding; villas are still set off from the main road, gated, just as they would have been 2,000 years ago.

Villa on Rome's Appian Way
Of course, there are also lots of sights to see along the Appian Way, too.

Like the Mausoleum of Cecilia Metella (below). The best-preserved tomb along the Via Appia, this was built for the daughter-in-law of Marcus Licinius Crassus—a guy who suppressed Spartacus’ slave revolt, entered the First Triumvirate with Pompey, and who was the richest man in Roman history. In the early 14th century, Pope Boniface VIII acquired the tomb for his family, and it was turned into the fortress you see today.

Tomb of Cecilia Metella on the Appian Way
Or the Villa dei Quintili, a huge villa built by the wealthy Quintilii brothers in the 2nd century… so huge that, when it was first excavated, locals thought it must have been a town. In fact, the villa was so incredible that Emperor Commodus put its owners to death—just so he could get his own hands on it.

Or the Circus of Maxentius (below). Erected in the early 4th century, its fragments still give an idea of the grandeur of what was once the second-largest circus in Rome, after only the Circus Maximus.

Circus of Maxentius along the Via Appia

Or the Capo di Bove, an archaeological site that’s just a sliver of an enormous property; the villa was built in the 2nd century by Herodes Atticus, the tutor to future emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, and Aspasia Annia Regilla, his aristocratic (and 25-years-younger) wife. The excavations today reveal what would have been the villa’s thermal baths, complete with original flooring and mosaics. A murder mystery is hidden here, too: Annia was kicked to death at eight months pregnant… and it’s thought her husband may have been responsible for her murder.

Capo di Bove on the Appian Way
Or the Basilica of San Sebastiano fuori le Mura, the church of the Catacombs of St. Sebastian, most fascinating—at least to me—for having a Bernini sculpture no one seems to know about: the “Salvator Mundi,” a bust of Christ that art historians think was Bernini’s very last work. (It’s on the right as you enter the church, beside the Relics Chapel).

That’s not to mention the catacombs themselves, including the Catacomb of Callixtus and the Catacomb of St. Sebastian.

Still not convinced? Just check out how peaceful the Appia Antica is right now. And how beautiful. (After the first part of the Via Appia, the road becomes closed to most traffic, so it’s perfect for pedestrians).

The best way to get to the start of the Via Appia is to take a bus: the #660, which leaves from the Colli Albani metro stop, or the #118, which leaves from the Piramide metro stop. Both also stop close to the bike rental at Via Appia Antica 42, if you’d rather bike than stroll.

Just remember not to take your stroll on a Sunday if you want to enter the sites, as that’s when the catacombs are closed.

Want more tips about what to do in the Eternal City? Check out The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon, below, or through my site here!

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10 comments

  1. Hi Amanda, I was just back in Rome (fourth visit) during the first week of January and took a nice stroll down the Via Appia Antica. It was the first time I’d been able to do that and it was wonderful! I also wanted to let you know that your advice about real vs fake restaurant bills was extremely helpful, especially in regard to service charges.

    I’m taking a group of students to Rome next spring (the second trip I’m leading) and am going to be sure to make time for the Via Appia Antica. Now that I know there’s the 765 bus along Tor Carbone which goes to either the Laurentina or the Cinecitta metro stop, I can ditch the tour bus after our visit to the Catacombs in favor of a walk.

  2. Hi, I have been on the Appian Way between the little cafes north of Cecilia Mettela and south to San Sebastian catacomb. Can I start this time in the Parco, go south all the way past San Sebastian without encountering any gates, barriers etc? Thanks Cecilia erminiver@yahoo.com

  3. Hi Amanda, I’m not sure if this site is still live but no harm in a quick question or two! I’m planning a big walk next year to celebrate the beginning of a new phase of life with my fifth daughter leaving home…33 years of a daughter under my roof and now I’m going to enjoy some time out alone! I’m hoping to walk from the north to south of Italy, firstly along the Via Francigena and then along the Appian Way. I know the route along the Via Francigena is marked and a lovely one to use but know less about the Appian Way for walkers. Is it possible to walk and find places to stay as you go? Is it reasonably safe, are there places to buy food on the way? Is it possible to do this in June or is it already too hot in Southern Italy to make this feasible. I am planning to start my walk this August as snow makes it impossible early in 2017, but from Vercelli to the South will start in mid March and go on until I get to the heel of Italy…long way I know! Any thoughts? Best wishes Elizabeth

    1. Hi Elizabeth,
      Thanks for your comment! The site is very much still live (just check out the first page for most recent posts). What a fun idea to walk the north to south of Italy. It sounds great. Unfortunately I’ve never done this (or heard of anyone doing this) myself, but if you take a look at Google Maps (click on the Earth option), you should be able to get a pretty good idea of what the route looks like and how much of it would be major road, etc. I can’t imagine you’d ever be that far from places to buy food or stay overnight, as long as you plan in advance. And I also can’t imagine it would be unsafe — at least no more unsafe than any other long walk undertaken alone — but again, take a close look at the route to get a sense of where exactly it would take you. June will indeed be pretty warm (and humid) in the south — it’s hot even in Rome at that time of year — so do plan accordingly. I’m sorry I can’t be of more help but do let me know how you get on!

  4. Hi Amanda,
    Love your pages! Wondering if you could give me some advice.. We will be visiting Rome in July, and we probably do not have time to walk on the Via Appia, but as we are picking up a rental car in the city, I would like to try and drive to the Via Appia and park somewhere to be able to take some pictures. My kids are not really interested to spend too much time there, but my old Latin teacher would appreciate a nice photo or 2 from the Antica Via Appia… Where would be the best place (both from practical and picture point of view) to stop then , would you know?
    Thanks!

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