Blogging about Rome & Lazio | Food | Wine | Art | Places | Traditions
The Ancient Appian Way Beyond Rome
The Appian Way, which was built as a military road, starts in Rome, passes through southern Lazio and eventually reaches Puglia: the “heel” of Italy, in the direction of Greece and the Middle East. It’s a route that remained strategic for centuries. The Lazio towns along the route were as follows: Rome, Ciampino, Marino, Castel Gandolfo, Albano Laziale, Ariccia, Genzano, Nemi, Velletri, Cisterna di Latina, Latina, Sermoneta, Sezze, Pontinia, Terracina, Monte San Biagio, Fondi, Itri, Gaeta, Formia and finally Minturno.
The Appian Way (Via Appia / Appia Antica) was first among all roads and, in its day, was the longest, most attractive and most imposing road ever built and for this reason it was named “Queen of All Roads” or Regina Viarum. It was 365 miles long (530km) and took two weeks to travel the entire length.
The poet Stazio, who lived at the time of Domitian, used this appellative in his famous verses:
"FLECTERE IAM CUPIDUM GRESSUS, QUA LIMITE NOTO APPIA LONGARUM TERITUR REGINA VIARUM "
(Anxious to direct his steps where, for a known path runs the Appia, the queen of long roads)
(Statius, Silvae, Lib.II)
As mentioned before, the Appian Way was a military road which facilitated faster communication with the southern borders of the conquered territory. The consul Appio Claudio Cieco was the one who made the road, at the time of the wars against the Samnites in 312 BC, from Rome to Capua, for a distance of 124 Roman miles, using his own personal capital for the construction.
The first section was built from Rome to Capua, but the stretch between Rome and Albano had been in existence for some time. Appius Claudius restored the ancient road as far as Bovillae (Albano) then extended it to Capua, through the Pontine Marshes and Formia, thus diminishing the importance of the Via Latina, which until then had been the main route, and from then on became a simple service route of secondary importance.
The Via Latina (already in use in prehistoric and Etruscan times) whose name is directly connected to the territory through which it crosses (that of the old Latina League, subdued during the fourth century BC), was one of the roads most exploited by the Romans in the conquest of Lazio and of Campania. The Via Latina separated from the Via Appia south of Porta Capena, passing the Aurelian walls through the Porta Latina. It stretched over 200 Km to the south-east, through southern Lazio and northern Campania, crossing the Sacco valley, the Liri valley and along the slopes of the Lepini, Ausoni and Aurunci mountains. It was only later, in 268 AC, that the Appian Way arrived as far as Benevento and on to Brindisi, making it the most travelled road of the Mediterranean.
The road began in Rome at Porta Capena (parte of the ancient Servian walls, between Porta Capena and the Marte hill) although in antiquity it was not called the Appia but the Semita, which meant “sinuous uneven path”, in fact Via di Porta San Sebastiano is still very winding all the way to Caffarella.
It took the name Appia only at the sepulcher of Priscilla, shortly afterwards the road became straight as far as Bovillae, at the foot of the Alban Mountains. From here the road climbed and descended until Ariccia, passing through Genzano, leaving the area with Velletri on the left. The road then continued through the Pontine Marshes on an artificial bank (30 Km of marshland was crossed thanks to incredible reclamation work and road engineering), continuing on through the Appio Forum, passing near Pomezia and on towards the centre of Terracina. Here the road climbed up the hill of Anxur and descended to the plains of Fondi. (the section from Rome to Terracina was almost 90 Km of straight road). The road continued through Liri (now Garigliano) and Minturno, then, leaving modern Lazio behind, it reached Sinuessa, then Volturno, Casilinum, and finally Capua.
Fourteen years after the beginning of the works (in 298), Tito Livio informs us that the Appia extended to Porta Capena at the Clivio di Marte and that it had been paved with polygonal blocks of basalt or lava. After three years (in 295), the route had extended from the Clivio di Marte to the ancient city of Bovillae.
The prefect Caio Gracco erected milestones showing the distance from the city. He built the viaduct of Ariccia and expanded the paving. At the time of Caesar and under Augustus the road was paved up to Capua, and shortly afterwards the rest of the way to Brindisi.
Via Latina (what to see):
Rome: Porta Latina, is among the most impressive and best preserved among the original doors of the entire city walls and its name derives from that of the homonymous street that crosses it and that, in Roman times, led to Capua.
The archaeological park of the Tombs of Via Latina is one of the most important funerary complexes of the suburb of Rome which still preserves the traditional aspect of the ancient Roman countryside.
Ferentino: the city walls remain intact for 2.5 km (pre-Roman and Roman walls with medieval alterations) around the centre of the town and the gates are spectacular, including that of S. Agata: here passed part of the Via Latina, which ran the entire length of the city as the main axis of the urban structure with east-west direction.
Aquino: The road reached Aquino where, leaving the village, it passed through the Republican doors (still well preserved) and under an honorary arch (from the 1st century BC) near the church of S. Maria d'Aquino; for 300 m of this stretch some remains of the ancient paving are visible.
Via Appia (what to see):
Rome: Appia Antica Park
From Frattocchie to Albano: the Appia coincides with the SS7 Appia state road. On the right are the remains of the ancient Boville (Bovillae), while on the left there are two sepulchres. The most important ancient monuments of Albano: the Porta Pretoria and the Mausoleum of the Orazi and Curiazi.
Terracina: The ancient Appian Way climbed over the mountain behind the hill where is the sanctuary of Anxur (visitable). The emperor Trajan changed the course of the Appia by cutting the cliff, called Pesco Montano, still visible for those travelling along the coast. The ancient city is located high up, while the village built by Pope Pius VI remains at the ancient port of Trajan. The Via Appia entered the city via Via della Stazione, Via Porta Romana and Corso Garibaldi. the watchtower on the Via Appia before entering the Roman circle, from the Republican era, is perfectly preserved. Piazza del Duomo, the ancient city forum, preserves the original floor, part of which consists of the paved base of the Via Appia that crossed it on one side.
Sperlonga: here starts the Via Flacca, for Gaeta and Formia, a coastal variant of the Appia, built by L. Valerio Flacco in 184 BC, which passed through Sperlonga, near the ruins of the villa of Tiberius.
Fondi: remarkable Roman walls with large towers. The chessboard plan of the town follows the Roman one. Here, as in Terracina, the Appia crossed the city. There are also notable medieval monuments including the castle of the Caetani and the Colonna. The current road perfectly follows the ancient up to the Valle di Sant'Andrea.
Formia: Tomba di Cicerone, is located along the Via Appia towards Rome at Km. 139. The mausoleum dates back to the Augustan age and even today the attribution of the sepulcher to Cicero remains doubtful, even if some clues confirm this hypothesis, such as the presence of one of its grandiose villas.
Minturno: archaeological area. Set on a hill overlooking the seaside areas of Scauri and Marina di Minturno, it has very ancient origins. Its settlement, built along the Via Appia stretch, stretched on the right bank of the Garigliano river (ancient Liris).
This post first appeared in the Laran Tours Spring/Summer Newsletter.
Thanks for stopping by.
We hope to see you in Rome soon!