Construction on the Appian Way began in 312 BC and is officially the first paved road in history. The road starts in the Baths of Caracalla and is 513 kilometres long. The road was used to transport troops and military supplies to the port of Brindisi in Southeast Italy during ancient Roman times.
The Via Appia Nuova was built as an alternative in 1784 and now the old road (Via Appia Antica) is mostly visited by tourists. There are numerous tourist attractions to visit along the way and one can easily spend the whole day journeying down this ancient road.
Part of the Via Appia Antica (the part closer to Rome) is also part of the Parco Regionale dell’Appia Antica – a nature and archaeological park. The part is closed to traffic on Sundays, making it perfect for a lazy day exploring the sites, enjoying nature and taking a break from the busyness of the city. The area is great for picknicks and enjoying some local cuisine.
There is a small information centre where you can find leaflets with information on the area and the things to see – there are 54 official sites listed. The visitor centre rent out bicycles and can be identified by the ‘I’ on the sign in the front and the busses stopped outside.
The area is quite large, and it is definitely advised that you rent a bike, or take a hop-on-hop off bus to fit more sight-seeing into your schedule. There are 5 official bike routes, ranging between 5 and 32 kilometres long and takes you past a variety of interesting sights.
Among these are 3 catacombs, including the Catacombs of San Callisto – the most sacred catacomb in Rome – and the Catacombs of San Sebastiano. You could also see the Roman baths of Capo di Bove, several temples, villas and tombs and even the ancient aqueducts with their impressive arches. Some places are free to enter while others might charge a few Euro. Similarly, there might be days when certain sites are closed so be sure to check beforehand if you want to see something specific.
While cars are still allowed on the Via Appia Antica, except on Sundays, some parts of the road is only accessible by a 4×4. There is a building ban along the road but new homes and other buildings still pop up here and there.
Perhaps the most fascinating feature in the area is the most unassuming and potentially underrated of them all. It is simple and basic, unimpressive one might even say. And yet it is the reason why all these impressive ancient sites are where they are.
The cobbled way of Via Appia Antica is perhaps not much to see… but, considering that it is the first paved road in the world, and nearly 2000 years old – it does deserve some time appreciating and exploring. It is a place where you can literally walk in the footsteps of the ancients… just think about that for a minute.