Appia Nitty Gritty Stuff

Walking The Appia

By walking the Appia you will walk in the footsteps of more historical figures, walk on more history, find more history, see more history, have the possibility to visit interesting museums, admire a beautiful everchanging landscape, taste different food delicacies and different types of wines than you will ever find on any other walk in Europe.  Paolo Rumiz mentions it in his book, when you walk the Appia in the right mindset you will not walk alone since you can almost sense all the other travellers that have been there and travelled that same path.  You will walk in the footsteps of Cicero, Virgil, Julius Caesar, Augustus, Hadrian, Trajan, Apollodorus of Damascus, Horace, Statius, Pliny, Saint Paul and Saint Peter, Frederick II, Charles V, German & American troops during the second world war etc, etc, and all the other millions of famous and commoners during the centuries that have used the Appia to reach their destination.  

The Via Appia

The Appia or “Appia longarum regina viarum” which translates from Latin into “Queen of the Long Roads” was one of the first paved roads that was constructed. The construction of the Appia began in 312 BC, at first from Rome to Capua and later to Benevento and Brindisi.
The road was named after Appius Claudius Caecus, the Roman censor who ordered the construction of the first section of this magnificent road to Capua to be used as a swift military passageway to the south during the war that erupted between Rome and the Samnite people.
The reason for the construction was that during the First Samnite War (343–341 BC) the Romans found they could not support or re-supply troops in the field against the Samnites across the marshes south of Rome. A revolt of the Latin League drained their resources further. They gave up and settled with Samnium.

11Italy in 400 BC
Italy in 400 BC

The Second Samnite War (327–304 BC) erupted when Rome attempted to place a colony at Cales (close to Capua) in 334 BC and again at Fregellae (close to Frosinone) in 328 BC more inland to the marsh area. The Samnites, now a major power after defeating the Greeks of Tarentum, occupied Neapolis to try to ensure its loyalty. The Neapolitans appealed to Rome, which sent an army and expelled the Samnites from Neapolis.
When Appius Claudius Caecus, a patrician of illustrious lineage was elected as censor in 312 BC he began bold public work and projects without waiting for instructions from the Roman Senate to tell him wat to do. By far his best-known project is the road, which runs across the Pontine Marshes to the coast northwest of Naples, where it turns north to Capua. On it, any number of fresh troops could be sped to the theatre of operations, and supplies could be moved en masse to Roman bases without hindrance by either enemy or terrain. 

The new road achieved its purpose. The outcome of the Second Samnite War was at last favourable to Rome. In a series of blows the Romans reversed their fortunes, bringing Etruria to the table in 311 BC, the very year of their revolt, and Samnium in 304 BC. The road was the main factor that allowed them to concentrate their forces with sufficient rapidity and to keep them adequately supplied, whereafter they became a formidable opponent.
It is no surprise that, after his term as censor, Appius Claudius became consul twice, subsequently held other offices, and was a respected consultant to the state even during his later years.

Before The Romans

Not all the roads round Rome have been laid out by the Romans; Before the roman empire and the construction of Roman roads throughout Europe the Etruscan civilization which started around 900 BC and ended with the assimilation in the roman empire around 90 BC already had created a network of roads in Etruria which also led to Rome and probably further south. These roads were, contrary to the Roman roads not paved, but at first simple trails in the Italian landscape. With the increase of the Etruscan population and commerce by carts drawn by animals the Etruscan roads started to sink into the landscape.  This effect was created because the surface rock, a soft volcanic tuff stone, eroded because of the mechanical action of the wheels of the carts.  This volcanic tuff stone had been deposited in many areas of central Italy by pyroclastic volcanic eruptions from various volcanos long before the appearance of the Etruscans and the Romans.  

11Via cava di san Sebastiano at Sovana
Via cava di san Sebastiano at Sovana

The wheels of the carts stated to make deep ruts into the soft stone and transporting goods on these roads was possible until the axles of the cart started hitting the middle of the road. The solution of the Etruscans to this problem was to dig the road deeper and deeper again when the axles started to hit the middle of the road again. At present, especially north of Rome, there are many places with “vie Cave” or “Tagliata” some as deep as 20 meters.

Roman roads leading out of Rome before the Appia

Livy mentions some of the most familiar roads near Rome, and the milestones on them, at times long before the construction of the Appia. These roads referred to were probably at the time little more than levelled earthen tracks. Thus, the Via Gabina during the time of Lars Porsena is mentioned in about 500 BC; the Via Latina, during the time of Gaius Marcius Coriolanus, in about 490 BC; the Via Nomentana (also known as “Via Ficulensis”), in 449 BC; the Via Labicana in 421 BC; and the Via Salaria in 361 BC.

Roman road construction

The Appia and other roads in and near Rome have been constructed with very heavy basalt blocks of volcanic origin. Around Rome there are many abandoned quarries where these stones came from. The stretches of roman roads the average tourist will see in and around Rome appear mostly uneven, ruined and with gaps between the stones. This is because after the Roman empire collapsed also the maintenance crews were no longer active. More than 1.500 years of traffic did the rest and destroyed these once perfect street and roads. Examples of how smooth the Roman roads were can be seen on the Via Sacra or holy road on Monte Cavo south of Rome, near the Mansio Ad Vacanas north of Rome and many other places in the Roman countryside.

11The Appia near Rome
The Appia near Rome
11Reconstruction of a Roman road In the Netherlands
Reconstruction of a Roman road In the Netherlands

The construction of the roman roads with the various layers and the topside of heavy basalt blocks is illustrated in many picture books and websites, but they always show only few workmen that supposedly create the road with light hand tools. Especially creating the top side by fixing the huge and very heavy basalt blocks neatly and often almost without gaps in place is impossible by hand, they must have had a machine to lift and low the blocks in place. What kind of machinery remains a mystery. In other countries of the Roman empire road construction was similar but with different natural stones or in boggy areas, like some part of the Netherlands, the used a partitioning of long poles on both side of the road, filled with sand and gravel on the top. 



Many Roman bridges in Italy have collapsed because of lack of maintenance as described above, erosion from water and some have even been blown up by the retreating German army in the second world war. But some of them are still standing; in Rome the oldest is, Ponte Fabricius constructed in 62 BC in the centre of Rome to connect to the Tiber Island.

11Ponte di Nona
Ponte di Nona
11Ponte Fabricius
Ponte Fabricius

Another amazing bridge in the country side near Rome is called Ponte di Nona, “nona” because the bridge is located in the 9th Roman mile measured from the forum. If you do not pay attention, this bridge with seven arches constructed during the 2nd century BC, will be difficult to find, it is archaeology hidden in plain sight. If you want to see it, you have to take care to stop in the right spot on the Via Prenestina. Constructed more than 2000 years ago for the passage of pedestrians and horse drawn carts this bridge still stands strong and takes a beating every day from our modern traffic, cars, busses, road tankers etc.

The Starting Point of our walk

11The Roman Forum
The Roman Forum

All roads lead to Rome. We will leave from the Roman Forum next to the Arch of Septimius Severus. At that point on the foum there were once two first milestones, the Umbilicus Urbis Romae linked by legend to Romulus the founder of Rome and the Milliarium Aureum a golden milestone erected by Augustus. All roads were considered to begin at these monuments and all distances in the Roman Empire were measured relative to it.

“Appia Hic et Nunc” or the “Appia, Here and Now” walk is a tribute to the Romans that constructed this first paved road and to the writer and journalist Paolo Rumiz and five friends, who in 2015 walked and rediscovered the road from Rome to Brindisi. (Part of the video of Paolo’s walk) With their walk and the subsequent book APPIA by Paolo many activities were started along the road. Also, the Italian Ministry of Culture funded 20 million Euro for spot projects along the Appia road. (Images of things that were restored or are under investigation)

11Umbilicus Urbis Romae
Umbilicus Urbis Romae

The Tabula Peutingeriana

That all roads lead to Rome we can see on a 13th-century parchment copy called the Tabula Peutingeriana of a possible Roman original. It covers Europe (without the Iberian Peninsula and the British Isles), North Africa, and parts of Asia, including the Middle East, Persia, and India. According to one hypothesis, the existing map is based on a document of the 4th or 5th century that contained a copy of the world map originally prepared by Agrippa during the reign of the emperor Augustus (27 BC AD 14). The map was discovered in a library in the city of Worms by German scholar Conrad Celtes in 1494, he bequeathed the map in 1508 to Konrad Peutinger, a German antiquarian in Augsburg, after whom the map is named. The Peutinger family kept possession of the map for more than two hundred years until it was sold in 1714. It then bounced between several royal families until it was purchased by Prince Eugene of Savoy for 100 ducats; upon his death in 1737, it was purchased for the Habsburg Imperial Court Library in Vienna. It is today conserved at the Austrian National Library at the Hofburg palace in Vienna. Tabula Peutingeriana online


A Recent investigation


Today, modern highways and arteries have mostly replaced the ancient transit system (though some fragments still exist). Which raises the question: Do all roads still lead to Rome? moovel lab, a German urban design team, has an answer. Data visualizers layered a grid of 486,713 cells on top of an open-source digital road map of Europe. They then developed an algorithm to calculate a route to Rome from each one of those cells, and found that yes, indeed, there was a way from every point (although it might be a stretch to say that “all roads” lead to the city). The map above shows those routes; The thicker the road segment is drawn, the more frequently that road was used across all routes. 

More online information concerning the Appia 

In the spur of the walk of Paolo Rumiz and his friends, the culture department of the Italian government “MIBACT” has created various websites regarding the Via Appia. Full of interesting information Site with highly detailed maps of the Appia