Via Appia Antica

DESTINATIONS via-appia-antica

Far south of the Celio lies catacomb country—the haunts of the fabled underground graves of Rome's earliest Christians, arrayed to either side of the Queen of Roads, the Via Appia Antica (Appian Way). Strewn with classical ruins and dotted with grazing sheep, the road stirs images of chariots and legionnaires returning from imperial conquests. It was completed in 312 BC by Appius Claudius, who laid it out to connect Rome with settlements in the south, in the direction of Naples. Though time and vandals have taken their toll on the ancient relics along the road, the catacombs remain to cast their spirit-warm spell. Although Jews and pagans also used the catacombs, the Christians expanded the idea of underground burials to a massive scale. Persecution of Christians under pagan emperors made martyrs of many, whose bones, once interred underground, became objects of veneration. Today, the dark, gloomy catacombs contrast strongly with the Appia Antica’s fresh air, verdant meadows, and evocative classical ruins.

The initial stretch of the Via Appia Antica is not pedestrian-friendly—there is fast, heavy traffic and no sidewalk all the way from Porta San Sebastiano to the Catacombe di San Callisto. To reach the catacombs, take Bus No. 218 from San Giovanni in Laterano. Alternatively, take Metro Line A to Colli Albani and then Bus No. 660 to the Tomba di Cecilia Metella. A more expensive option is the big, green Archeobus from Piazza Venezia (Friday–Sunday, early June–early November only). With an open-top deck, these buses allow you to hop on and off as you please (€20 for 24 hours). Another attractive alternative is to rent a bike—for example, at the Appia Antica Caffè near the Cecilia Metella bus stop.

POINTS OF INTEREST

Tomba di Cecilia Metella

For centuries, sightseers have flocked to this famous landmark, one of the most complete surviving tombs of ancient Rome. One…

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Catacombe di San Callisto

Burial place of several 3rd-century popes, this is Rome's oldest and best-preserved underground cemetery. One of the (English-speaking) friars who…

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Catacombe di San Sebastiano

The 4th-century church was named after the saint who was buried in the catacomb, which burrows underground on four different…

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