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The Appian Way

The Appian Way ("Via Appia"), in its first part, leads through one of the most exceptional and vast archeological areas in the world, before leaving Rome to reach the city of Brindisi, in the South of Italy.
Our personal suggestion is to take your time (hours are needed, indeed) to walk or bike along the Via Appia from the centre of Rome to the large park that spans to the outskirts of the city. It is a wonderful route through history and nature that is worth all your energies!

the Appian Way in Rome
one of the most lovely chunks of the Appian Way

Proudly called the "Regina Viarum" (Queen of the streets), it was begun by Appius Claudius in 312 B.C. and it is sorrounded for many miles by sepulchres and tombstones of twenty generations. Only patrician families could have tombs here. Here were the tombs of the Scipios, Furii, Manili, Sestili.

The first part of the Appian Way is called Via Porta San Sebastiano. At the beginning, the famous Baths of Caracalla or Antoninian Baths, begun by Septimius Severus in 206 and inaugurated in 217 by Caracalla, although finished by his successors Heliogabal and Alexander Severus. Sixteen hundred persons could bathe here at the same time.
So vast were the baths that to the eyes of Ammianus Marcellinus they seemed like provinces. There were rooms for cold, hot and warm baths, splendid ceilings, porticoes, pillared halls, gymnasiums, where the rarest marbles, the most colossal columns, the finest statues were admired by people; even the baths were of basalt. granite, alabaster.

Today, in this suggestive and inimitable setting of imposing ruins, there is the greatest open-air Opera in Europe.
Near the cross-roads of Porta Latina and the church of St. Cesario is the villa of the celebrated humanist, Greek Cardinal Bessarione.
The Cardinal restored this house, that was built at the beginning of the 14th century, and offered hospitality to the most prominent humanists of ltaly and Greece: Flavio Biondo, Filelfo, Poggio, Campano, Platina, and others who gathered around the Greek cardinal "in those meetings in which they spoke of art, science, and especially of Platonic philosophy".
After the Cardinal's death, the house was abandoned: during the last century, it had deteriorated into a country inn. It had become a ruin, from the rich painted wooden ceiling, arches of the loggias, and medieval walls, to the precious frescoes and decorations. This architectural gem was finally restored to the admiration of thousands of visitors from every part of the world who daily pass along the old Appian Way.

Many years after it was discovered, the Tomb of the Scipios, a severe roman monument, was finally restored, but only after objects of great historical and archeological value had been taken away. Through the opening in a well 40 ft. deep, nine tenths of the sepulchre are now visible.

Before passing the Porta Appia or Porta San Sebastiano, you can see the so-called Arch of Drusus.
Drusus (38-8 B.C.), second son of Livia, one of the most distinguished men of his time, took command of the legions against the free tribes of the Eastern Alps. "Strike once and not twice" was the order given by Augustus; and these tribes did not appear again for a thousand years. Some of the most valiant Raeti are remembered in the martial Ode of Horace: "Videre Raeti". Drusus was also the first Roman general who reached the North Sea and was nicknamed Germanicus. He died in Germany and his ashes were placed in the Mausoleum of Augustus.
The Porta San Sebastiano (formerly "Porta Appia") is in the Aurelian Wall and is well preserved. It was begun by Aurelius in 272 and finished by Probus in 279.

One of the most celebrated spots on the Via Appia is "Quo Vadis?" where, according to a religious legend, Peter had a vision of Christ: Nero persecuted the Christians to calm the fury of the people against him (for the burning of Rome, though whose fault it really was remains uncertain). St. Peter was asked by the Christians to leave Rome for a while until the persecution was over. He consented, but not far from Porta Appia, he met a traveller going towards Rome. Peter had seen Him before. He recognized His face, His figure: had heard Him preach, had seen Him die, rise again, ascend to Heaven. "Domine, quo vadis?" ("Master, where goest Thou?") -Peter stammered trembling.
The other replied: "I am going to Rome to be crucified again".
The vision vanished but the divine footprints remained on a paving stone. This is the legend recorded by Origen (254).

In front of the chapel of Quo Vadis, is the circular ruin of the Tomb of Priscilla, one of the few identified tombs on the Appian Way. Priscilla was the beloved wife of Abascantius, a favorite freed-man of Domitian. She died young and her husband erected a splendid monument. Statius (45-96), the best poet of those days, wrote a letter of condolence to the best of husbands on the loss of his beloved Priscilla: "It is a pleasure to love a wife when living. it is religion to love her when she is dead", where he describes the sorrow of the husband, the funeral and the splendid tomb decorated with rich marbles and statues. "Centuries will pass but no force can ever destroy this tomb"; the
poet had not foreseen the fury and devastation of war.

The underground Christian cemeteries are still known by the name of Catacombs. This name, erroneously used, originally served to indicate the locality underneath the present Basilica of St. Sebastian, where the ground sloped down towards an excavation of pozzolana earth called "catacumbas".
Formerly in Rome, the areas destined by the Christians for burials. were called "Coemeteria", a place of rest. It seems that at Naples, in the 9th century. the name catacomb was given for the first time to an old underground cemetery.

The Catacombs of St. Callixtus and St. Sebastian are the ones most visited by the numerous pilgrimages that come to the Eternal City.

The Catacombs of St. Callixtus show us the first Christian cemetery of the Christian Community in Rome. to administer which Pope Zephyrinus (199-217) chose the deacon Callixtus. who was later Pope from 217 to 222. The Salesians are now their custodians.

The Catacombs of St. Sebastian (over which since the 4th century is a magnificent basilica in honour of the Apostles Peter and Paul), received the precious relic of the martyr of the same name. The excavations begun in 1915 and have brought to light a particularly important series of buildings, dedicated to the memory of the two Apostles up to the third century. It may justly be said that they form the most important monument of underground Christian Rome. The Franciscans are the custodians of these Catacombs.

The Catacombs of Domitilla -an imposing collection of catacombs and burial grounds- are a true Christian necropolis, originating in the undergroUnd chamber of the Flavi, where the martyr St. Domitilla, the niece of Domitian, was buried together with the two praetorians, St. Nereo and St. Achilles, and St. Petronilla, who legend says was the daughter of the apostle St. Peter.

The remarkable basilica, with its three naves, lit from above, and -on several levels connected by staircases- a vast network of endless galleries flanked by a succession of tombs and crypts, cubicles and columbaria, arcosolia and sarcophagi, halls and ambulatories decorated with frescoes in the Pompeian style, sculptures and base-reliefs, architectural motifs and epigraph dating from the second century, all combine to make these catacombs not only the largest but also one of the most interesting underground complexes in Rome. They are in the care of the Friars of Mercy.

Between the Via Ardeatina and the Via delle Sette Chiese, at a short distance from the Catacombs of St. Sebastian, there is another place of martyrdom and sacrifice: the Fosse Ardeatine (Ardeatine Graves). In the same way as early Christians fell, innocent victims of their heroic faith, so, in this almost deserted spot, on the 24th of March 1944, at dawn, 335 ltalians, only guilty of having loved their native country and of having firmly believed in its destiny, were victims of the blind Nazi fury.

In this sacred place adjoining the one where that horrid massacre was perpetrated, there rises a simple and solemn mausoleum composed of a crypt; here these 335 victims, joined in death as they were joined in martyrdom, are buried in as many sarcophagi.

The Tomb of Romulus was erected by Maxentius who also constructed the splendid circus that bears his name.

The Tomb of Cecilia Metella rises solemnly on a height along the via Appia. Cecilia was the daughter of Metellus Creticus and wife of Crassus. The tomb still bears an inscription. In the Middle Ages, the Caetani family changed the tomb into a fortress and erected a castle around it.

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