Tag Archives: Rome

Rome Round Up

What photo takes you right back to Rome?

Watching the Colosseum, Rome, Italy

Us in awe of the Colosseum of Rome

The architectural symbol at the centre of Rome, the Colosseum.

Summarise Rome in three words.

  • Graffiti – it’s all over Italy, but we noticed it especially in the capital where most of what we saw was of a very high quality.
  • Empire – at its height it reached from Iran in the east to Portugal to the west, the Roman Empire’s legacy lives on over 2,000 years later.
  • Selfie – officially added to the Oxford English Dictionary 1½ years ago, Italy’s tourist sights, and Rome’s in particular are awash with street vendors offering selfie sticks. Every time they held out a telescopic aid and said “Selfie?”, the irony of it made us smile. Rome was also the first place we saw signs specifically banning their use too!

You really know you’re in Rome when…

.. you’re standing at the top of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City, with St. Peter’s Square below and Rome spread out in front of you.

What one item should you definitely pack when going to Rome?

A vivid imagination to recreate the grandeur when you’re standing in the centre of Ancient Rome. The remains of the buildings hint at their scale but we loved piecing it all back together – the Senate where laws were debated is still the model of democratic governance to this day, the Open Forum where grievances could be aired and decided on much like our modern court systems, and the circular Temple of the Vestal Virgins tending the eternal flame. Imagining the bustle really brought Rome to life.

Hidden corners of Rome

There are some headline sights in Rome but staying for a month meant we were able to sniff out a few of the city’s less well known corners as well.

Mussolini’s bunker

Where: Villa Torlonia, eastern Rome
Good for: A little WWII history

Mussolini's bunkerClockwise from left: Andrew next to one of the sealing doors of an air raid shelter; air filtration system; gas masks displayed in the bunker

It’s impossible not to notice the ancient history in Rome, but it is also possible to find reminders of its 20th century history here and there as well. We booked a tour of the bunkers at Villa Torlonia where Mussolini lived with his family from 1929 until his arrest in 1943. The tour took us through two air raid shelters and a bunker which was still under construction when Mussolini was arrested. Each was built with three exits in case debris from bombing blocked the others, and some original features still remain, for example, one of the air filtration systems and some gas masks. We were surprised to see how small the shelters are, but of course they were only designed to accommodate one family with their servants, unlike the huge Soviet bunker that we visited in Latvia or the air raid shelters in Malta and Naples.

Quartiere Coppedè

Where: Around Piazza Mincio, north-east Rome
Good for: Art Nouveau architecture

Fairy Cottage, Quartiere CoppedèThe magnificent ‘Fairy Cottage’ on Piazza Mincio

About a 15 minute walk from the Villa Torlonia we found a whole neighbourhood of elaborate Art Nouveau architecture. Designed by Gino Coppedè and bearing his name it was a bit of a surprise in Rome, and reminded us of the Art Nouveau walking tour that we did in Riga. The most elaborate buildings line Piazza Mincio with its central ‘Fountain of Frogs’, but we found others tucked away in the surrounding streets.

Quartiere Coppedè detailsQuartiere Coppedè details (clockwise from top left): Entrance arch complete with iron chandelier on Via Dora; Frog on the fountain; Romulus and Remus decoration on the ‘Fairy Cottage’; the Palace of the Spider gets its name from the decoration over its door

Mouth of Truth (Bocca della Verità)

Where: In the porch of the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Central Rome
Good for: A fun photo

Mouth of TruthClearly Andrew tells more fibs than Julie…

OK this corner isn’t remotely hidden (there was even a 20 minute queue in the middle of February) but it’s a fun photo opportunity if you’re passing. The huge stone circle carved with the face of an ancient god originally dates to the 2nd century BC. In the Middle Ages it gained a reputation for biting off the hands of liars (possibly assisted by someone with a sword hidden behind it!), hence why everyone wants their photo taken with their hand in its mouth. You might also recognise its image from fortune telling machines at fairs, and if you haven’t seen the 1953 film Roman Holiday I highly recommend watching this clip of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck visiting it.

Church of San Luigi dei Francesi

Where: Central Rome
Good for: Looking at more Caravaggio paintings

Contarelli Chapel, Church of San Luigi dei Francesi

Just a block away from the Pantheon, this small church has no less than three paintings by Caravaggio (the same number as the whole city of Naples!). The paintings here depict various episodes from the life of St Matthew and are housed in a side chapel, called the Contarelli Chapel, which is to the left of the main altar. The church itself is the seat of the Cardinal of Paris in Rome and, as with most of Italy’s churches, there’s no admission fee although they have cunningly left the chapel containing the Caravaggios in shadowy darkness so that if you want to see them you need to feed a nearby meter with a few coins to turn on the lights!


Where: Central Rome
Good for: Political dissent


This rather battered and unassuming looking statue fragment has played a fascinating part in Rome’s political history. The statue itself dates to Roman times and was erected in the current spot after being unearthed while the piazza was undergoing renovation in the early 1500s. Shortly afterwards anonymous verses began appearing on its base criticising the Pope (who ruled Rome at that time) and his government. These were quickly copied and distributed, much faster than they could be suppressed. It’s unclear how the statue got the name Pasquino, but along with five others they became known as the “Talking Statues”. The tradition carries on to this day, indeed when we visited it had a rhyming verse stuck to its base. Posted on 17th February, the anniversary of the death of Giordano Bruno who was burned at the stake for heresy, it read:

Children, use less judgement and more faith because the Holy Office (the Vatican) is boss,
Contain your thought and don’t reason too much because against reason is fire,
Keep your tongue in your head, as the Pope enjoys barbecue.

[with thanks to Francesco, our host in Florence, for the translation]

Centrale Montemartini

Where: South-west Rome
Good for: Classical statues and industrial architecture

Centrale Montemartini

This museum is a little way out of the centre of Rome though it’s easy enough to reach by metro. Basically it is a gallery of Roman sculptures but with a twist. When the main Capitoline Museum was renovating some of its galleries in the late 1990s, it moved the statues to a temporary home in this former power plant. The result was so successful that it is now a permanent museum. We loved the juxtaposition of the white marble figures against the dark industrial machinery as well as trying to work out the function of the various engines and boilers.

Muse statue, Centrale MontemartiniMy favourite statue was this ‘Statue of a Muse’

Hop Corner

Where: Pigneto area, eastern Rome
Good for: Craft beers

Stout and snacks at Hop Corner

This one is truly off the beaten path. Hop Corner is a tiny pub specialising in craft beers and is less than 10 minutes walk from the apartment where we stayed. We expected a range of good quality lagers and were bowled over on our first visit when we found five cask beers on tap including an excellent bitter and a stout, not to mention fridges packed with bottled options. Needless to say, we were back for more. We also liked that with each round of drinks the snacks served with them levelled up (1. tortilla chops and olives, 2. beef jerky and olives, 3. a plate of porchetta, Italian roast pork!). They also do a range of different Spritzes but we couldn’t pull ourselves away from the beers to try those!

Stadio dei Marmi

Where: Northern Rome
Good for: Fascist era statues

Stadio dei Marmi

The Stadio dei Marmi, or Stadium of Marbles, was inaugurated in 1932 and is part of the Foro Italico, formerly Foro Mussolini, a large sports complex containing swimming pools, tennis courts, a football stadium and the offices of the Italian Olympic Committee as well as this running track and sports field. The “marbles” of its name are 60 statues of male athletes in Italian Fascist style, each donated by one of the Italian provinces. The statues were interesting but we really enjoyed sitting in the sun in this quiet spot and it was good to see how many people were out on a Saturday morning exercising or playing football with their kids.

Statues, Stadio dei MarmiStatues around the Stadio dei Marmi. If anyone knows what sport is being depicted in the top right picture please leave a comment below!

Video Game Museum of Rome

Where: Northern Rome
Good for: Playing retro computer games

Video Game Museum of RomeVIGAMUS (clockwise from left): looking at the exhibition; Julie playing a Pac-man arcade; Andrew in the Oculus Rift headset

And now for something completely different… In stark contrast to all the art and history, we discovered that Rome has a Video Game Museum (VIGAMUS). The entry fee not only covered a surprisingly interesting exhibit telling the story of the birth of computer games but also as much time as we wanted playing the various free games that they had set up on all kinds of consoles as well as arcade machines. Playing on the games reminded us of the afternoon we spent in the arcades of the Akihabara district in Tokyo. The ticket also entitled us to a go on one of their Oculus Rift demo sets, this is an immersive type of gaming with a headset consisting of goggles displaying a picture which moves as your head does, it is touted as the future of video games.

The Colosseum and Roman Forum, Rome

We’d heard horror stories of ridiculously long queues to get into the Colosseum (1.5 hours plus is not unknown, even in low season) so we made an effort to get there for opening time at 8.30am and gave ourselves a little pat on the back as we were able to walk straight through to the ticket office. We then had just under an hour to wander around by ourselves before making our way to the meeting point for the tour that we’d booked of the underground areas and third level, areas that are not accessible to independent visitors.

ColosseumThe Colosseum is a symbol of the city of Rome. Over the centuries since it fell into disuse, it has been heavily damaged by earthquakes as well as being plundered for its stone.

When it was inaugurated in AD80, the structure was called the Flavian Amphitheatre (after the dynasty of emperors who built it). The name Colosseum caught on in the 8th century, 200 years after the last spectacle was held there, and is thought to come from a huge statue (Colossus) of Nero which stood just outside. Historians aren’t sure when it was taken down, but only the base remains now.

Inside the ColosseumUs inside the Colosseum

Our tour began on a small area of stage which has been reconstructed at the eastern edge of the amphitheatre. During the games, the wooden stage would have been covered in sand to absorb any, ahem, blood that might be spilled. The Latin word for sand is arena and it is from this that we get the modern English word.

Colosseum tour guideOur guide, Cristina, on the area of stage. Behind her you can see a small area of seating which has been reconstructed from fragments found around the site

Unlike the theatres which we visited in Sicily, the entertainments put on in the Colosseum were not plays or music recitals but something which was a bit more of a spectacle. Entertainments lasted for several days with each day including staged animal hunts with elaborate sets and exotic beasts imported at great expense from Africa and Asia, as well as gladiatorial fights. Contrary to common belief these were usually not to the death as the gladiators were highly trained and therefore an expensive investment for their masters. In the lunch break there would have been executions…

Colosseum seating levelsThe amphitheatre had seats all the way around and entry was free for the spectators. Originally, the seating was in five different tiers, strictly segregated by social class

Lots of sources cite mock sea battles in the Colosseum. Cristina told us that historians aren’t sure, but if it happened it could only have been in the first couple of years before the under-stage area was completed.

Interior of ColosseumLooking down on the areas under the stage from above

From the stage, we descended the stairs into the trap rooms. Nowadays these are open to the sky and clearly visible from above but in Roman times there would have been two cramped underground floors here where a small army of slaves would have been labouring to keep the show going. Working only with the light from candles and oil lamps they would have had to raise and lower the set and the participants (human and animal) through trapdoors onto the arena floor.

Underground areas of ColosseumUnderground details (clockwise from left): corridor leading to the under-stage area; a model showing the workings of the trapdoors for set changes and protagonist entry; looking down the central alley of the underground area – in Roman times this would have been split into two floors

Looking down to the stage from the upper levels you can begin to imagine the atmosphere of the place when it was full. Historians estimate that the Colosseum might have seated between 50-80,000. To put that into context, only three of the UK’s football stadiums fall into that range (Manchester United, Arsenal and Newcastle United). Even the Beijing Olympic Stadium only had a capacity of 91,000 for the games so, even by modern standards, the Colosseum is pretty big.

Colosseum detailsDotted around the Colosseum are various carving fragments (clockwise from top left): Andrew with a huge column capital; a display of stone heads on the second level; exterior sign with the original name – Flavian Amphitheatre; there was a row of carved inscriptions around the stage – we don’t know what they say but think that they might be the Roman equivalent of advertising hoardings…

We’d highly recommend the tour to get access to some restricted areas as well as a really good explanation of the history. Our guide was excellent, despite arriving 5 minutes late and rushing us off at high speed, she spoke slowly and clearly (in our experience Italian guides usually speak at double speed), allowed plenty of time for everyone to take photographs before moving on and was happy and able to answer any questions thrown at her.

From the third level of the Colosseum we could see the eastern end of the Roman Forum

Of course we knew about the Colosseum before we got to Rome, but the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill? Umm, nope. They’re all included on the same ticket and not even the world’s slowest tourists (that’s us!) can spin the Colosseum out into a full day of sightseeing so we wandered across the street to the centre of Ancient Rome.

The Via Sacra was Rome’s main street and ran through the middle of the Roman Forum

At the eastern entrance to the Roman Forum, the first structure we came across was the Arch of Titus, erected to commemorate the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 AD

The Roman Forum nestles in the valley which stretches to the north-west from the Colosseum and contains the ruins of the power centre of the ancient city, all manner of public buildings including temples, basilicas (large open buildings used as courts or meeting places) and the Senate building. To our untrained eyes it initially looked like a jumble of column fragments, semi-complete buildings and bits of marble, but armed with a map and some information about key structures we soon began to make sense of it and were in awe of the scale of the structures.

The largest building in the Forum was the Basilica of Constantine, these mighty arches were mere side niches

One of the many temples, the Temple of Vesta, where the sacred flame of Rome was tended by six priestesses, the Vestal virgins

The Palatine Hill stands to the south of the Forum and, according to legend, is where Romulus and Remus were found and cared for by a she-wolf in her cave before going on to found the city. It is one of the most ancient areas of the city and during both the Republic and the Empire is where the aristocracy lived, so most of what is visible today is palace ruins. One of the interesting features of the hill are the brick arches that surround it. These came about when Rome’s wealthy ran out of hilltop to build in this prestigious neighbourhood and so created more ground by extending outwards!

Brick arches surround the Palatine Hill

Palace ruins on Palatine HillRuins of Domus Augustana on Palatine Hill

Overall, we found the Palatine Hill less interesting than the Forum, the area is larger and the remains seemed less impressive. Or maybe we were just getting tired. That said it was definitely worth the short climb for the incredible views. To the south, we could see down to the former Circus Maximus, Rome’s largest chariot racing track, now just a field whose outline is all that remains. From the other side, the view was across the whole of the Forum and Colosseum.

A panoramic view over the Roman Forum from the Palatine Hill, the Colosseum is to the right of the photograph

Food tour of Rome, Italy

Similar to our experience in Istanbul, organised food tours in Rome are expensive but their itineraries are well documented so we pieced together a few of the highly recommended ones and made our own. We knew we’d be missing out on the introductions, stories and explanations, but the food isn’t too unfamiliar to our British palates as, say, Vietnamese..

Breakfast – Cappuccino and Cornetto

After heading to the Testaccio area of Rome (Metro: Piramide), where most of the foody tours seems to operate, we joined the locals in Cafe Barberini to start our day with a working Italian breakfast of a cappuccino and a cornetto.

Cornetto, Cafe Barberini, Rome, Italy

A typical Italian working breakfast of cornetto, a croissant filled with Nutella or custard, washed down with either a cappuccino if you have time, or a caffe (espresso shot) if you’re running late

Cafe Barberini is also known for its hand-made chocolates, so of course we had to try one. Or two..

Handmade chocolates, Cafe Barberini, Rome, Italy

Cafe Barberini is also a chocolateria. It was difficult to choose just one, but as this isn’t the first time we’ve eaten our way through a city we knew we had to pace ourselves..
Julie chose a tiramisu in a chocolate cup (left), and I picked a cream and fondant-filled white chocolate number topped with flakes of coconut

Tasting – Volpetti’s Delicatessen

Just a few doors down from Cafe Barberini is the family owned Volpetti delicatessen.

Volpetti's delicatessen, Testaccio, Rome, Italy

Volpetti’s delicatessen, we could spend hours in here, and hundreds of Euros too.. and we wouldn’t regret a cent!

Inside, it’s a mouthwatering Aladdin’s cave of tastiness, as much a feast for the eyes as for the palate. Every conceivable surface is overflowing with delicacies. It’s absolutely wonderful.

Volpetti's delicatessen, Testaccio, Rome, Italy

A close up of the cured meats and charcuterie section. Yum!

We could have bought two of everything. The owner’s son – a large man in typical whites and every bit the stereotype of a jolly butcher – offered us a taste of the sweetest, most mouthwateringly flavourful prosciutto we’ve ever tasted. The kind of ham that would convert vegetarians on the spot. Then another slightly smoked variety that I preferred. Who am I kidding, I’d have bought both!

When we eventually tore ourselves from temptation, we reflected that it was fortunate we weren’t staying nearby, otherwise we’d completely blow our budget as we wouldn’t be able to resist popping in every day.

Interlude – Testaccio Market

You may have realised by now that we love markets – we have 15 posts about them!

Fruit and Veg stall, Testaccio Market, Rome, Italy

A typical fruit and veg stall in Testaccio market. We love the fresh produce in Italy – it tastes as good as it looks!

Originally located in Testaccio Piazza, this local market recently moved to a redeveloped block a few streets away. Most of the stall owners moved, some didn’t, and some new ones opened, though we understand it was quite the controversy at the time. It looked like almost all of the units were occupied though not all were open, but we enjoyed the variety. As usual for all markets in Italy, we found plenty of vegetable stalls, but also butchers, fishmongers, bakers, general dealers, two street-food and sandwich shops and a couple of household goods and clothing shops too.

Brunch – Pizza

Now we’re talking!

Pizza by the slice, Pizza Volpetti, Rome, Italy

Pizza in Rome is quite different to Naples. It’s pre-baked in long strips like a Roman circus (the shape of a chariot racecourse) and then cut width-wise into slices, usually with scissors

I keep trying it, but the pizza in Rome just isn’t as nice at the pizza in Naples. Oh well, the search continues :o)

Pizza by the slice, Pizza Volpetti, Rome, Italy

Our pizzas being prepared. Julie chose a Rome specialty of sliced potato, and I went with the classic cheese and cherry tomato. They also had a Pizza Bianca (front) which just looked like plain pizza bread

Interlude – Through the keyhole

One of the top-rated attractions in Rome isn’t closed on Mondays, doesn’t have entry fees, and has but a few minutes queueing time if any..

Priorato dei Cavalieri di Malta, Rome, Italy

The grand but otherwise innocuous looking door of the Villa del Priorato dei Cavalieri di Malta. Still the reserve of the more off-the-beaten-path tours of Rome as it’s a little out of the way..

What’s all the fuss about? Why do private cars and taxis pull up, handfuls of people empty out and then peer through the keyhole of the Knights of Malta’s door?

Peering through the keyhole, Rome, Italy

Even though we knew what to expect, it was worth the little uphill climb for the view..

View through the keyhole, Priorato dei Cavalieri di Malta, Rome, Italy

It’s the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica! Perfectly framed by a tree-lined path. Nice, huh?!

Snack – Trapizzino®

Sometimes there are inventions that as soon as you see it or it’s explained to you, you just think “that’s genius”. Trapizzino is one such culinary bathtub eureka moment – a fusion of freshly baked pizza dough corners filled with classic Roman stews put to use like sandwich fillings.

Trapizzino®, Rome, Italy

The Trapizzino® – anything that starts with pizza is alright in my book, but then filling it with stew and topping it with cheese – genius!

There were about 8 or 9 fillings available, including many Roman staples that involve offal or sweetbreads of some kind. Hmmm, where have I heard ‘sweetbreads’ before? We opted for the safe-sounding aubergine and parmigiana and it was very tasty indeed.

Lunch – Pasta

Testaccio sits on the Tiber river that runs through Rome, and has a long history of river trade. For reasons historians don’t yet understand, clay amphorae or vessels that were once full of olive oil were disposed of as part of this trade and formed an artificial hill near the riverbank. They weren’t just thrown down or randomly discarded – although most lay broken, they were neatly stacked and today the hill is encircled by bars, clubs and pasta restaurants.

Flavio al Velavevodetto, Rome, Italy

Another destination of the organised food tours is Flavio al Velavevodetto, famous as much for its excellent traditional Roman pasta dishes as for the backdrop of Testaccio Hill

Suppli', Flavio al Velavevodetto, Rome, Italy

We were happy to see suppli’ on the starters as we’d been looking out for it all day. It’s the Roman version of the Sicilian arancini – a filled rice-ball coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried. Fortunately it wasn’t as big as the Sicilian ones as we were starting to feel the pinch of our waistlines..

Tonarelli cacio e pepe, Flavio al Velavevodetto, Rome, Italy

Julie ordered tonarelli “cacio e pepe” – pecorino cheese and black pepper

Rigatone alla matriciana, Flavio al Velavevodetto, Rome, Italy

And I ordered the rigatoni alla matriciana, a classic Lazio pasta sauce made from guanciale (cured pork cheek), pecorino cheese, and tomato

While we found somewhere to put it all, we wished we’d ordered half-portions or got one to share as we were stuffed!

Interlude – Protestant Cemetery

Time for another break, and just inside the old city walls is the Protestant Cemetery, also known as the Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome. From their website..

Rome’s Non-Catholic Cemetery contains possibly the highest density of famous and important graves anywhere in the world. It is the final resting-place of the poets Shelley and Keats, of many painters, sculptors and authors, a number of scholars, several diplomats, Goethe‘s only son, and Antonio Gramsci, a founding father of European Communism, to name only a few.

John Keats' grave, Rome, Italy

The grave of John Keats (left) which doesn’t actually bear his name, just the inscription “Young English Poet … Here Lies One Whose Name was writ in Water”

It’s a narrow, walled, claustrophobic cemetery pushed up against the old city walls. We were surprised how many different nationalities we spotted – it seemed like anyone who happened to die in Rome (and wasn’t Catholic) ended up here. We spotted the graves of an Indian ambassador to Italy, a Japanese man who passed away recently, and the grand-daughter of the King of Afghanistan among many others.

Besides the historically famous, there were quite a few graves with elaborate headstones or statues, such as the one for Emelyn Story, whose husband was a sculptor..

Angel of Grief, Rome, Italy

Angel of Grief by W.W. Story (1819-95) for his wife, Emelyn and himself

When the perimeter of the city walls were extended, they incorporated this marble-clad pyramid as one-half of a city gate, which, fittingly is also a grave – that of Gaius Cestius. Constructed in 18-12 B.C., far outside the centre of Rome it was lost to undergrowth, shrubs and trees.

Pyramid tomb of Gaius Cestius, Rome, Italy

The tomb of Gaius Cestius. Sadly it’s not open to the public, but it’s amazing that the marble cladding is still intact given the materials pilfering that befell much of ancient Rome

Dessert – Gelato

The final course – there’s always room for ice-cream! Giolitti’s is a particularly noteworthy gelateria, as all of the ice-cream is properly made (i.e. not whisked up from powders) and we’d read that they’ll refuse your combination of flavours if they’re deemed to be un-complementary!

Giolitti's ice cream, Rome, Italy

Wearing 3 layers of clothing, we felt it was appropriate ice-cream weather. I chose coffee and pistachio, and Julie chose chocolate and cherry. We were also offered a healthy dollop of fresh whipped cream too

We agreed that the cherry and pistachio were the best flavours, and our combinations passed the test! Phew!

Supper – Prosciutto and Gorgonzola

When we got back to our apartment we needed a few hours to recover, kind of like that feeling you get after a really good family Christmas lunch. Similarly, later that evening we just wanted a little, light something to eat for dinner – then we remembered the prosciutto!

Parma Ham and Gorgonzola

The amazing prosciutto and gorgonzola we bought from Mr Volpetti earlier – a delightful note to end on

I’m still wondering what I can ditch from my pack to make room for a whole leg of Parma ham..

Appian Way, Rome

You’ve heard the phrase “All roads lead to Rome” and indeed in the days of the Roman Empire the notoriously straight Roman roads all led to (or fanned out from depending on your perspective) the Miliarium Aureum, or golden milestone, in the centre of the city, and all distances in the Empire were measured relative to that point. One of these Roman roads, the Appian Way, is relatively well preserved as the area around it has been declared a national park. We decided to explore it one sunny Sunday.

Porta San Sebastiano, RomePorta San Sebastiano in Rome’s ancient city walls is now home to the Museum of the Walls

We started at the point where the Appian Way crosses the Aurelian walls, the Porta San Sebastiano, which has now been turned into a small museum telling the history of Rome’s city walls. The Aurelian walls were the second set of encircling walls to be built around Rome, they were constructed in the 3rd century AD to protect the expanding city and extended for 19km (12 miles). We’ve seen quite a lot of sections in various places around the modern city so it was interesting to find out how they were used for defence and how the gates changed over time, for example, to accommodate new war machinery.

First milestone on the Appian WayJust beyond Porta San Sebastiano is milestone one of the Appian Way

Construction of the first part of the Appian Way began in 312BC and eventually its course ran as far as Brindisi in south-eastern Italy, the heel of the boot. Its name comes from the man who ordered its construction, Appius Claudius Caecus, a Roman censor and its initial purpose was to enable fast supply to the Roman army in a war with the Samnites in south-central Italy – an aim which was successful as the Romans won the war.

Appian WayThe first stretch of the Appian Way outside the Aurelian walls

We’d chosen to visit on a Sunday as we’d read that all but local traffic was banned on that day. If that’s the case, we’re glad we weren’t there on a normal day as a steady stream of cars seemed to be flying past, rattling noisily over the paved lane. The first monument that we had hoped to visit was the Church of San Sebastiano but, as we arrived, mass was just beginning and we didn’t really want to join in so we sat in the nearby car park to eat our lunch.

A little further along we came to the Maxentius complex. A large area containing the ruins of three buildings built by Emperor Maxentius; his palace, a large mausoleum which was built for his son and the remains of a circus or chariot racing track.

Ruins of Circus of MaxentiusThe remains of the Circus of Maxentius, our imaginations were really fired up to find out that the ruins here were the starting gates for the racing chariots

Circus of MaxentiusWe walked a full circuit of the chariot track as far as the arch at the end and around the dividing central wall, but I think chariots would have got stuck as the ground was pretty boggy

We learnt in Pompeii that Roman law dictated tombs should be outside the city walls and there are plenty of remnants beside the Appian Way. One of the most complete is the Tomb of Cecilia Metella. It’s a huge cylindrical building dating to the first century BC and looks more like a castle than a grave. Actually the battlements were added in the 14th century when a fortified building was built behind the tomb.

Tomb of Cecilia MetellaTomb of Cecilia Metella

Beyond the Tomb of Cecilia Metella is the first section of original road which Wikipedia describes:

The Romans built a high-quality road, with layers of cemented stone over a layer of small stones, cambered, drainage ditches on either side, low retaining walls on sunken portions, and dirt pathways for sidewalks. The Via Appia is believed to have been the first Roman road to feature the use of lime cement. The materials were volcanic rock. The surface was said to have been so smooth that you could not distinguish the joints.

Nowadays the cement has eroded out of the joints leaving a very uneven surface to walk on.

Appian WayOriginal section of the Via Appia near the Tomb of Cecilia Metella

We glimpsed lots of big houses lining the road, mostly behind high walls, and if cars are anything to go by, property prices in this area are high. In the extremely unlikely event that I was the owner of a classic Ferrari I don’t think I would choose a cobbled road for my Sunday drive…

1982 Ferrari 208 TurboAn immaculate 1982 Ferrari 208 Turbo parked beside the Appian Way

After this section the traffic got much lighter and it really felt like we were walking in the countryside, passing goats eating without pause and listening to birdsong. There were far more sections of the original surface here too. We continued for another couple of kilometres before retracing our steps but the final section was definitely the most pleasant to stroll.

Appian WayA much quieter section of the Appian Way

This was how I had thought the whole walk would be, a feeling of peace and quiet surrounded by fields and scattered archaeological remains.