Monuments of Rome - Via Appia Antica
Statius, a Latin poet, called it 'regina viarum' because of the splendour of the sepulchral monuments, the sumptuous villas of the suburban section, and the evocative beauty of the route. In the valley separating the Caelian from the Aventine was once Porta Capena, now disappeared, where the most imposing of Urbe's consular roads, the Via Appia, began.
Opened in 312 B.C. during the Samnite wars by the censor Appius Claudius to unite Rome 'caput mundi' with the southern provinces of the peninsula, with Africa and with the East, it quickly became the chosen road, sacred to the cult of the dead, crossed on Latin holidays by masses of people on their way to the temple of Jupiter on the summit of Monte Cavo or to the temple of Diana on the shores of Lake Nemi.
The Appian Way ran straight - hence the name 'recto' - towards the Albani hills and down into the Agro Pontino. After Foro d'Appio it reached Terracina and continued through Fondi to Capua . A few years later it reached Benevento and Venosa, home of Horace, and a hundred years later Taranto and Brindisi. In the early 2nd century AD, Emperor Trajan added his name to it. With the new Via Appia Traiana it was possible to go from Rome to Brindisi in 13/14 days along a total route of 540 kilometres.
Via Appia had a standard width of about 4.15 metres, enough to allow two carts to pass at the same time in both directions. Two beaten earth pavements bordered by a stone kerb flanked the carriageway. Every 10 to 13 km on the busiest sections of the road, post houses for changing horses and 'taberne', places of refreshment and accommodation for travellers, lined the road.
The construction required immense work, it was built overcoming great natural difficulties with a surprisingly modern design plan that made it solid, rational, and easy to navigate. Strong bridges were thrown across the rivers, valleys were filled in, hills were flattened, canals were dug, embankments were raised to contain the waters of the torrents, and the road was paved with polished blocks of hard basaltic lava that still emerge from the asphalt today.
The fall of the Western Empire and the barbarian invasions marked the abandonment of the road. Unguarded monuments were stripped of their artwork and coverings, the road became covered with wild grasses and disappeared from view. Columns, marble, capitals, statues, friezes , bas-reliefs went to enrich the new buildings of the Urbe, the nascent Christian basilicas and baronial castles. It was not until the mid-18th century that people began to dig up the fallen works and collect the fragments. The first Christian cemeteries arose on the Appian Way at the end of the 1st century: along this road the most important underground necropolises were excavated, the Catacombs of St Callistus , dating back to the 2nd century, and those of St Sebastian , which for some time guarded the bodies of the two founding Apostles of the Roman Church.
History has established that the Apostle entered the city along the Via Appia. The most interesting section of the Appian Way runs from the tomb of Cecilia Metella to Casal Rotondo, about km. 4.500: ruins, covered with marble, bas-reliefs or adorned with mutilated statues, others bare or covered with creepers, line the edge of the road between gigantic pines and cypresses in the surrounding Roman countryside; On one side run the imposing arches of the Roman aqueduct, on the horizon is the outline of the Castelli and towards the sea stretches the plain, in a timeless vision that has fascinated many great poets, from Horace to Ovid , Goethe , Byron , Carducci , D'Annunzio.