Want to take a breath of fresh air between two visits in the historic centre of Rome? A world away from the city’s hustle and bustle, the Appian Way (or Via Appia Antica) is one of the Captain’s favourites in the Italian Capital!
Follow the guide!
💡 The Captain’s tip💡
Want to know more about the history of Rome? Captain Ulysses highly recommends this free guided tour of the city (in English). It’s up to you to choose how much you want to tip the guide!
Brief history of the Appian Way
The origins of the Appian Way (Via Appia Antica)
The Appian Way was created in 312 BC at the request the censor (= Roman magistrate) Appius Claudius Caecus, after whom it was named.
Originally linking Rome to Capua (in Campania), the Appian Way was gradually extended and eventually reached Brindisi, in Apulia (in the heel of the Italian boot).
Why build the Appian Way? To link the capital to the south of Italy in order to strengthen its influence in the region and facilitate the transport of soldiers and goods.
Paved with large slabs, the Appian Way was 4.10 metres / 13.1 ft wide, allowing two chariots to pass each other without hindrance. It was bordered by dirt paths reserved for pedestrians.
The catacombs and mausoleums of the Appian Way
In Ancient Rome, burying the dead within the city walls was forbidden. The cemeteries, burial grounds and catacombs were therefore all located “outside the walls”. This explains why the Appian Way is lined with funerary monuments and catacombs, some of which are still open to visitors today.
The Appian Way since antiquity
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Appian Way gradually fell into disuse. In the Middle Ages, it was used only by pilgrims travelling to southern Italy to reach the Holy Land.
In the 18th century, Pope Pius VI ordered its restoration, particularly because many Christians – including popes – were buried along the Appian Way (in funerary monuments or catacombs).
Today, the Via Appia Antica is part of a protected national park covering 3500 hectares at the gates of Rome. Lined with pine trees, cypresses and historical monuments, the ancient Roman road has all the makings of a picture-postcard landscape.
⚓ Attention, sailors! ⚓
Want to find out more about Rome’s top landmarks, activities & museums? Why don’t you check out the Captain’s detailed article on the best things to do in Rome?
Visiting the Appian Way (Via Appia Antica)
Follow Captain Ulysses on a tour of the main sites and points of interest along the Appian Way!
🚲 Exploring the Appian Way 🚲
The sites and monuments of the Appian Way can be somewhat distant from each other. Many visitors therefore choose to rent bikes (traditional or electric) in order to explore this ancient route.
You’ll find all the Captain’s recommendations (bike rental, guided tour…) a little further down in the article.
Porta San Sebastiano
Located in Rome and incorporated into the Aurelian Wall – a fortified enclosure built to protect the city during antiquity – the Porta San Sebastiano (or Porta Appia) marks the beginning of the Appian Way.
The catacomb of Saint Callixtus
Further along the Via Appia Antica, the catacombs of San Calixtus are some of the largest and most emblematic catacombs in Rome.
Founded in the 2nd century AD, they spread on no less than 15 hectares / 40 acres, on four levels (of which only a small part is open to visitors). Sixteen popes and many Christian martyrs were buried there.
Visitors cannot explore the site freely and must join a guided tour if they want to visit the catacombs of St Callixtus.
🎟️Book your tickets 🎟️
If you’re visiting Rome during the high season (summer and school holidays), Captain Ulysses definitely recommends booking your guided tour in advance to avoid wasting time in the queue:official guided tour of the catacombs of St. Callixtus
The Basilica of San Sebastiano Fuori le Mura and the Catacombs of San Sebastiano
The construction of the catacombs (3rd century AD) preceded the construction of the church in the 4th century.
The remains of Saint Sebastian were deposited in the catacombs in 350 where they remained until the 9th century, when they were transferred to the Vatican for protection as the Saracen army was closing in on the city.
The Basilica of San Sebastiano was completely rebuilt in the 17th century by the architects Flaminio Ponzio and Giovanni Vasanzio.
The Basilica of St Sebastiano Fuori le Mura is one of the seven churches where the traditional Jubilee pilgrimage is held.
The entrance to the catacombs is located in the basilica.
The Circus of Maxentius
Built in the 4th century AD at the request of the Emperor Maxentius, the Circus of Maxentius is a vast hippodrome dedicated to chariot and horse racing. Small in size, it could only accommodate “10,000” spectators (as opposed to ≈ 100,000 to 150,000 for the Circus Maximus).
Although remains survived the test of time, the Circus of Maxentius was originally part of a vast complex that also included a palace and a funerary monument dedicated to the son of the Emperor (Romulus).
The Tomb of Cæcilia Metella
Built in the 1st century AD, the Mausoleum of Cæcilia Metella is probably the best preserved funerary monument on the Appian Way.
It was built to protect the remains of Cæcilia Metella, daughter-in-law of Crassus (member of the Triumvirate alongside Julius Caesar and Pompey).
The mausoleum is cylindrical in shape and impressive in its dimensions: almost 30 metres (100 ft) in diameter and 11 metres (36 ft) high. It was turned into a fortress in the Middle Ages.
Situated a little further along the Appian Way, the Villa Quintili is an ancient residence built by the Quintilius brothers in the 2nd century AD. The latter were condemned to death by the Emperor Commodus who confiscated the villa before being assassinated… in this very villa.
Visitors have two options to explore the Appian Way:
- Opting for a guided tour
- Visiting the Appian Way on their own (Captain Ulysses recommends renting bicycles)
Guided tours of the Appian Way (on foot or by bike)
If you don’t want to miss any of the points of interest of the Appian Way, Captain Ulysses recommends two guided tours:
Visiting the Via Appia Antica on your own
Getting to the Appian Way
Unless you love to walk, Captain Ulysses recommends taking the bus (lines 118 or 218 near Piazza Venezia). You’ll arrive directly at the catacombs of San Calixtus. The first part of the Appian Way (before the catacombs) is not pedestrianised and is of little tourist interest.
From there, you’ll be easily able to rent bikes.
💡 FYI 💡
Please note that the Omnia Card and the Roma Pass include unlimited access to public transports. Find out more here.
Bike rental on the Appian Way
Want to rent bikes to explore the Appian Way? Captain Ulysses recommends this company:bike rental on the Via Appia Antica (electric bike, mountain bike or city bike).
The staff speaks English as well as several other languages.
How long will it take to explore the Appian Way?
Captain Ulysses recommends that you allow at least ½ day if not a full day to visit the Via Appia Antica.
👉 Looking for tips and recommendations? Here are all of Captain Ulysses’ suggestions!
🛏️ Accommodation: to book your accommodation in Rome, Captain Ulysses highly recommends Booking.com:
– the best youth hostels
– the best hotels for tight budgets
– the best hotels for midscale budgets
– the best high-end hotels
🎟️ Activities: As for booking visits and tourist activities, Captain Ulysses recommends three websites: GetYourGuide, Tiqets and Civitatis. Guided tours, cruises, skip-the-line tickets, tourist activities… there’s plenty to choose from!
🎫 Citypass: if you are staying in Rome for several days, it may be worth investing in the Roma Pass or the Omnia Card. As well as entries to some of the capital’s most iconic sites, these passes include access to public transport.
🚐 Transfers: if you want to arrive in Rome serenely, you can book your transfer from the airport to the city centre in advance. A car will be waiting to take you to your accommodation in the city. For more information: transfers in Rome.
🚌Local transport: Rome has a comprehensive public transport system: metro, bus and tram. Access to public transport is included in the Roma Pass and Omnia Card. If you wish, you can also opt for a hop-on hop-off bus tour which stops at all the top tourist attractions in Rome (audio guide included).
✈️ Flights and trains: to book your flights to Rome, Captain Ulysses warmly recommends Skyscanner. You’ll be able to compare countless offers to find the best deal. If your dates are flexible, you can also compare prices over several months to find the cheapest flights possible.
As for trains, the Captain highly recommends Trainline to book your tickets.