The Appian Way ★★

The Via Appia Antica (Ancient Appian Way) is one of the original seven roads leading to Rome, Italy, and is lined by catacombs and Roman Ruins

The Via Appia Antica, or Ancient Appian way, leading south from Rome
The ancient cobblestones of the Via Appia Antica (Appian Way).

The arrow-straight Via Appia Antica was the first of Rome's great consular roads, completed as far as Capua by 312 BC and soon after extended the full 563 (350 miles) all the way to Brindisi in Apulia, the heel of Italy's boot.

Bits of the Ancient Appian Way—there is a semi-parallel modern road called Via Appia Nuova; don't get them mixed up—are covered in tar now to facilitate vehicular traffic.

But the original, rutted Roman flagstones still cover long swathes of this mighty ancient road, and it is lined by magnificent ancient tombs and creepy Christian catacombs.

A quick tour down the Appian Way

The best of the Catacombs
San Callisto - The most crowded, but most impressive.
San Domitilla ★★ - Small but with intimate tours; my favorite.
San Sebastiano - The largest, but least rewarding.
The initial stretch of the Ancient Appian Way in Rome is lined with ancient tombs of Roman families—burials were forbidden within the city walls as early as the 5th century BC—and, beneath the surface, miles of tunnels hewn out of the soft tufa stone.

These tunnels, or catacombs ★★, were where early Christians buried their dead and, during the worst times of persecution, held church services discreetly out of the public eye.  » more

Besides the Christian catacombs, the Via Appia Antica passes by a few other stop-worthy sights. First, at Via Appia Antica 51, is the church of Domine, Quo Vadis?, legendary as the site where the soon-to-be-Saint Peter, scurrying away from the Christian persecutions in Rome, met a vision of Christ blocking the road. Peter asked, "Domine, Quo Vadis?" Latin for 'Lord, where are you going?'  » more

Past the catacombs, on the left side of the road at the top of a hillock, sits the castle-like Tomb of Cecilia Metella. » more

There are loads more tombs, funerary monuments, and roadside attractions along the Appian Way, which are all best explored during a nice stroll, easy mini-bus ride, or lovely (but bumpy) bike ride on a sunny Sunday (see below).

Biking the Appian Way

Riding a bike on the Via Appia Antica
Riding a bike on the Via Appia Antica. (Photo by Daniel N. Lang)
On Sundays, the Via Appia Antica is closed to traffic—except for bicyclists.

You can rent bikes either in town or at one of four places along the Appian Way (figure €3 per hour or €10–€15 per day):

  • The "Appian Way Park" office in the barn-like structure on your right as you descend the first hill outside the city's Porta San Sebastiano gate (Via Appia Antica 42, tel. +39-06-513-5316, www.parcoappiaantica.it; Nov–Mar: daily 9:30am–4:30pm; Apr–Oct: Mon-Fri 9:30am–5pm, Sat-Sun 9:30am–6pm; Aug: daily 9:30am–5pm).
  • Largo Tacchi Venturi (tel. +39-333-713-7257, www.parcoappiaantica.it; Summer: Sat–Sun 10am–6pm; Fall-Spring: Sat-Sun 10am–4:30pm).
  • Tor Fiscale at Vicolo dell’Acquedotto Felice (tel. +39-339-854-2889; Thurs-Sun 10am–6pm).
  • Appia Antica Caffé at via Appia Antica 175 (tel. +39-338-346-5440 or +39-340-319-8060, www.appiaanticacaffe.it; Tues-Sun 9am–4pm—summer to 6pm).

I warn you, however, that the ancient flagstones are terribly bumpy, so you'll end up riding on the dirt path of the grassy shoulder, which can turn into a bit of mountain biking.

The catacombs charge a fee, of course, but the road is also lined with ancient Roman tombs, monuments, and stretches of aqueduct that make for a lovely outing of free sightseeing.

When, after a while, you pass the little Appia Antica Caffé (via Appia Antica, 175, tel. +39-338-346-5440 or +39-340-319-8060, www.appiaanticacaffe.it; Closed Mon) on the left at an intersection where your choices are straight or left up Via Cecilia Metella, stock up on snacks and drinks there, as there's nothing but countryside and crumbling ancient, monuments from here all the way to the Castelli Romani hill towns, 19 km (12 miles) away.

Always on a Sunday

The Via Appia Antica remained over the centuries a popular Sunday lunch picnic site for Roman families following the half-forgotten pagan tradition of dining in the presence of one's ancestors on holy days.

This practice was rapidly dying out in the face of the traffic fumes that for the past few decades have choked the venerable road, but a 1990s initiative closed the Via Appia Antica to cars on Sundays, bringing back the picnickers and bicyclists (see above)—along with inline skaters.

Biking the Appian Way has become a favorite activity (see above)—though please, try it only on a Sunday.

Monday to Saturday this road is teeming with cars, and to try to bike it would be suicidal.

Tips & links

Details
ADDRESS

Via Appia Antica 58–60
tel. +39-06-513-5316
www.parcoappiaantica.it

OPEN

Mon-Fri 9:30am–1:300pm and 2–5:30pm (to 5pm in winter)

Sat & Sun 9:30am–6:30pm (to 5:30pm in Aug; to 5pm in winter)

ADMISSION

Free

Roma Pass: No

TRANSPORT

Bus: 118, 218

TOURS
How long does the Appian Way take?

Planning your day: Even if you're just riding a bus out here to explore one set of catacombs, figure on it taking half the day. If you want to see all of the catacombs plus the tomb and other sights, give it a full day—and have lunch at Hostaria L'Archeologia.

» Rome itineraries

Save with a discount pass

Don't forget to use your Roma Pass. No, it doesn't cover the catacombs at all—and the only marquee sight is does on the Via Appia is the Tomb of Cecilia Metella (which, wvwn now that it also includes the Baths of Caracalla, is still only €7, so don't use up one of your two Roma Pass freebies on it).

However, with the Roma Pass you will still get a discount on admission to the non-catacomb sights. (Don't bother with the Archaeologia Card, since its sights are now better covered by the Roma Pass—if you use it to get in free to the big ticket items also covered by the card—and the price has risen, making this cumulative ticket longer a good deal.)

Pick your day wisely

Although each of the three major catacombs keeps the same open hours (9am–noon and 2–5pm) and charges the same admission (€8 each), they all close on a different day of the week:

So if you are gung-ho about it and want to hit all three, make sure you visit on a day when all three are open. (This, actually, is quite wise of them; that way, no matter which day you visit, at last two will be open.)

Appian Way tours

Take a guided tour of the Appian Way with one of our partners:

How to get to the Appian Way

  • Best strategy: If you're aiming to hit the highlights (the catacombs and Tomb of Cecilia Metella), either use the Archeobus (below) or do this: Take Bus 218 to hit San Callisto and San Domitilla; walk to San Sebastiano and then on to Cecilia Metella; then catch Bus 660 back to the Metro.

  • Bus 218: Leaves from the San Giovanni Metro stop (line B) and makes its way to the southern gates of Rome. It follows the Via Appia Antica for a bit, then veers right onto Via Ardeatina at Domine Quo Vadis? church. After another long block, the 218 stops at the square Largo M.F. Ardeatine, near the gate on the west side of San Callisto catacombs. From here, you can walk right on Via d. Sette Chiese to the San Domitilla catacombs; or walk left down Via d. Sette Chiese to San Sebastiano catacombs.

  • Bus 118: Leaves from in front of the Piramide Metro stop (line B). It swings by the Baths of Caracalla before turning south to follow the Via Appia Antica all the way past Domine Quo Vadis? and the east side of the San Callisto catacombs to the San Sebastiano catacombs. The bus then doglegs left to continue down Via Appia Pignatelli (an eastern parallel to the Via Appia Antica).

  • Bus 660: Leaves from Colli Albani Metro stop. it heads toward the Via Appia Antica, where it turns around just south of the Tomb of Cecilia Metella.

  • Bus 716: Really handy if you intend to start or end at the San Domitilla catacombs. It's the only bus that starts in the heart of Rome, at from Piazza Venezia, then runs down the river, cutting south between the Aventine and Testaccio, past the Piramide/Ostiense transport terminus, and on toward the catacbpoms area. Get off at a stop by the traffic circle where Via Odaleschi, Bompiani, and Delle Sette Chiese meet. From here, it's jsut a short walk easdt down Via delle Sette Chiaese to San Domitilla.

  • Archeobus: This open-top tourist bus (www.trambusopen.com) runs late spring to early fall. It leaves from Piazza del Cinquecento (in front of Termini train station), drives past many ancient sights in the historic center, and eventually makes it way out to the Via Appia Antica. It's a hop-on/hop-off deal, passing every 30 minutes from 9am to 4:30pm. Tickets cost a steep €20 and are good for 24 hours; you can buy them on board. (They do, at least, entitle you to discounted admission at Rome's civic museums. including the Capitoline, Montemartini, Markets of Trajan, and Ara Pacis, among many lesser sights.)

  • On Sundays the road is closed to all traffic.
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    Via Appia Antica
    ★★
    ADDRESS

    Via Appia Antica 58–60
    tel. +39-06-513-5316
    www.parcoappiaantica.it

    OPEN (Tourist Office)

    Mon-Fri 9:30am–1:30pm and 2–5:30pm (to 5pm in winter)

    Sat-Sun 9:30am–6:30pm (to 5:30pm in Aug; to 5pm in winter)

    ADMISSION

    Free

    Roma Pass: No
    Tours: from €60

    TRANSPORT

    Bus: 660 (from Colli Albani stop on Metro A); 118 (from Piramide stop on Metro B); 218 (from San Giovanni stop on Metro B)
    Archeobus: Trambusopen.com (* costs €20)

    TOURS


    Useful links
    SIGHTS

    Tourist info: Turismoroma.it

    Activities & tours: ContextTravel.com, Viator.com, SelectItaly.com, City-Discovery.com, Localguiding.com, Italy.artviva.com

    Other useful sites: 060608.it, Vatican.va, Coopculture.it, Archeoroma.beniculturali.it, Museiincomuneroma.it, Comune.roma.it, Sovraintendenzaroma.it

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    Public transport: Agenziamobilita.roma.it (all transit and driving/parking info); Atac.roma.it (bus & Metro/subway)

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    Car rentals:Autoeurope.com, Momondo.com, RentalCars.com, CheapOair.com, AutoSlash.com

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    Cruise terminal: Port-of-rome.org (Civitavecchia)

    Transport airport—cruise terminal: Viator.com (private car: 60–80 min, €29), Cotralspa.it (bus: 60–80 min, €4.30), Trenitalia.com (train, changing at a Rome station: 90–120 min. €11–€29),

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