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 ancient cobblestones of the Via Appia Antica (Appian Way).
Via Appia Antica 58–60
Open Mon-Sat 9:30am–1:30pm and 2–5:30pm (to 5pm in winter)
Open Sun 9:30am–6:30pm (to 5:30pm in Aug; to 5pm in winter)
Appian Way tours
• Context: Appian Way, Queen of Roads
• Ancient Appian Way, Catacombs and Roman Countryside Bike Tour (S. Callisto)
• Catacombs and Roman Countryside Half-Day Walking Tour (catacomb varies)
• The Appia Antica (either S. Sebastiano or S. Callisto)
• Skip the Line: Crypts and Roman Catacombs Small Group Walking Tour (S. Domitilla)
• Catacombs and Underground Rome Tour (either S. Sebastiano or S. Domitilla)
• Christian Rome Afternoon Tour (catacomb varies)
• The Catacombs and more (catacomb varies)
• The Vatican + Catacombs(catacomb varies)
• Eternal Rome + The Catacombs (catacomb varies)
• Context: Catacombs Excursion (see two less-visited catacombs: Sant'Agnese and Santa Priscilla)
• Context: Jewish Catacombs
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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 370km (222 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).
Always on a Sunday
Biking the Appian Way ★
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 0am–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.
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 sidebar)—along with inline skaters.
Biking the Appian Way has become a favorite activity (see sidebar to the right »)—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.
- 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.
- Archeobus: This open-top tourist bus (www.trambusopen.com) 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. It also gets you the first hour of bike rental free. Tickets cost €12 and are good for 48 hours; you can buy them on board
- On Sundays the road is closed to all traffic.
- 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.
- 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 it 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.) » more
- Book a tour: If you prefer a private guided tour that visits some of the sights along the Appian Way, book one via our partner site Viator.com or Context Travel:
- Context: Appian Way, Queen of Roads
- Catacombs and Roman Countryside Half-Day Walking Tour
- Context: Catacombs Excursion
- Skip the Line: Crypts and Roman Catacombs Small Group Walking Tour (visits catacomb of S. Domitilla)
- Ancient Appian Way, Catacombs and Roman Countryside Bike Tour
- Christian Rome Afternoon Tour (visits one of the three catacombs, based on seasonal availability)
- Context: Jewish Catacombs
- 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: Tuesday for San Domitilla, Wednesday for San Callisto, and Sunday for San Sebastiano. 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.)
- The major catacombs: San Callisto, San Domitilla, San Sebastiano
- Other Appian Way sights: Domine Quo Vadis, Tomb of Cecilia Metella
- Nearby: Baths of Caracalla
- More sights outside the walls
- More ancient sights and ruins in Rome
- Churches in Rome
This article was written by Reid Bramblett and was last updated in April 2013. All information was accurate at the time.
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