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Appian Way Rome: all you need to know

Rome's Appian Way is one of the oldest Roman roads still in existence, it was one of the main access roads to the city. Along the Appian Way there are numerous attractions to see, I invite you to walk along it and see the best it has to offer.

Ana Caballero

Ana Caballero

10 min read

Appian Way Rome: all you need to know

Shadows on the Appian Way, Rome | ©Atilla2008

Rome's Appian Way is estimated to be about 2,300 years old. It was designed in 318 B.C. by the Roman consul Appius Claudius Blindus, in order to connect Rome with Capua. Later, it was extended to the present city of Brindisi and from there Rome was connected through the Appian Way to Greece, Egypt and the East, facilitating military and commercial expeditions. Since then it has been known as the "regina viarum" (queen of roads).

Today, Rome's Appian Way can be traveled both on foot and by bicycle. It is a wonderful walk, quiet and with many stories to tell. It is a journey to be taken at leisure, admiring the landscapes and monuments that are discovered along the sides of the Appian Way. There are many things to see and do in Rome and walking the Appian Way is one of the best.

Are there guided tours of the Appian Way in Rome?

Walking the Appian Way| ©Jim Paton
Walking the Appian Way| ©Jim Paton

There are several options for guided tours of Rome's Appian Way and it is really worth taking a guided tour. You can choose to do the tour on foot or by bicycle. Bicycle tours can be private or group tours and are usually on electric bicycles.

You can opt for regular bicycles, but keep in mind that it is a long way and you have to be very used to cycling to tolerate such a long trip.

Prices range from 50 to 95 euros depending on the length of the tour and whether it is private or group. The duration of these tours is between 4 and 5 hours and include insurance (you should check what coverage is available).

You also have the possibility to choose a tour that, in addition to the Appian Way, includes other attractions. In this case you can opt for one by car, with guide, driver and private for approximately 170 euros.

The advantage of these tours is that the entrance tickets are usually included in the price and they are also preferential and you do not have to queue. By avoiding them you gain a lot of time to enjoy the activities. Without a doubt this is one of the best tours in Rome.

Book a guided tour of the Catacombs and the Appian Way

1. The beginning of the Appian Way tour in Rome at the Porta San Sebastiano

San Sebastian Gate| ©Lalupa
San Sebastian Gate| ©Lalupa

The start of the Via Appia tour begins at the Porta San Sebastiano in Rome. Also known as Appian Gate, it is the largest of the structures that are part of the Aurelian Walls.

Fortunately it is in an excellent state of preservation. Today, the Gates of St. Sebastian are home to the Museum of the Walls, well worth a visit.

The museum is divided into 3 sections: ancient, medieval and modern, showing the different stages of the fortifications of the city in an interactive and didactic way.

In this museum if you have special interest in architecture you will enjoy a lot, because it is very well structured and the information visitors get and the pedagogical support means available are very good.

From here, the tour continues along the Appian Way of Rome until you reach the second point of interest, the Quo Vadis Church.

Book a guided tour of the Catacombs and the Appian Way

2. The Domine Quo Vadis Church on the Appian Way in Rome

Domine Quo Vadis Church| ©Claudio
Domine Quo Vadis Church| ©Claudio

Following the route of the Appian Way in Rome, one arrives at the Domine Quo Vadis Church. It is believed that in this church Jesus, already dead, appeared to Peter, while he was trying to flee from the crucifixion. After this appearance, Peter would have returned to Rome to accept his martyrdom and die crucified.

The Domine Quo Vadis Church was built in the 17th century from a small chapel dating back to the 9th century and there are beautiful frescoes to admire inside.

The theme of the frescoes is the Crucifixion of Christ and the martyrdom of St. Peter. If you are fond of religious tourism you can also visit the Sistine Chapel one of the visits that is impossible to miss in Rome.

After a short drive, you will reach the third point of the tour, the Catacombs of St. Callixtus.

Book a guided tour of the catacombs and the Appian Way

3. The Catacombs of St. Callixtus on the Appian Way in Rome

Catacombs of St. Callixtus| ©Pantchoa
Catacombs of St. Callixtus| ©Pantchoa

Along Rome's Appian Way, you will find numerous tombs and catacombs because in ancient times it was forbidden to bury the dead within the city walls. One such burial site is the Catacombs of St. Callixtus, which house more than 170,000 tombs.

The Catacombs of St. Callixtus are the best preserved of the entire Appian Way and can be visited.

It is a recommended visit, as there are numerous tombs of Christian martyrs and saints. If cemeteries impress you, this activity is best skipped.

Keep in mind that both the Catacombs of St. Callixtus and the Catacombs of St. Sebastian are among the attractions that attract the most attention from tourists, so you should book tickets well in advance to avoid disappointment, it is almost impossible to get tickets on the same day.

Buy tickets to the Catacombs of Rome

4. The Basilica of St. Sebastian on the Appian Way in Rome

Basilica of San Sebastian| ©Lalupa
Basilica of San Sebastian| ©Lalupa

A little further on from the Catacombs of St. Callixtus (San Callisto) is the Basilica of St. Sebastian. In this Basilica, there is also a huge complex of catacombs, which are accessed through a staircase in the right nave of the Basilica.

The Catacombs of St. Sebastian became a Christian burial place at the end of the 2nd century AD. Previously they had already been used as a pagan cemetery.

Keep in mind that to enter the Catacombs (those of St. Callixtus or St. Sebastian) you have to pay entrance fees and queues can take hours. It is advisable to book your tickets to the Catacombs in advance.

Remember that there are tickets with which you can avoid the queues. They are a bit more expensive, but it is worth paying the extra price if you save hours of time by skipping the longest lines in Rome. If you are staying longer in Rome, you can also visit the Vatican Catacombs.

About 200 meters ahead of the Catacombs of St. Sebastian, you will find the next stop, the ruins of Villa di Massenzio.

5. The Ruins of the Villa di Massenzio on the Appian Way of Rome

Villa di Massenzio| ©Rodrigo.Argenton
Villa di Massenzio| ©Rodrigo.Argenton

The ruins of the Villa di Massenzio on the Appian Way in Rome are composed of three main buildings: the circus, the palace and the mausoleum. It is a very interesting architectural complex worth visiting.

The dynastic mausoleum is also known as the tomb of Romulus, because it is believed that he was buried there. Whether the story about Romulus' burial here is true or not, it is a magnificent monument and together with the other two buildings it forms a harmonious complex of sober and timeless beauty.

Immediately after passing the tomb of Romulus, you will reach the sixth stop of the Via Appia tour of Rome, the Mausoleum of Cecilia Metella.

6. The Mausoleum of Cecilia Metella on Rome's Appian Way

Mausoleum of Cecilia Metella| ©Livioandronico2013
Mausoleum of Cecilia Metella| ©Livioandronico2013

When you reach this point, you will see one of the most emblematic mausoleums of Roman times. The Mausoleum of Cecilia Metella is one of the most impressive funerary centers in Rome. The huge and beautiful construction served as the tomb of Cecilia Metella, daughter of the consul Quintus Metellus, conqueror of Crete.

The Mausoleum of Cecilia Metella was incorporated into the castle by the Caetani family as the main tower and has maintained its imposing appearance to this day.

Continue walking and after a few minutes you will find, on your right, the seventh point of interest of the Appian Way of Rome, the ruins of the Frontespizio and a little further on the medieval farmhouse of Santa Maria Nova and the pyramidal tomb.

7. The ruins of the Frontespizio on the Appian Way in Rome, the medieval farmhouse Santa Maria Nova and the pyramidal tomb

Medieval farmhouse of Santa Maria Nova| ©slayer
Medieval farmhouse of Santa Maria Nova| ©slayer

These three monuments are within walking distance of each other, so it won't take you long to walk around them. The ruins of Frontespizio is a well-preserved, small core of ruins. They are believed to date back to about the 1st century BC. A few meters further on is the medieval farmhouse of Santa Maria Nova.

Continue walking a few meters and you will see that further ahead rises a pyramid-shaped structure, of which so far there is not much information, but due to the large size of the tomb many speculations have been woven about the owner, but none of the theories have been confirmed.

Continuing along the route of the Appian Way of Rome, about 100 meters ahead, you will find the eighth stop, formed by the so-called Tumuli degli Orazi and 150 meters from the latter, you will see the Villa dei Quintili.

8. Tumuli degli Orazi and Villa dei Quintili on the Appian Way in Rome

Villa dei Quintili| ©BRUNNER Emmanuel
Villa dei Quintili| ©BRUNNER Emmanuel

The funerary complex Tumuli degli Orazi, consists of two tombs similar to the Etruscan tombs found in the necropolis of Banditaccia. It is believed that they may date from the second to the third century BC.
Although many theories have been woven around these tombs, the only thing that has been corroborated so far is that one of them is empty and there are no certain indications as to who might have been buried there.

In contrast to the austerity of the Tumuli degli Orazi, you will find 150 meters further on, the Villa dei Quintili. It is a magnificent residential complex, the largest in the suburbs of Rome.

The Villa dei Quintili belonged to the Quintilio brothers, Roman consuls in 151 AD.

The brothers were killed for alleged treason and conspiracy on the orders of Emperor Commodus and the Villa was confiscated. After the execution of the Quintilian brothers, the Villa continued to be used as a residence by several Roman emperors, including Commodus.

Continuing the walk you will reach the ninth stop, the Casal Rotondo.

9. The Casale Rotondo

Casal Rotondo| ©Nicolò Musmeci
Casal Rotondo| ©Nicolò Musmeci

The Casal Rotondo is the largest circular mausoleum on the Appian Way in Rome and one of the largest in Europe. This huge mausoleum was once covered with travertine marble and is believed to have been built around the 1st century BC.

Unfortunately, despite the many studies that have been carried out, it has not been possible to learn much more about its construction, origins and original owners.

Quite some time ago, a fragmentary inscription with the name Cotta was found. This discovery has led the archaeologist Luigi Canina to believe that it is a funerary monument erected by Messalino Cotta, son of the consul Messalla Corvinus, lawyer and man of letters at the time of Augustus, but this theory has not been confirmed.

Whoever the owner was, there is no doubt that it is a magnificent monument and the Casal Rotondo is one of my favorite stops on Rome's Appian Way.

A few meters away is the tenth and final stop on the Appian Way tour of Rome, the Selce Tower.

10. The Selce Tower

Selce Tower| ©Carole Raddato
Selce Tower| ©Carole Raddato

It is believed that, in the 12th century, the Astalli family used the foundations of an ancient Roman tomb as the base for a huge tower known today as the Selce Tower. It is located on the Appian Way, almost at the end of the tourist route.

During the Middle Ages, Rome' s ancient monuments suffered great deterioration because they were used as quarries, providing people with cheap bricks and stone.

Over the centuries, the monuments along the Appian Way were successively plundered, losing most of their riches. The Selce Tower did not escape this fate and in addition to the logical deterioration due to the passage of time, successive looting has taken away the splendor it must have had in its time.

If you look in the distance you can see the aqueduct that supplied the Villa dei Quintili. The view is magnificent, it is an extraordinary work of engineering and an extraordinary beauty.

Is it possible to walk the Appian Way with children?

Cycling along the Appian Way| ©Neil Gilmour
Cycling along the Appian Way| ©Neil Gilmour

Cycling along the Appian Way in Rome on foot is a wonderful experience, but it means many hours of walking. Walking so much with small children is not recommended if they are not used to it. If you want to do it, bring a stroller so you can help the little ones when they are too tired.

Don't forget to bring water and snacks for the little ones. Also don't forget hats and sunscreen.

Touring the Appian Way with children can be easier outside of the warmer and colder months. If you are traveling to Rome with children, keep the weather in mind when planning your trip, try to plan it during the best time to travel to Rome.

Tips for walking Rome's Appian Way

Walking along Via Apia| ©Wronny
Walking along Via Apia| ©Wronny
  • As it is a long walk, you should remember to stay hydrated (take a few bottles of water with you), wear comfortable clothes (even better if they are sporty) and appropriate footwear (avoid sandals and don't even think of wearing heels).

  • The best thing to do is to book tickets for the Via Appia attractions you want to enter to save time during the trip and make sure you find available tickets - always opt for priority tickets, waiting in line in Rome can be really tedious.

  • Plan your trip well in advance and make sure to book your tickets to at least the main attractions well in advance.

  • If it is your first trip to Rome, try to prepare your itineraries with extra time in case of unforeseen events. The key to an optimal trip is planning ahead.

  • Take into account these 10 keys to organize your trip to Rome and you will see that you will save a lot of time organizing your visit.