Rome, Italy

Roman Roads: Ancient Via Appia

The road was wide enough to allow vehicles travelling in opposite directions to pass; the surface, paved with basalt and bordered with sidewalks of pounded earth, was about 13 feet wide (the statutory width for main routes at the time when the road was built). Every nine or ten miles the traveller could make a stop, change horses and eat a meal.

The "Via Appia Antica" was the first Roman road to be named after the magistrate who built it. Consequently Appius Claudius Caecus, who also provided the Romans with their first aqueduct, is one of the city's earliest known public figures.

The highway, called “the queen of the roads” because of its length, age and straightness, was begun in 312 BC. It was built to link Rome with Capua, the capital of Campania, at a time the two cities were forming a joint political administration. Later the road was extended to reach Brindisi, the “port if the East”.

It took only five days to reach Capua, and thirteen or fourteen days to cover its total length of 330 miles. The Appian Way started at the Porta Capena, near the rounded end of the Circus Maximus. Today the best preserved section is immediately outside the wall: this is also the only tract that gives some idea of the villages, tombs, aqueducts and, in Imperial times, the mansions of the rich.

In the Middle Ages, the population declined and it fell into the hand of the Caetani, an illustrious family from Gaeta, on the coast south of Rome. In the 16th century interest in the side was renewed: Raphael, Pirro Ligorio and Michelangelo planned to restore it. However, it was Pius VI in the 18th century and, later, the archeologists of the 19th century, who undertook its repair.