More info: Appia Antica and aqueducts park

Historical details:

Archaeologist and architect Luigi Canina was the one who conceived the project of the archaeological walk through the Appian Way taking care of the expropriation of the area and the restoration of the monuments along the way, creating the Appian Way Regional Park. Artists and travelers from all over Europe fascinated by this area of Rome, between XVIII and XIX centuries traveling in the “Grand Tour” to a full immersion in Italian culture, reached this destination to admire the romantic and unique landscape, the rural life of the Roman countryside among Ancient Roman ruins and majestic roman Aqueducts. Our tour is organized in 2 parts, with 2 different rhythms, one full of information, the other more recreational. First part is a ride through an open work museum, the second one is an outgoing to the countryside as they used to do in the nineteenth century: In the shadows of the Aqueducts.

The Ages we go through during our tour:

• Ancient Rome:
– Monarchy of the 7 Kings of Rome (VIII-VI AC)
– Republican Era (V-I AC)
– Imperial Age (I AC – IV DC)

• Middle Ages (around 1.300)

• Papal period between 500 (Sisto V) and 1.600 (Urbano VIII)

• “Grand Tours” period between age of Enlightenment and Romanticism, (1.700 – 1.800)

At the era of Emperor Augustus, in the I century BC, the historian Dionigi di Alicarnasso, wrote that “the magnificence of the Roman Empire is revealed in three things: the Sewage system, the Roads, the Aqueducts“. We can’t see the sewers, they are underground, but towards our tour we’re going to discover the most important road of ancient Rome, the Appian Way, and the majestic Aqueducts that have made the genius of the Romans in engineering field.


If we look at the map of Rome we can see that it is like a bicycle wheel with spokes that are the consular roads, built by the ancient Romans, which, from the city center, (Campidoglio), go in all directions to reach the more remote areas of the Empire. In this Tour we will explore together, the southeast quadrant where runs the Appian Way, the most important of the roads so called “Regina Viarum – Queen of Roads”, and all main aqueducts of ancient Rome.

Porta Celimontana

The tour starts from Porta Celimontana where were the Servian Walls (VI century b.c.) and where we can admire part of the Acquedotto Claudio (40 A.D.), that we will see again, in all its majesty in the Aqueducts Park. Throw into the Seven kings of Rome period, in the sixth century BC when the Romans built their first urban walls that included the seven hills. Imagine that in that time most of the monuments we know, had not been built yet; no Colosseum or the Imperial Palace over the Palatine hill but only the village and the fence of the founding of Rome in 753 BC. The Servian Walls (first urban walls) of the VI century the period of the Kings of Rome Tarquinio Prisco and Servio Tullio, have resisted up to the sack of Rome by the Gauls in the IV fourth century BC.

Circo Massimo

Here, in the valley, there was the Circo Massimo that is remembered as the site of games since the beginning of the history of the city, because it was the perfect place for socializing and sharing: close to the market area on the Tiber, the Foro Boario, and in the plain just below the Palatine. The first wood installations, probably mobile structures, dating from the time of Tarquinio Prisco, in the first half of the sixth century BC. The first masonry structures, especially for the races, were built in the second century BC, and Gaius Julius Caesar built the first stone seats and gave the building the final shape, from 46 BC (I sec BC). The Circus Maximus was the largest of all the circuses, measuring 600 x 140 mt. and hosted up to 250.000 people. From here began the Appian Way, crossed just here by the first Roman aqueduct, the Aqua Appia, both made by the censor Appio Claudio Cieco in 312 BC. It is the period of Roman expansion towards the south of Italy, and large businesses with Magna Grecia and across the Mediterranean. The Appian Way, so called “Road’s Queen” is the first “highway of the history” made with innovative techniques. In the beginning was built up to Capua, land of the Sanniti, and then, over the years and conquests, arrived up to Taranto and Brindisi, in Puglia, where there were ports to leave for the Mediterranean Sea and reach Greece, Africa and Orient with whom they had rich cultural and commercial exchanges.

Terme di Caracalla

In the middle of Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, where there is the small church of St. Mary in Tempulo (800 AD), you can cross and line the Baths of Caracalla. In the year 216 AD, the Emperor Caracalla (his real name was Marco Aurelio Antonino whereby the original name of the Baths was Terme Antoniniane) built these Thermal Baths that were the biggest public ones (at that time they had not yet been built the Baths of Diocletian near Piazza della Repubblica and Termini station that were the largest). We have to imagine the common people coming out of the Servian Wall, walking in the green along the Appian Way, to come here to take a bath. Nowadays, here, the “Rome Opera Theatre” organizes events and shows in the summer season.

Sepolcro degli Scipioni

Our tour will run then, the Appian Way, where the road leads to a bifurcation with Via Latina and, along the beautiful road enclosed with walls, we arrive at Porta San Sebastiano. Along the way we will give you short historical notes about the Tomb of the Scipioni. Here we meet the first trace of a long series of Sepulchres, Tombs and Mausoleums that the Romans built outside the city walls along the Appian Way. The entry that you see from the road is very impressive. The tomb was built in the third century BC and is a precious document of the archaic use to lay the dead people in family tombs carved into the tufa.

Mura Aureliane e Porta San Sebastiano

Here we are at the surrounding walls known as Aurelian Walls. The Gate was called Porta Appia, and in the Middle Ages was called Porta San Sebastiano for the homonymous Basilica built on the catacombs of the holy Christian martyr, along Via Appia. What we see today is not the original form of the Gate, it had two arches and two lateral semicircular towers. The arch before the Gate is called Arch of Drusus. It looks like an arch of triumph, but actually is one of the arches of an aqueduct, the Aqueduct Antoniniano, that the Emperor Marco Aurelio Antonino, the one of the Baths of Caracalla, built as a derivation of the aqueduct Aqua Marcia to serve exactly the Baths of Caracalla. Currently within the Porta San Sebastiano there is the “Museum of the Walls” of ancient Rome. The Aurelian Walls were built in the year 270 AD from the Emperor Aureliano because the city had expanded and needed a solid protection from the attacks of the barbarians, Alemanni and Goths. The Aurelian walls are the ancient city wall longest (18 km) best preserved in the world. From here onwards begins our trip so-called “Out Door” and we move along the Appia Antica Park, where it begins what was called in the nineteenth century the “outdoor museum Appia Antica” and where nature and architecture of human settlements merge in a wonderful set that attracted here artists and writers (Hans Christian Andersen, François-René of Chateaubriand, Goethe, Lord Byron, Stendhal and D’Annunzio) from all over Europe in the so-called “Grand Tours” of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, trips to discover the origins of European culture.

Catacombe di San Callisto

The Catacombs of San Callisto are some of the largest and most important of Rome. Were built in the mid-second century A.D. and are part of a cemetery with a network of nearly 20 km long tunnels, on 4 levels, and reach a depth of over 20 meters, with great architecture underground. In it were buried tens of martyrs, 16 popes and many Christians. The underground cemetery consists of different areas. We find: the Crypt of the Popes is the most sacred and important of these catacombs, called “the little Vatican” because there were the remains of 9 popes. The Crypt of St. Cecilia, the popular patron saint of music, martyred in the third century A.D. and buried in the same place where there is her statue. The catacombs have expanded including not only tombs, but also chapels, meeting areas, dining rooms and also places to sleep.

Catacombe San Sebastiano

Since the I first century AD, the site was used for burials in niche, both pagan and Christian. Tradition has it that the SS. Peter and Paul are buried here. And that’s why was called “Memory Apostolorum“. From the III third century AD, had developed in the underground the part where he was buried the martyr Sebastian, protector against the disasters of the city of Rome. Since then the name changed into Catacombs of St. Sebastian. The Emperor Constantine (IV AD), the first who accepted Christianity, he built this circular basilica (the first of Constantinian basilicas, circus for horse racing shaped). During the reign of Constantine ended the persecution of Christians. The archaeological complex consists of three parts: the Circus, the Palace and the dynastic Mausoleum, designed to celebrate the Emperor Massenzio. Massenzio was defeated by Constantine in the battle of Milvio Bridge in 312 AD.

Circo di Massenzio

The Circus is the most important part of this complex because, being private, it was only a little smaller than the Circus Maximus (520×90 mt.), but it was able to accommodate only 10.000 spectators (the Circus Maximus was for 250.000 people!). Also it is the best example of Roman circus so well preserved. At the center of the spine that divided the race track, there was an obelisk that the sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini removed and placed on the Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona in the seventeenth century. The Palace was connected to the Circus so that the Emperor could be accessed directly from the Palace in the middle of the stands of the Circus. The Mausoleum is a circular building, closed within a quadrangle arcade, where was the tomb of Romulus, Maxentius’son. The construction had to be on two levels: the lower one, intended to burial crypt, and the upper one that was never built as well as the “pronao”. Imagine this valley covered with corn until recently.


Tomba di Cecilia Metella

The Mausoleum of Cecilia Metella can be considered the symbol of the ancient Appian Way, known and reproduced from the Renaissance to the equal of the most famous monuments of Rome and the object of particular attention from archaeologists, architects, designers and landscape artists. It reminds, in small size, the one of Augustus in the center town, next to the Ara Pacis museum along the Tiber. The tomb was built in the years 30-20 BC, erected for a Roman noblewoman. It must be interpreted both as a tribute to the deceased that as a form of celebration of the glories of the family. The monument consists of a square base made in concrete (opus cementicium) lined originally by blocks of travertine. On this basis stands an imposing cylinder, still covered by the original travertine slabs. The cylinder was originally topped by a mound of earth covered with vegetation. The top of the mausoleum is today crowned with a elevation of lava stone that preserves a battlement building concerning modifications made by the Caetani family to transform the tomb in the main tower of their castle, placed in the wider castrum Caetani. The Tomb and the castle offer an interesting example of the materials and building techniques adopted in antiquity and the Middle Ages. The structure was in danger of being destroyed. In the sixteenth century the complex was abandoned and the Pope Sisto V had it demolished in part, because it was considered a place of bandits and robbers. When Pope Urbano VIII (1623-1644) gave to Bernini a written permission to demolish “… an ancient monument, round in shape, large circumference and beautiful marble near St. Sebastian Catacumbs, called Capo di Bove … “, that is precisely the tomb of Cecilia Metella, to finish the work of the Trevi Fountain, the roman people protested so much that Bernini had to abandon the project. Francesco Caetani, in the 14th century, with the help of Pope Boniface VIII, bought the estate of Capo di Bove within which he built a fortified village (castrum, straddling the Appian Way), surrounded and defended by walls and consists of a building, a church and some small residential buildings, from which the Caetani controlled the traffic on the road, collecting exorbitant fees. Well preserved are the perimeter walls in which there are elegant windows. During the Great Jubilee of year 2000 were carried out numerous restoration, so it is now possible to go down to the underground level and see the great underground lava bench, dating back to about 260,000 years ago ejected from the volcanic complex of Colli Albani. In front of the palace there is the church of St. Nicholas.

Along the Appian Way

Under our wheels we will see the original pavement of the Appian Way. It is made of the basalt lava stone taken from the lava flow that had come to Capo di Bove, right here. It was the first road built with innovative techniques that we still use today. The introduction of a drainage layer at the bottom to allow rainwater to flow into the subsoil, and the curvature of the surface, higher in the center to make the water flow to the sides. The section had the following layers from bottom to top: 1) “statumen”, 2) “ruderatio”, 3) “nucleus” and 4) “pavimento”. It had a width of about 4 mt. that allowed the passage of two carriages, with sidewalks of 3 mt. on the sides.


Along the Appian Way you could see buildings in a wonderful landscape, but sometimes it was also the scene of horrific images, such as after the slave revolt of Spartacus. Spartacus came from Tracia (in Greece), became a roman soldier but later defected and fled. Then was captured by Romans and became a slave. He was very strong and so became a gladiator in Capua, where the Appian way leads. In 73 BC he started a revolt with other 70 gladiators and escaped. He knew the roman strategy of war and so, for two years, he fought the roman army all over Italy, from south to north, always winning and collecting tens of thousands slaves with him. When he died, in 71 BC, the rebels were captured and crucified along the Appian Way.

Villa dei Quintili

Originally the Villa belonged to two rich and cultured brothers, consuls, built in the first half of the second century AD. The Emperor Commodus, unworthy son of the Emperor philosopher Marcus Aurelius, wanting to take possession of the riches of the two brothers, as well as the villa, in 182 AD caused them to be sentenced to death. The emperor had it restored by turning it into a country Royal Palace. It was so beautiful that in the late eighteenth century the place was called “Old Rome“, because it was believed that they were the remains of a city. The remains reveal two major construction phases: the first, in “opus latericium“, brickwork, the period of the original owners, the second, in “opus vittatum“, listatum work, the parts added by the Emperor Commodus. It extends from the Appia Antica up to Appia Nuova with a large nymphaeum, a garden porch, a stadium, a residential nucleus and two thermal areas on either side of the residential core. Along the wall of the garden, came the Anio Novus Aqueduct that supplied water to the villa. At the entrance there was the monumental two-storey Nymphaeum, formed by a wide semicircular exedra, with niches and with a large fountain in the center. The floor was in white and black mosaic, whose remains are still visible. In the Middle Ages the villa and the nymph, were incorporated in a castle, as was the “Castrum Caetani” to the mausoleum of Cecilia Metella, with walls of peperino, a lava stone, with holes for the wooden scaffolding and entry-reinforced walls of tuff and flint.

Aqueducts Park

We arrive to the Aqueduct Park, passing under the arches of the Claudian Aqueduct (Aqua Claudia). We will stop in the shade of pine trees between two lines of aqueducts … but they hide seven ones! On the one hand: Aqua Claudia and Anio Novus, the other further down: Aqua Marcia, Aqua Tepula, Aqua Julia, Aqua Felice and Anio Vetus (underground). On the left, with the most impressive arches, is the Claudian Aqueduct that contains the channels (called spechi) of Aqua Claudia and Anio Novus (both built in 38 AD). To the right hand is the Aqueduct that contains overlapping spechi of Aqua Marcia, Aqua Tepula, Aqua Julia (made in period 144-33 BC), plus the Aqua Felice (made by Sisto V in 1585), and the underground Anio Vetus. They, for synthesis, are called Claudio Aqueduct one, and Felice Aqueduct the other. Between the two lines of aqueducts, we see a stretch of ancient road with large stones, in front of us we have an old house, a small pond fed by an aqueduct that is poured in a small stream, what are they? We are in the corridor leading water to Rome. The house is the house of Old Rome of the thirteenth century. It was named in the eighteenth century when archaeologists found many artifacts taken from the graves here along the Via Latina, and thought that here there was a city. Water flowing in the ditch next to the farmhouse is the recovery of the groove of the Acqua Mariana Almone that fed the river that runs through the Caffarella to reach the Tiber. From here we can also see the findings of the Alban Hills, of volcanic origin, from which 260 thousand years ago comes the lava that came up to Capo di Bove at the Mausoleum of Cecilia Metella and provided the solid backing and the material for the Appian Way, and which constitute the limit of the Roman countryside and the Appia Antica Park. You will discover with us the way that the Aqueducts were, from the sources or directly from rivers, coming essentially from two points: the course of the river Aniene, or from the Colli Albani. All they are heading for Porta Maggiore where was the “CASTELLUM AQUAE” from which branched off to various parts of the city. Fed fountains, villas and town houses, baths. During the Ancient Rome period, the area was crossed, even before the Appian Way, from the Via Latina who arrived to Capua, and here is still visible, for a short distance, his track made of basalt. The streets were organized in a way not very different from the highways of today with their roadside restaurants: there were post stations and hotels. In the early centuries of Rome the Aqueducts Park area was rich of agriculture and shepherds, who supplied the city of grain and other food. Later it became the area of imperial villas. In 537 AD the Goths, who came to conquest Rome, camped right here and soon cut the aqueducts, precious for life in Rome. After the Goths, the area became insane, swampy and insecure, infested by bandits, as Pope Sisto V used to say, and so, in the Middle Ages, the landscape was dotted with small castles and watchtowers (as we have seen also at Castrum Caetani) and wooden huts scattered. We are in the area of “Agro Romano”, who fascinated the travelers of the eighteenth century, that goes without interruption from the center of Rome to the Colli Albani hills, that we can see behind us.

Parco di Tor Fiscale

This is the point where the two aqueducts intersect twice, creating a closed space, a perfect protected place. It was in fact used by the Goths to camp during the Sack of Rome, and for this it was called ” Barbarian Camp”. The name of Tor Fiscale comes from a medieval tower. The tower, which uses the intersection of the aqueducts, introduces us to the habit, in later centuries, to “colonize” the aqueduct, building on it and under the arches also houses.

Parco delle Tombe di Via Latina e Parco della Caffarella

The park of the Tombs of Via Latina is a well preserved fragment of the ancient Roman road with some tombs of the second century AD. The valley takes its name from the Caffarelli family, that in the mid-sixteenth century, created an extensive farm. Entirely crossed by the Almone river, held sacred because tied to the mythical origins of Rome, in the valley are abundant water sources used since ancient times with an extensive network of canals, to feed thermal baths and monumental fountains in Rome. From Republican era and throughout the Imperial Age, the valley was densely occupied by large villas, temples and tombs, of which there are still important evidence. From the XI eleventh century in this area is testified the existence of craft installations exploiting the wealth of its water, as water mills or “valche”, facilities for washing clothes, often used, transforming, previous structures of the Roman period.

Ninfeo di Egeria

The Nymphaeum of Egeria was built by Herodes Atticus in the second century AD within their own suburban villa. The villa was part of a very large property that reached to the mausoleum of Cecilia Metella on the Appian Way and was a real farm. Egeria was a nymph who married Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome. Legend has it that they should meet in such a place where the nymph inspired the groom in making laws and treat the religious order of first age of Rome. On the bottom of the fountain there is a statue of the god Almone. Think about that in nineteenth century this cave, like all the Caffarella area was popular ; right here they used to set a typical restaurant outside the urban walls, as evidenced by some paintings of that periods.


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