Named after consul Appius Claudius Caecus, who laid the first 90km section in 312 BC, ancient Rome’s regina viarum (queen of roads) was extended in 190 BC to reach Brindisi. Via Appia Antica has long been one of Rome’s most exclusive addresses, a beautiful cobbled thoroughfare flanked by grassy fields, Roman structures and towering pine trees. Most splendid of the ancient houses was Villa dei Quintili, so desirable that Emperor Commodus murdered its owner and took it for himself.
The Appian Way has a dark history – it was here that Spartacus and 6000 of his slave rebels were crucified in 71 BC, and it was here that the early Christians buried their dead in 300km of underground catacombs. You can’t visit all 300km, but three major catacombs – San Callisto, San Sebastiano and Santa Domitilla – are open for guided exploration.
The most pleasurable way of exploring the Appian Way is by bicycle. Rent a set of wheels (with helmet and lock) and pick up maps (€1.50) at the Info Point Appia Antica at the northern end of the road. Alternatively book a guided tour by bike, on foot or by electric golf cart.