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Rome is one of our favorite cities on the planet. It may well be our very favorite city. We have concluded each of our Italy trips with a stop in Rome. Today, we wanted to do something we’ve never done before in Rome – visiting the Appian Way and the Catacombs of San Callisto.
Our goal for the day was that famous road – the Appian Way (Via Appia Antica in Italian). The Appian Way was constructed in 312 B.C. and connected Rome to the coastal city of Brindisi. It was the most important road in the entire Roman Empire. The Appian Way was also the start to a whole network of roads that were eventually built within the Roman Empire.
A few thousand years later and yes, it still exists. The most accessible part of the Appian Way from Rome is the area near the Torre di Capo di Bove. This begins the really scenic section of the road with massive cobblestones Cypress trees. Today, Fiats rumble along the cobblestones, but back during the Roman Empire, carts would be pulled along by horses or slaves.
From the Capo di Bove, we walked slowly back towards central Rome along the Appian Way. We stopped to admire an old “Via Appia Antica” sign, which harkens back to the ancient history of this road.
The first major site we came across is the Circus of Maxentius, a beautiful sprawling field that had several ruins. It is the second largest circus in the Roman Empire, yet only held games one time. Despite being ruins, the Circus of Maxentius is actually the best preserved Roman circus in the world. Unfortunately, you can’t get into the site and we were only able to take pictures through an iron fence by the side of the Appian Way.
Our next destination was across the Via Appia Antica, but is a site that is also extremely historic: the Catacombs of San Callisto. We’ve visited catacombs in Paris, Lima, and Alexandria in Egypt, so we thought we knew what to expect from the Catacombs of San Callisto. We couldn’t have been more wrong.
The Catacombs of San Callisto are still run by an order of the Catholic Church. The site has chambers that are an impressive four levels of underground, with only a few open to visitors. The mandatory guided tours are offered in many languages, and the English one we took with an Australian priest was informative (and actually kind of humorous).
When compared to catacombs in other places, the Catacombs of San Callisto are remarkable for two significant facts. First, it was the early burial ground for most of early Christendom, including several Popes. Second, there are absolutely no bones visible. What is a catacomb without bones? The grounds of the San Callisto are gorgeous and a nice area to walk around (we even saw a few local residents jogging through the grounds).
The Appian Way in Rome is not among the top tourist sites in city, but it is full of history and a very different experience from the rest of Rome. This was the perfect way to end a trip to Italy!
Visiting Information for the Appian Way Rome
Getting to the Appian Way
The easiest way to explore the Appian Way is to take a taxi out to the sites, which can be a bit expensive. Tell the taxi driver “Via Appia Antica” and you want to be dropped off at the Torre di Capo di Bove.
Getting Back from the Appian Way
After leaving the Catacombs of San Callisto, jump on the Bus #118 and take it back into Rome. It will follow the Appian Way and you can experience just what a “road massage” ass those cobblestones can be. The bus will drop you off at the Piramide metro stop, where you can take the metro elsewhere in the city.
The Catacombs of San Callisto
The Catacombs can only be visited on a mandatory guided tour, which is offered frequently in many different languages by priests. Please note that photography is prohibited in the Catacombs of San Callisto, although photos are available in the rather expensive book in the gift shop.
Caution on the Appian Way
The modern roadway of the Appian Way can be packed with cars and there is very little space to walk. There are also no sidewalks. Be extremely careful as you walk along the roadway.
Where to Stay Near the Appian Way
There are tons of hotels in Rome, many are smaller, independent businesses. Check the latest prices on Rome hotels here.