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Appian Way and Catacombs

The Appian Way, or Via Appia Antica, was one of the most important roads leading from the city of Rome to the south (eventually leading to Brindisi, the gateway to the Adriatic).  Since it was illegal to bury people inside the city walls, many families established mausoleums along the Appian Way.  Early Christian communities, who buried bodies instead of cremating them, dug out over 200 miles of catacombs.  The area is now a Regional Park.  You can get a feel for the countryside in this video clip from Rick Steves.

Getting There

There are various ways of getting from central Rome to the Appian Way
  • Bus 118 from Circo Massimo Metro stop (goes to Terme di Carcalla, Porta San Sebastiano, Domine Quo Vadis, and Catacombe San Callisto & San Sebastiano)
  • Bus 660 from Colli Albani Metro stop (goes to Cecilia Metella)
  • Bus 218 from San Giovanni Metro stop (goes to Porta San Sebastiano, Domine Quo Vadis, and not too far from Catacombe San Domitilla)
  • Archeobus - a €15 hop on-and-off open-air bus that runs from various spots in central Rome to various spots along the Appian Way.  More information available on the park website and Trambus website.
  • Car - you can park at the Catacomb of San Callisto (41°51.58'N 12°30.65'E), as well as at various places along the road itself.  Note that the Appian Way is closed to motor traffic on Sundays.
  • Train - to Torricola, see "Walking the Road," below.

Map

The Appian Way Park Website Map is quite good and available in high-resolution and low-resolution; it shows in darker brown which parts of the Appian Way still have the original stones.

Catacombs

  • Catacombe di San Callisto (Catacombs of St. Callixtus).  Open every day but W 8:30-12 and 2:30-5:30 (closes at 5 from Nov to Mar, closed Feb).  One of the largest catacombs, which was the burial site for several early popes.  Via Appia Antica 110, 06-5130-1580.
  • Catacombe di San Sebastiano (Catacombs of St. Sebastian).  Open every day but Sun 9-12 and 2-5 (closed mid-Nov to mid-Dec).  Slightly less famous than St. Callixtus, but also interesting.  The church above contains the remains of St. Sebastian, an early Christian martyr who famously survived being shot by arrows (you will recognize paintings of him throughout Rome).  Via Appia Antica 136, 06-785-0350.
  • Catacombe di San Domitilla (Catacombs of St. Domitilla).  Open every day but Tues 8:30-12 and 2:30-5 (closed Jan).  Located just off the Appian Way, just West of the Catacombs of St. Callixtus, Frommer's recommends this as the best tour.  Via di Sette Chiese 283, 06-511-0342.

Walking the Road

The road runs for about 9 miles from the Porta San Sebastiano (Saint Sebastian gate) to the town of Cecchina.  The best time to walk along the road is on Sunday, since it is closed off to motorized traffic.  Here are some landmarks you will see along the way and tips for where to walk:
  • The first 0.5 miles from Porta San Sebastiano to Domine Quo Vadis - skippable, lots of traffic.  Domine Quo Vadis means, "Lord, Where are you going?" which is supposedly what St. Peter asked on this spot, where he was told to go to Rome to face his crucifixion.  When they finish renovating the church, you can once again see Jesus' footprints inside (the originals are now in the San Sebastiano church).  Porta San Sebastiano has the Museo della Mura, where you can learn about Rome's walls and defenses (open every day but Mon 9-2, 06-820-59-127), which used to let you up on the walls but apparently doesn't anymore.
  • The next 1 mile from Quo Vadis to San Sebastiano catacombs is best done on the "high road" inside the San Callisto catacomb complex--basically follow the cyprus-lined road through the gate labeled "San Callisto."
  • The next mile, where traffic dies down and occasionally you'll see the big, original stones of the Appian Way, complete with chariot wheel ruts from thousands of years of traffic, features three Roman ruin sites:
    • Circo Massenzio - a "circus" designed for chariot racing
    • Tomb of Cecilia Metella - huge round castle-looking mausoleum dedicated to a Roman noble woman
    • Capo di Bovo - outdoor ruins including several tile mosaics
  • The next 1.5 miles opens up into peaceful countryside with occasional monuments/ruins to Villa dei Quintili (an ancient Roman villa, which has a museum)
  • The next 2/3 mile is more peaceful countryside to Casal Rotondo, just before crossing the railroad tracks (which, incidentally, lead to Torricola, a small regional stop less than half a mile south--another way of getting to/from the Appian Way is to take a train to/from Torricola)
  • The next 1 mile runs past acqueducts to A-90 ring highway (which tunnels under the Appian Way)
  • The next 1.3 miles has more ruins/monuments and open fields and ends up at Via dell'Aeroscalo, leading to Ciampino Airport
  • The last 2.5 miles from Ciampino to Cecchina is not terribly interesting
...probably the best part to walk is the 3 miles from Circo Massenzio to Casal Rotondo.  You might also consider walking the Valley of Caffarella, which runs past a number of temples and other ruins.  Also nearby, to the east, is the Parco degli Acquedotti (Aqueduct Park), which has cool arched aqueducts as featured in the film La dolce vita (you can reach the park via the Giulio Aagricola metro station or bus 557 from Subaugusta metro station).

Where to Eat

The following restaurants are in the area and recommended by various sources:
  • Trattoria di Priscilla - good, cheap, home-cooking across from the Domine Quo Vadis church (near the northern entrance to the Catacombs of St. Callixtus).  Recommended by Slow Food.  Via Appia Antica 68, 06-513-6379.
  • Cecilia Metella - recommended by Time Out, near St. Sebastian church/catacombs.  Via Appia Antica 125, 06-513-6743, 9-6 every day but Sun.
  • Hosteria l'Archeologica - near St. Sebastian church/catacombs, garden setting, recommended by Espresso magazine, somewhat more expensive.  Via Appia Antica 139, 06-788-0494, 9-6 every day but Sun.
  • Hostaria Antica Roma - has some good reviews online.  Via appia Antica 87, 06-513-2888, closed Mon.
  • Osteria del Velodromo Vecchio - NE of Appian Way, near Via Tuscolana, a couple blocks NE of Metro Colli Albani/Parco Appia Antica.  Recommended by Time Out (and Gambero Rosso, Osterie d'Italia, Espresso, and TCI) as a good place for Roman food; fairly inexpensive.  Via Genzano 139, 06-788-5793.
  • Sora Rosa - further south, recommended by Chowhound for its "chicken under a brick."  Via di Tor Carbone 74, 06-718-8453.
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