Via Appia Antica (Old Appian Way) was once one of the world’s most important roads and the most famous of all the roads that radiated from Rome towards the far ends of the Roman Empire.
The Via Appia, originally built in 312 BC, was the brainchild of Appius Claudius Caecus, the then-censor of Rome, who was known for organizing bold public works that helped make life easier for the people of Rome.
Appius Claudius’ most famous project was this road, which would eventually run all the way from Rome to the port city of Brindisi.
The road began as a level dirt surface upon which mortar and small stones were laid. On top of that, gravel was placed, topped with interlocking stones that would provide a flat surface for those traveling the road. Historians say the stones fit together so well that it was nearly impossible to stick a knife between them. Ditches were dug on either side of the road and were protected by retaining walls.
A 560 km long road
When the road left the city, it traveled through wealthy suburbs on its way straight through the Appian Mountains and over the former Pontine Marshes to Terracina, a coastal town 56 km south of Rome. From there the Appian Way followed the western coast, eventually ending at Capua, making the original road about 210 km long.
Walking along the Via Appia
Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli is one of the Italian UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Built by the request of the Emperor Hadrian, the Villa is a monumental living complex that even today continues to display the lavishness and enormous power of Ancient Rome.
In Tivoli, Hadrian’s Villa (Villa Adriana) was designed to be a home for the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 117 A.D. Construction began on top of the foundation of a pre-existing villa that belonged to his wife Vibia Sabina. The Villa, located 28 km (17.4 mi) from the Capital on the Monti Tiburtini, could be reached via the ancient Roman roads Tiburtina and Prenestina, or else by the River Aniene.
The area was chosen for its abundant waters and availability of four aqueducts that passed through to Rome: Anio Vetus, Anio Nobus, Aqua Marcia and Aqua Claudia.
One can still find here the sulphur water springs (the Acque Albule) that the Emperor enjoyed – today’s Tivoli Baths!
Given archaeological evidence and certain written sources, we know that the Roman villa and the domus were partitioned into different settings with precise functions and according to a scheme that is often repeated; for example, the floor-plan of Hadrian’s Villa is comparable to those of the Villa of Mysteries in Pompeii and the Villa of Poppaea in Oplontis (near Torre Annunziata). Despite the fact that the Villa utilizes traditional architectonic language and iconography, it was in any case projected in a rather different, original style.
Inside the Villa complex, one can see the Poecile, a huge garden surrounded by an arcade with a swimming pool. This area was built so that one could take walks whether it was winter or summer. Then there is the Canopus, a long water basin embellished with columns and statues that culminate in a temple topped by an umbrella dome, and the remains of two bath areas: the Grandi Terme and the Piccole Terme (the large and small baths or thermae). The former contained a frigidarium or large pool of cold water (open-air) and a round room with a coffered dome; these coffers were rather particular in that they opened into five large windows. Covered in valuable and decorative stucco, these structures were purposed for the Imperial Family and their guests.
The Grandi Terme, reserved for the personnel of the Villa, consisted of a heating system located under the floor, and a circular room outfitted as a sudatio or sauna. Noteworthy is the large vaulted-arch ceiling in the central room, still in perfect condition (structurally) today, despite the collapse of one of the four supporting piers. Some of the – relatively – best preserved areas of the villa are the accademia, the stadio or arena, the Imperial Palace, the Philosophers’ Room, the Greek Theatre, and the Piazza d’oro, a majestic square the purpose of which was to be a “representation;” it was large enough to allow a vast peristyle decorated in refined stucco. Finally, the splendid Teatro Marittimo (Maritime Theatre) is an island of sorts elaborated with an iconic colonnade and circumscribed by a canal. This is where the Emperor isolated himself when he wanted to think amidst silence and tranquility.