Cycling the ancient Appian Way in Rome

Ancient Appian Way, Rome

 

Just for one day we were 19th century time travellers exploring the beauty of the ancient Appian Way on push bikes away from the city mayhem.

After five intense, but exciting, sight-seeing days in Rome a cycle along the 2,300-year-old cobblestones of the Appian Way was a welcome diversion to clear the cobwebs away.

Although, this was no Tour de France circuit, as we had electric bikes that proved very handy getting up several slight inclines and massive stone sections of the road.

Cycling the Ancient Appian Way in Rome
Stone Cycle Challenge on the Appian Way

The Appian Way with Top Bike Rental and Tours

Before leaving Australia I’d booked this tour online with Top Bike Rental and Tours although you can walk in off the street on the day.

To reach the bike location is only a short Metro ride from the centre of Rome and then a quick bus trip, but we took the soft option and grabbed a taxi from the hotel for $10.

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There were 10 of us in the cycling group – a mixture of Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, English and Spanish plus our English-speaking guide. Very multicultural!

First up we were given an overview of the electric bikes – just as well, because they are a bit different to the old mountain bike used back home in Oz. Carbon fibre bikes were also available, but everyone went for electric – even the youngest people in the group.

Then we were off – kitted out with our bikes, helmets, water bottle, map and fingers crossed for smooth sailing (or cycling).

All was good, until about 300 yards down the road I nearly cleaned up another cyclist coming towards me – because he was on the wrong side of the road! (Of course it was me on the wrong side and this near miss incident doubled my concentration.)

At first you cycle through city traffic to get to the countryside of the Appian Way and staying in the middle of the other riders appeared to be a good option! The guide had, of course, explained all the hand instructions he would be using, plus a quick overview of road rules but I still got stuck at the first traffic light while the others cycled off.

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Arch of Drufus

Arch of Drufus along the Appian Way
Arch of Drufus along the Appian Way

Leaving the traffic behind, our guide stopped at the Arch of Drufus for a water break and to explain the history of the area.

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It seems that historians haven’t agreed on why this ancient arch was built – but most believe it was before the ancient aqueduct, which conveniently had part of its route running over the top.

Back on the bikes, we pedalled our way to the Catacombs that grace the Appian Way.

The Catacombs of Saint Sebastian

We stopped at The Catacombs of Saint Sebastian for a tour – he was a martyr and the patron saint of athletes and archers. Our tour was with a man of the cloth, originally from Queensland, Australia. Funny how the Aussie accent when heard overseas always brings a smile to your face!

At the beginning of the tour you go down to the third level, which is about 12 metres under the ground. (Think about this if you suffer claustrophobia).

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The tomb-lined tunnels of the catacombs stretch for miles and are layer upon layer deep with many of the Christians buried there, who were later recognised as martyrs and saints.

 

The guide explained that in fact the catacombs were low-budget underground cemeteries with most burials dating back to the third and fourth century. By the Middle Ages they were abandoned and forgotten, only to be rediscovered centuries later.

There are no longer bones to spook you out when walking underground, but many symbolic carvings still decorate the walls. These include a fish that stands for Jesus, plus an anchor (which is a camouflaged cross) and a phoenix with a halo to symbolise the resurrection.

After half an hour underground the fresh air was welcomed and we were on to the next point of interest along the Appian Way.

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Tomb of Caecilia Metella

More uphill pedalling (yay, for the electric bikes!) brings you to the tomb of Caecilia Metella with its massive tower giving it a total height of approximately 20 metres. Cecilia was the daughter of a consul of Rome and born into the wealthy Caecilius Metellus family.

Tomb of Cecilia Metella and Caetani Castle along the Appian Way.
Tomb of Cecilia Metella and Caetani Castle along the Appian Way.

We learnt that the tomb is actually part of the medieval Caetani Castle that used to stretch along both sides of the Appian Way and protected both the important road and the southern area of Rome.

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Listening to our guide share this information, it was easy to drift off and imagine what life was like in those days. Ladies in waiting, dancing at society and debutante balls, exquisite clothing, oh, and of course there would have been the odd war or so to contend with!

Out of the trance, back on to the bikes with next stop being the Park of the Aqueducts.

Park of the Aqueducts along the Appian Way

Park of the Aqueducts along the Appian Way.
Park of the Aqueducts along the Appian Way.

This aqueduct was a gigantic structure that I hadn’t even heard of before! There’s a good reason why Ancient Rome was called the  “queen of waters” because by the year 52AD there was enough fresh water flowing into Rome daily to provide over 1,000 litres to each of the one million residents!

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This was made possible by this marvel of ancient architecture and in days gone by there were 11 of these superstructures that ran for 300 miles (480 kms) and brought water from springs that are some 50 miles (80 kms) away.

There were no pumps or generators, the water arrived on the simple principle that water always runs down hill.

Some of the aqueducts are still in use today and the famous Trevi-fountain is still fed by aqueduct water.

Back on the pedals for our last stop

Wine and cheese with 2,000 sheep

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Twilight in the European summer is long and magical. It was during the early twilight that we arrived at the Fattoria della Vaccareccia sheep farm, which is inside the Caffarella Park on the Appian Way.

Happy Hour at Fattoria della Vaccareccia sheep farm.
Happy Hour at Fattoria della Vaccareccia sheep farm.

This ancient stone farmhouse once had an aqueduct running right over the top!

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Here we visited the baby lambs and saw the rounding up of 2,000 sheep that had been grazing along the Appian Way. Then it was time to settle in for delicious home-made cheese, bread and wine.

A day out for sheep to graze on the Appian Way, Rome

There were lots of swapping stories with the rest of the group – who’s been here and there and where to travel next. Then all too soon it was time to head back to the Rome traffic on our trusty bikes and return to the reality of the world.

Riding the ancient Appian Way in Rome – a must do for any Boomer Traveller who visits Rome. Have you visited?

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