12.02.2020 - 12.02.2020 18 °C
Our day was dedicated to a 28 klm bike tour (assisted electric bike) through Rome to ride on the Appian way and visit the catacombs of St Sebastian. The Appian Way was a road from Rome to Brindisi in the south.
This was a magical day that we shared with our guide and one other fellow traveller from Belgium and we were able to cover much more than the 28 klm with our small group. Leaving the shop we made our way to our first stop outside of the Chiesa Santi Giovanni e Paolo, where we heard that there is a three to five year wait list to be married in the church. We headed back another day and could see why as it is a beautiful church with the nave lined with chandeliers. Across the road there are ruins of what would have been Roman houses and shops along with a monastery. The site of the church has seen many evolutions with a temple dedicated to Emperor Claudius organised by his Agrippina, arches of former buildings at ground level and a beautifully decorated bell tower.
We then crossed and rode along the streets as we headed out of town, stopping to hear about the ancient defence walls and the Porta San Sebastiano, that enabled passage for carriages and the pedestrian gate, along with the aqueduct fountain that would have been a sight as people entered the gate.
Riding past houses we started in our first park, Parco Regionale Appia Antica which borders with Parco Caffarelli. There are many open green spaces so close to the city. We saw many birds, wild sheep, wild rabbits. Riding on paths and off road, we passed a farm with chickens, ducks, geese, sheep and a donkey or two. This was followed by a stop at the Nymphaeum of Egeria, a water feature feed by a natural spring that pilgrims visited created in 2 AD and was actually was a summer place for Herodes Atticus, a Roman Senator and his friends to keep cool and drink wine. This fresh water is still used by locals as we passed a market area where there is an open shed where taps are connected to the stream water and locals were filling up many recycled bottles full to take home.
Up the road from the market and past a military school, we headed off the main road up a lane to the start of the Appia Way which was the main Roman road for military purposes. The large basalt stones the give away and we had the opportunity to ride on the road and then we stopped at at a funerary monument to Caecilians Metella in the 1st century BC, which was repurposed into a fort and then in the 14th century extended by the Caetani family into their villa and church opposite. As the main road at the time, the Caetani family capitalised on their position and introduced a hefty toll to pass. At some point the pope intervened and the Nova Appia, new road, commenced which did not have a toll and quickly became a popular route with the people.
An estate of Emperor Maxentius was next with visible ruins remaining of what was a private circus (horse racing) stadium and a masoleum for his son who drowned aged 7 in the Tiber River. A little further along and around the corner, we visited the Catacombs of Saint Sebastian originally a quarry where Christian burials occurred. Heading underground it was a maze and we saw many empty burial plots, chapels including the sarcophagus which held Saint Sebastian, the mausoleums created and ancient graffiti. We exited the catacombs into the church of Saint Sebastian which holds relics from when he was shot by arrows and left to die and also when he was subsequently killed. His remains are in the church along with a relic said to be footprints of Jesus Christ.
We then headed south alongside and at times on the Appia Way. While it is not in the pristine condition it would have been in years ago, it still holds the strata layers. The road surface was repurposed over the years and we were told that households were doorknocked to see if they had the basalt in their house foundations or courtyards and if so, it was resumed to recreate the road surface today. Again the road and its sidings are well used for recreational purposes and we learnt that the road which was 4 metres wide enabled Roman legions to traverse from Rome to south within fourteen days. The way was just wide enough to allow two carriages to pass and pedestrians on the sidings. At the time, the road was lined by funerary mausoleums with the ruins still visible today with the lovely trees lining the road a more modern addition.
Heading away from Appia way, we rode past another farm that had numerous puppies came over to play around the bikes in the sunshine. Our stop here took in the ruins of the villa of the Quintilii, with the brothers who lived their falsely accused of participating in a plot against the Emperor’s life, so their property could be coverted. Leaving the park, we crossed the busy Appia Nova and headed down a quiet road, to the Parco degli Acqueduct. Riding down the road another wow moment. In the middle of what appears to be nowhere the longest complete Aquaduct, still remaining, that was used to bring water from the Alban hills to the Roman city, including the imperial palaces on Palatine Hill, completed under Emperor Claudius’ reign in 52 AD. The protected ancient infrastructure sits within a modern golf course and a very large recreational park.
After a well deserved afternoon lunch break, we headed back to the city via Parco Caffarelli, passing the Vaccareccia farm that has been in use as a farm since the 16th century. One of the final stops before heading back was the Baths of Caracalla. This was the largest Roman baths and was an all day leisure entertainment centre. The baths were closed in the 6th century when barbarians destroyed the aqua ducts that supplied the baths. The ruins of the bath complex are impressive and would have been a sight in their heyday. The final push home saw us retrace a route of the morning instead uphill and the electric turbo mode helped, before it was downhill in the back streets, onto the main road past the Colosseum and back to the shop. An exhilarating day of Rome, the ancient mingled with the present, that will be remembered forever.