Of the many things the Romans were famous for, roads rank pretty high in the list by importance, along with bridges, viaducts and canals. Together they formed an outstanding transportation network that played a crucial role in tightening Rome’s grasp on the Mediterranean Basin. It was roads that held the Roman Empire together.
One of the first and the most important long roads built by the Romans was the Appian Way. The road was begun by Appius Claudius Caecus, the Roman censor, in 312 BC, and originally ran for about 212 km from Rome to the ancient city of Capua, but by 244 BC, it was extended by another 370 km to reach the port of Brundisium (now Brindisi) by the Adriatic Sea. The Appian Way was chiefly a military road built to transport troops to smaller regions outside of greater Rome.
The Appian Way averaged 20 feet in width and was slightly convex in the middle to allow water to runoff and collect in the ditches that ran on either side of the road. The road’s foundation was of heavy stone blocks cemented together with lime mortar. Over these were laid tight fitting, interlocking stones to provide a flat surface. These stones fitted so closely that the historian Procopius said that the stones appeared to have grown together rather than to have been fitted together.
Flanking the road are several striking monuments, tombs and milestones. The most impressive is the well-preserved tomb of Cecilia Metella, the wife of one of Julius Caesar’s generals. Other notable tombs include the tomb of Marcus Servilius, the Tomb of Cecilia Metella, and the tomb of the Roman emperor Gallienus. Other monuments that line the Via Appia are the Temple of Hercules, the church Quo Vadis, Villa dei Quintili, with its ancient baths and beautiful friezes, and the Circus of Maxentius.
Many important events took place along the Appian Way. After the Roman General Marcus Crassus crushed the slave rebellion against the Roman Empire in 71 BC, more than 6,000 captured slaves were crucified along the 200-kilometer Via Appia from Rome to Capua.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the road fell out of use. Some 1,300 years later, in the late 18th century, a new Appian Way was built in parallel with the old one as far as the Alban Hills region. The new road is called the New Appian Way, as opposed to the old section, known as the Old Appian Way. The Old Appian Way is now a tourist attraction. The first 5 kilometers is still heavily used by cars, buses and coaches but from then on traffic is very light and the ruins can be explored on foot in relative safety.