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Somewhere between Terracina and Formia, you'll find it. There's a stark pillar along the side of a winding mountain road. I assume it's either a milestone or the remains of one of the many monuments that line the Appian way.

Italy bike tour Appia milestone ItriThe bike ride to this pillar is phenomenal, and there are at least three good reasons to make the trip. First is the "Tomb of Cicero" at one end of the bike route. Most experts agree that this isn't the really the tomb of Cicero, but it's near the spot where he died and that's enough for most people.

Better than Cicero's tomb, the bike ride from Terracina to Formia passes through a park which includes the original remains of the via Appia, as well as several ancient Roman and Medieval buildings.

In fact, if you're riding your bike on the main road, you'll pass through the park several times. The road winds up the mountain in endless switchbacks, while the Appian Way shoots up in the classical straight line, defying gravity just as easily as she defied the Pontine marshes. You can ride your bike up this way if you choose to. I didnt.

But my favorite thing about this section of the Appian bike tour is the town of Itri. I hadn't meant to stay there, but I was intrigued by the scenery, the friendly locals, and the castle. After taking a long hot shower and stuffing my gullet with fresh pizza, I spent hours wandering around the dark, twisting alleys of the immense fortress on the hill overlooking Itri.

I can't tell you much about the history of the castle, but I'll introduce you to someone who can. On our next bike tour through southern Italy, one of my local contacts has offered to hook us up with an archeologist in Itri who can give a tour of the place. I asked him how much something like that would cost and he said, "some cafe in a bar, I assume, but not more..."

So if you're up for an expert tour of Itri for the price of a cup of coffee, not to mention a zillion other great experiences that you can read about all over my blog, get in touch with me and join us on this trip. The dates are May 15th-June 1st 2010, approximate cost is $1500 plus airfare and bike (rental, purchase, or transportation of your own rig), and I'll be happy to answer your other questions by phone or email.

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When the ancient Romans built the via Appia and other roads, they marked the way with milestones. The milestones usually showed the distance from thItaly bike tour Appia milestone Itrie nearest large city, so you could look at one and know, for example, that the Appian Way ran right at this spot, and it was 17 miles to Benevento.

The trouble is, we don't know exactly where each of these milestones stood. Throughout the centuries, collectors and even well-meaning archaeologists moved the milestones and put them in museums, gardens, piazzas and palaces.

That's why nobody really knows with 100% certainty exactly where the via Appia really went.  We do have a fairly good idea for most of it. On my own bike trips in southern Italy I try to strike a balance between following the known original route and having a scenic, safe, and interesting bike ride.

But now we know a little more.

Yesterday, a southern Italian newspaper, the Corriere del Mezzogiorno, reported the discovery of a milestone on the ancient via Traiana. Here's a quick history lesson on what this means:

Once you get past Benevento, you're in unknown territory for a lot of the Appian way. This is always the most confusing (and fun!) part of every bike tour, and things weren't much different in ancient Roman times. The via Appia was twisted and difficult after Benevento. It winded over mountains and was sometimes little more than a few cuttings on the rocks.

In 109 AD, the emperor Trajan built an alternate route, the Trajan Way--or via Traiana in Italian. This route starts in Benevento and follows the coast of the Adriatic sea to Brindisi. It's longer in the number of miles, but was easier to follow. I haven't biked the via Traiana yet (please leave a comment if you have!), but I've been to a lot of the towns it passes through. Highly recommended.

Anyway, the via Traiana poses a lot of the same challenges as far as knowing exactly where it went. This latest milestone dug up is a fantastic piece to the puzzle, one of the very few milestones for which we know the exact location and orientation.

You never know what you'll dig up.

If you'd like to bike the Appian way with me next spring, leave a comment below and I'll give you the details, which will be posted soon.