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Umbrella pines and the Pontine Marshes

Italy bike tour Appia Aeclanum archeology

I woke up to a cold fog, and couldn't wait to get back on my bike and start moving. I was in the Pontine Marshes, and the Romans were in a hurry to get through, too, when they built the via Appia.

Here the Appian Way shoots forward in a perfectly straight line.  the Romans probably could have established a winding route along sections of dry ground, but instead they pounded strong pilings into the water to support the road where they wanted it to go.

Two straight lines of Umbrella pines flank the road on either side, and I wonder if the Romans originally planted pines as shade for their travelers. Throughout my trip, these trees always seemed abundant along the roadside, and whenever I was unsure of the way I could go up on a hill and look for the clear green lines cutting across the land.

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The Pontine marshes are drained now, and mostly used for agriculture. A drainage ditch runs along the road just beyond the trees.

It would have been easy to die here. Trucks emerged from the early morning fog, and there was no room for them to pass, and no space to get out of the way. The trees and bushes grow up flush against the roadway in most places. Lots of flowers and other monuments to the fallen dot the roadway.

I could have taken a parallel route about 10 miles south, through a national park. I recommend this to anyone else. But I'm a purist, and I wanted to follow the Via Appia as faithfully as possible.

Luckily, some of the most considerate drivers I've seen in my life drove the Appian Way. They would slow down and follow me, sometimes for as long as 15 minutes, until it was safe to pull over and let them go by. People are generally in less of a hurry in Italy, even on the Romans' most important highway.

Beyond the thin ditch of water and the umbrella pines, endless pastures, crop fields, stone walls, vineyards and olive groves roll out among the occasional milestone or chunk of marble. It's as if nothing has changed over the centuries The cars are an anachronism, as if some mischievous god dumped a layer of asphalt over the whole thing and let the drivers in as a great circus to entertain the masses.

Long before you get to Terracina, you see the Temple of Jupiter Anxur at the top of Mount Sant'Angelo.

I was destined to get to know Jupiter very well (to be continued...)

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