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The first day biking via Appia: “A place clean and civil”

Riding out of Rome on an old Raleigh 10-speed, you're going to feel like a gladiator that just walked out into the ring. It's a battle getting out.

In fact, you are in a ring, the Grande Raccordo Annulare, the highway that circles the outskirts of Rome. Several main roads cut across this ring and merge in the center of the city, dividing all the area into wedges like a giant pizza.

I almost became road pizza. There are places where the Appian Way has no shoulder and there's a sheer stone wall on each side. So you literally can't get out of the way of a moving vehicle.

Eventually you'll reach the Porta San Sebastiano, the port of St. Sebastian in the Aurelian Wall. If you happen to be there between 9 and 2, look for a door with a buzzer on the right. If you push the button they'll let you into a museum dedicated to Roman engineering. But the best part is you can climb up to the battlements on top of the wall and walk along it for a good kilometer or so. Watch out for Sabines, Samnites, and Barbarians!

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A bit further on you'll be at the Catacombs, and you can cut through the catacombs of St. Calixto to get out of the traffic for a while. This takes longer, but you'll be looking at gardens instead of stone walls, and you'll have clean air and some shade.

bike tour Italy colosseum RomeOn my trip I got past the catacombs and headed into the via Appia park, where the original road bumps along for almost 10 miles, past fields of wildflowers and crumbling Roman ruins. This park is the history buff's dream!

If you go there you'll see the tomb of Cecilia Metella that looks like a castle, the stone skeleton of an early Church, aqueducts and endless monuments to people who died centuries ago. You can stop at the "Domine Quo Vadis" church and see footprints in the marble--thought by true believers to be the footprints of either Christ or St. Peter. You'll see the ruins of old houses and villas and you might even get a wheel caught in the ruts left by hundreds of thousands of carts and wagons.

When the Appian way hit a dead end (actually the route was still in a straight line but it was closed off by walls and fences), I took a few side streets that I knew would lead to SS7, the modern highway equivalent of via Appia.

There was a strong stench of sulphur coming from a fountain at the intersection. The water was pierced with tiny bubbles and tasted tart. An old man told me these natural minerals are good for the health. I'm still alive.

I had lunch in a small park with a picket fence. A sign on the fence informed me that this was "A place clean and civil."
The afternoon was a whirlwind of vineyards and fields of crops and a huge viaduct at Ariccia.

Just outside Genzano, another long section of the original roadbed was exposed, and I followed this past still more crumbling marble pillars.

When Seneca traveled the Appian Way, he often camped, saying, "The mattress lies upon the ground, and I upon the mattress."

I ended my first day the same way, pitching my tent in an empty field.

2 thoughts on “The first day biking via Appia: “A place clean and civil”

  1. Will Jackson


    My wife & I would like to cycle the Via Appia, in order to have some fun, and also to raise money for research into strokes. I had a stroke in 2007, but can still ride a bike! I used to work as a school teacher. Sorry, can´t find your name on this blog!

    Thanks for the interesting website, hope to hear from you.

    Will Jackson

  2. Jacob

    Hi, Will!

    Glad to hear you're still biking. When I taught English in Rome several years ago, I met a man who used to tour all over Italy until he had a stroke. After that he was afraid to ride a bike anymore. I wish you could talk to him.

    I'll be posting more info on the via Appia trip soon. It looks like we're going to do the fundraising for the Adventure Cycling Association but you're welcome to come along, or use the info to plan your own trip. (I'll email you with more details)

    If this goes well, I'm hoping to do at least one via Appia fundraising bike tour each year, as well as one somewhere in the United States. It's a proven model.

    Thanks for your post. I hope we keep in touch!


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