The “Great Idea” That Isn’t

“We’re planning to spend the afternoon walking along the Appian Way.”

Italians are always bewildered by tourists’ fascination with Via Appia. After all, it’s just another ancient Roman military road, much like Via Salaria and Via Nomentana, and IMG_5003you don’t hear of any tourists who are anxious to walk along those streets, do you? Further compounding the mystery, those same fascinated foreigners can never really explain why it is that they think the Appian Way is worth a visit.

So what’s down along the Via Appia? Well, there are several sets of catacombs that are open to the public… except that they are the most crowded, touristy and commercialized ones in all of Rome, so we never, ever take our clients to any of them. And there are scattered Roman ruins along the sides of the road–but that’s hardly unusual in Rome, is it?

The fact is, if you want to walk along the Appian Way, you first have to take a very infrequent bus, to get to where the road begins. That in itself will take you nearly two hours, and you haven’t even started yet! Next, instead of a leisurely walk along the side of the road, you quickly discover that the first couple of miles of Via Appia consist of a very narrow, two-lane street bordered by walls, and with no sidewalks. Walking along this part of the road is extremely dangerous, and when you see frightened pedestrians trying to do it… you can bet that they are tourists.

Unfortunately, it gets worse. If you finally manage to make it safely to the part of Via Appia which widens and is “safer” for walking, you immediately find at that point that the IMG_5007charming ancient Roman cobblestones still pave the road. They’re only charming for a couple of minutes, however–because you’ll quickly realize that they’re actually hazardous to your health, as you have to constantly stare at the ground as you walk, so as not to stumble and sprain (maybe even break) an ankle or a foot.

Meanwhile… the kids are complaining that they’re starving, and there’s no food available anywhere–except for a few highly overpriced restaurants, which are always, always full when you get there. Your mother-in-law is desperately in need of a bathroom, and you can’t find one of those anywhere either. It’s blistering hot–and there’s absolutely no shade. And all you can think of at this point is the fact that you’re going to have to risk your lives along that dangerous, sidewalk-free section of the road again, in order to reach the place to catch the very infrequent bus, that will take nearly two hours to get back to where you started.

Still think this is a great idea?

We recommend to our clients the places worth visiting, and the Via Appia is not on our list! If a history or archaeology-buff is anxious to visit a particular Roman ruin along the Appian Way, we’ll be happy to take you there; and since we know the fastest (or at least the “less slow”) ways to get there, and we know where the bathrooms are, and we can warn you when you’re at the last snack-bar that you’ll see for miles, we can make it less tedious for you. But otherwise, those romantic tourists out there need to realize that the Appian Way is not what they think it is.