Rome: Via Appia, city gates and classic places

Walking out of Rome along the Appian way, the road described in so much history, in movies and so well known and I have now walked it too. That was so exciting. Yes, I’ve walked on Roman roads quite a bit in Spain but today I walked THE Appian Way. Armies walked this way. So did exiles and immigrants and slaves and now, me, both ways! 
 As usual, I did it the hard way, the long way, out via the gates of Saint Peter and the nearby city walls, then along a road full of modern traffic before the Via Appia turnoff. 


 Did better coming back through the gates of San Sebastián, past some of the old Roman estates including a tomb for the Scipios! Yes, the family whose males led the Romans in various wars in Africa. 


 The road is still cobblestoned all the way out of Rome. Narrow, it’s only two cars plus a flattened tourist wide in many places between high walls. The flattened tourist? Anyone silly enough to walk to the catacombs walks sideways at times or stands still hoping drivers have good spatial recognition and that god favours Rome. It gets wider later.


The first catacombs I walked past shut on Wednesday. Oh well. As the next shut on Tuesday and it was a Wednesday I was in luck. Tours are compulsory. No free exploration, no roaming in the catacombs. No photography. Why? No idea.


 The catacombs of San Sebastián are now under the Basilica de San Sebastián. Three levels of underground caverns, paths and dead ends carved out of a soft soil. When you feel the ‘rock’ from which they are carved it crumbles but, clearly keeps its shape and is firm enough as these tunnels remain patent.

The guided tour keeps you closely corralled into level 2. From the Mary Beard reviews of catacombs either she visited other ones or was given considerably better access as she spoke about the inscriptions on many of them. The focus for us tour sheep following a guide was the niches used by the early Christians. They believed in burial, ready for the resurrection, whereas the Romans preferred to cremate bodies and did inter some jars of ashes within spots in the catacombs. 

How many remains were here when archaeologists explored them in modern times I don’t know. Probably not many. 

San Sebastián had a bad time at the end, another matyr. The first way they tried to kill him was with arrows. Perhaps that was the last, given his tomb. Anyhow, I did enjoy the improbability of his death scene. Hard to believe good shooters couldn’t hit a living target in the right place! Very hard.

  Seeing places like the Via Appia and the catacombs was amazing. I’d always thought they were under the city of Rome. Or was that the sewerage and drainage. No, catacombs but they are outside the wall as Rome was a bit too full for more centuries a long time ago.  

Seeing public historical sites and trying to make sense of what makes something interesting, makes it important, and worth publicising intrigues me. Near the Ponte Sisto, our bridge over the Tiber to Rome proper, is a site a few metres below street level, open, neglected. If someone interesting could make it a story perhaps the fortunes of that site might change and it might ‘become’ important. Or, important again!


 Oh, almost forgot: footprints Jesus made turned into stone and are set in the floor of the Quo Vadis church, at the start of the Via Appia. Yes, Doubting Thomas, I’ve seen them!  See?

Toilets in rome

Yes, try and avoid them! Don’t look for public ones. They are with the hens’ teeth. Those in many bars are minimally pleasant: unisex, no seat, smelly and without paper.  Quite unusually, one on the outskirts had a seat. 

Dogs in Rome

Haven’t seen a fat dog in Rome yet. There are are lots of them, looking loved and walked as they piddle around the streets. Most are small, in keeping with the size of their living spaces.

Money in Spain

Everything costs! €€ just disappear in Rome. Much goes to the Catholic Church. Yes admission to churches is free but, don’t ask to see upstairs or the treasury without expecting to open your pockets. Often. Remember, most good stuff will be behind a ticket seller. (Corollary to Murphy’s law.)

Museums cost. Everything costs. Even the Botanical Gardens, 

  an area with only one innovation from this and the last century, their planting of a Woolemi pine. 

   Sure, €5 or €10 may not sound a lot but do it a few times a day for days. Eating costs too. Even coffees, unless you stand up at the bar for an expresso, 1.5 cm of strong+ coffee in a very small cup. Puts hairs on your chest. One day of them and I reverted to cafe lattes, the strong coffee diluted by milk. They could be cappuccinos with about 1/3 froth. Sigh. Do NOT sit. A good way to empty tourist pockets by charging ‘at bar’ and ‘other spot’ prices. Tourists favour sitting. ‘Renting’ a chair seems normal to use but in Italy it can add a lot to a coffee. In Venice it was +€8! Unbelievable. Sit and look at onto St Marcos Square only after a financial recalibration. 

Tour of Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Forum

To spread tourists over a bigger area Rome cunningly won’t sell tickets to just one of the big three: the Colosseum, Palatine Hill or the Forum. No, the ticket is to all 3. That means at least two queues and lots of walking. Lots. I mean if you’ve paid, you have to go….

Start with the Colosseum: I love the colosseum, from the outside. Inside it feels like a creative fraud perpetrated on us gullible people. For heavens sake, the whole thing fell into disrepair many hundreds of years ago, was pillaged for building materials for centuries and was later used as a grazing area. The silhouette we all know and love is largely a reconstruction from a few hundred years ago. The interior? Who knows how good the diagrams from when it was built are. Yes, it’s very impressive and I love it, but only from outside.

  No, not the Colosseum, something that looks like a smaller version, or an old Spanish bull ring, in old Rome!

  And back to the ‘real’ Colosseum with only a small crowd visible above tier one as it was about 8.30am….

 Going into the Palatine Hill area presents you with a strange beauty: ruins, brick and a little marble; lots of green grass with small yellow, white and other coloured flowers intermingled; and lots of small birds flitting around and singing (it’s spring!). All benefit from apparently limited archaeological work at the site over the past few decades, the tight corralling of tourists and the large open areas, unaffected by people. Hearing the birds, seeing the flowers among the ruins is cheering. And it provides Rome with lungs.
 The ruins speak for themselves. Variously strangely beautiful, challenging lumps of rocks and recognisable bits of a building. Easy to think of all bits coexisting but of course they didn’t. Even over a 100 or 200 year period some were extended, changed or removed and so it’s a fairly arbitrary interpretation of them. Thousands of years later it’s even more arbitrary.




  At the end I was knackered! Between 4.5 and 5 hours walking at tourist pace in the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Forum area with thousands of fellow tourists can do that. 

English speakers 

In Rome, unlike Spain, assume most people speak english. Often they do and at a high level. Do not ever believe your conversation is private. The woman standing near me corrected the perfectly understandable english of the shop keeper. She wasn’t entirely correct and I was surprised when she spoke english and lectured him. Be warned.

Gelato shops, monocled and chaperones

Gelato shops are everywhere, probably 1 to every 10 restaurants. Not enough little cafes- some have the old system of 1 person takes money, yells out orders and you take a receipt to the relevant counter to get it. Yes, even for coffees. Haven’t seen that system anywhere else for a very long time.

Nor have I seen someone with a monocle.

  Nor had I seen a couple who looked as though they were being chaperoned by her dad. 

Concert at the Basilica of St Nicola in Cacere

Saturday evening and there was a concert on at St Nic’s church. Two unusual things: unlike most things in Rome, it was free and started early, at 6pm.

The preceding organ playing was impressive. Deep and full. Not many people were in the church at 6, maybe 30. 

The program listed 1 soprano and 1 baritone and they sang 3 versions of Ave Maria (Gounod’s, Schubert’s and Caccini’s), Panis Angelicus and a range of other equally well known pieces. The soprano was 10′ late. In she raced, black dress, heels, clicking her way quickly to the front. 
Her voice was wonderful, soared up around the church. In his solos the baritone sang from back in the nave and was overwhelmed by the volume of the organ. Yes, I bought the merchandise after, the CD. Even if I don’t like it I am happy I put €€ in for the two singers. 

I loved it, the music, the organ and her voice in particular. What a great last night in Rome. No, JP didn’t come. Not her music style. Me? I’m stuck in the past.

Summary of Highlights of Rome

The catacomb

Walking along Via Appia 

Seeing the outside of the Colosseum

The Pantheon inside and outside

Various less tourististed local basilicas – forget St Peter’s Basilica, many others are fabulous and have few tourists

Our accommodation in Trastevere

Walking beside the Tiber River remembering snippets about bodies being caste into it

The bridges over the Tiber

Realising the scale of old Rome and the inner city, much smaller than I’d expected

Buildings, alleyways in inner Rome

Seeing the size of some modern and old estates near the catacombs

Being there and having hours of walking everyday

The weather, warm and sunny

 Farewell Rome and Venice. Both were great places to visit. 

Even Julius still gets a wreath,


and Romulus and Remus are with the she-wolf forever.


Off to Spain for a rest! Or is it? First stop Toledo, a beautiful old town, once the capital of Spain and now another tourist highlight. It’s just over 4 weeks since I left Toledo on foot to Avila, another stage of the Camino Levante. The outskirts of Toledo have little to recommend them, except for the old Roman Circus, near the city gates. Otherwise it’s people warehousing, industry etc as you head towards a gravel pit, if you can find it.

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