Part 1 – Walking the via Appia Antica
By Robert Schmits
1987 Settling in Rome
Since 1987, the Via Appia Antica the first paved road in Europe that starts on the Roman Forum and ends at the port of Brindisi on the Adriatic Sea, has been a constant in my life. My first encounter with this ancient road started when my wife and I settled in Rome after many wanderings for my work in Italy and abroad. Please note that the construction of the via Appia Antica started 2335 years ago in 312 BC.
My interest in Roman History
Since I was interested in classic antiquity from an early age, living in Rome was a wonderful opportunity to visit all the famous monuments. A good guide for my explorations during that time was a book from 1928 in old Dutch called Felix Roma written by a Dutch professor called G.J Hoogewerff.
Visiting the main monuments in those days was quite easy, there were no fences around the Colosseum and the Forum, and you could walk in and out whenever you pleased. Also, the many ruins on the Via Appia Antica, such as the circus of Massenzio and the Villa of the Quintilii, were freely accessible. Buying a ticket was only necessary to view the 3 large catacombs on the Via Appia Antica, as these were maintained and operated by different orders of monks.
Me and the Appia Antica
My connection with the Appia Antica strengthened because in 1990 we rented an apartment in one of the suburbs in the south of Rome on the east side of the Appia Antica. For a certain period the office where I worked was on the west side, that meant that I had to cross the Appia and the archaeological area twice each day.
Luckily, in the year 2000, we moved to our new home on the west side of the Appia Antica but by then I had opened my own office on the east side of the Appia Antica. Therefore I still had to cross the Appia Antica twice every day, which I did mostly by car but sometimes when the weather was good I took out the mountain bike. On my bike I got to my work by crossing the Park of the Appia Antica and the Caffarella Park discovering more interesting monuments, idyllic springs etc.
Starting Hiking in Spain
We took up hiking during the two and half years we lived for work in Gijon, Spain. Spanish and American friends invited us to come along and rapidly we got hooked to do very nice hikes during the weekends in the mountains of the Picos de Europa. We visited isolated villages that could only be reached by foot or mule, sanctuaries, ancient villages with grass growing on the roofs of the houses, snow-capped mountains etc. A very nice time.
Hiking in Italy
When we arrived back in Italy hiking during weekends had become a nice pastime for us and by 1994, we had registered with several walking clubs. They took us during Sundays to the beautiful, wooded regions north of Rome. These walks were often on ancient roads through forests and nature where the guides to us to explore ruins of Etruscan or Roman tombs, bridges, temples, and abandoned cities. I have learned these trails and I you can walk them with me if you book our 8-Day Archeo Italy Hiking Tours
In 2006, I joined a Roman re-enactment club called Legio XXX Ulpia Traianus Victrix and later in 2016 Mos Maiorum /Legio II Consularis. Through these clubs and the studies they did I became even more entangled in ancient Roman culture and Roman history. These entanglements with the ancient Romans and the walks on the Appia Antica and other Roman roads often made me think and philosophize. How many thousands or millions of people have walked on these roads before me? How many people died, were buried, gave birth, made love or got robbed here?
Restaurants on the Appia Antica
Two of our favourite restaurants are located on the Appia Antica and often after dinner and some good wine we take a short walk on the road. During these after dinner strolls in the dark I often get the feeling that I am not alone and the presence of a million souls that accompany me are almost perceptible.
A book called APPIA
In 2018, a book called APPIA was recommended to me by a friend. She knew I liked to read about Roman history and told me that it is all about the rediscovery of the via Appia Antica and written by the Italian journalist, writer and hiker Paolo Rumiz. In Rome and just outside the city this ancient road is cherished and a parc has been created to protect it. This small stretch of just 17 km is visited by many tourists, there are many nice restaurants, beautiful villas and roman ruins. But after a place called Fratocchie 17 km from the Roman Forum the old stones of the road disappear under a layer asphalt and only sporadically returns to the surface on the 563 km route it takes to Brindisi.
The expedition of Paolo Rumiz and his book APPIA
Together with four companions Paolo walked, rediscovered and remapped the Via Appia Antica from Rome to Brindisi in 2015 and wrote his book with great passion about their adventures and the remapping of the road in 2016.
Paolo’s book is an ode but also an outcry about the Appia Antica, on every page there is something interesting or funny to read but there are also many outcries and allegations against Italy, the Italians and the authorities that this old and important road under the guise of progress has been systematically broken up, cemented over and used as a rubbish dump for many years.
At the end of his book Paolo writes the following plea to make the Appia Antica a living road again:
Now, after our journey, let’s hope that an army of travellers will come and pick up Ariadne’s thread that we have laid on the map of the Italian boot. If these are not Italians, then be patient, we count on foreigners.
After I read the book and Paolo’s invitation, I felt he was addressing me as a foreigner, a Roman reenactor and a hiker. As a result, in 2019 I started to try and get other people interested to walk the Appia Antica but this time in ancient Roman clothes and Roman shoes.
Walking the Via Appia Antica
Further, I know that the Appia Antica walk could be much more interesting to walk than the Santiago de Compostela walk.
By walking the Appia Antica you will walk in the footsteps of more historical figures, walk on more history, find more history, see more history, have the possibility to visit interesting museums, admire a beautiful everchanging landscape, taste different food delicacies and different types of wines than you will ever find on any other walk in Europe.
Paolo Rumiz mentions it in his book, when you walk the Appia Antica in the right mindset you will not walk alone since you can almost sense all the other travellers that have been there and travelled that same path.
Walk the Appia Antica in company
You will walk in the footsteps of Cicero, Virgil, Horace, Spartacus, Julius Caesar, Augustus, Hadrian, Trajan, Apollodorus of Damascus, Statius, Pliny, Saint Paul and Saint Peter, Frederick II, Charles V, German & American troops during the second world war etc, etc, and all the other millions of famous and commoners during the centuries that have used the Appia Antica to reach their destination.
Our walk on the Via Appia Antica
In 2022 I had found four friends and fellow reenactors who wanted to accompany me and on the 24th of April of that year, Anna Lucina Piergiacomi from Italy, Erik de Wagt from the Netherlands, Pedro Andrade from Brazil and I started on our walk of the Appia Antica from the Roman Forum.
If you desire to visit the Via Appia Antica with Italian Adventures than you can book our 8 day or 6 day Rome, dine, wine and Pompeii tours.