All roads lead to Rome?
The deep history of Italy is apparent on a daily basis: many of its ancient Roman roads are still in use today! Here are five of them.
Surely you’ve heard the old adage “all roads lead to Rome;” it exists precisely because ancient Romans excelled at creating an impressive infrastructure, the likes the world had never previously seen, starting around 300 BCE. In fact, every single roadway ended and began in the Urbs Aeterna. The expression “all the roads lead to Rome” emphasizes that the capital city was meant to connect with the rest of Italy, and beyond. The Romans’ aim was world domination and at one point the Empire stretched from Scotland to Egypt with a road network spanning 400,000 kilometres. These roads greatly spurred their military and trade ambitions with the hope that its powerful growth streak would never wane.
Naturally, we all know how that story ends, but the truth is that the deep history of Italy is still visible on a daily basis underfoot: in fact, many of its ancient Roman roads are still in use today! Here are five of them that you need to know (and might visit!).
Via Salaria – The Salt Road
One of the most important Roman roads ever to be built was done so to open a direct path from the Eternal City to the Adriatic Sea allowing for easier passage for the empire’s commercial and military fleet. The name itself hints at its use for transporting salt (“sale” is the translation in Italian and “sal” in Latin). The road starts at the Aurelian walls and exits the city at Porta Salaria passing through the towns of Rieti and Ascoli before reaching the sea, a distance of 150 kilometers.
Via Appia – A 2,000-Year-Old Queen
The queen of Roman roads, as it was once referred to as regina viarum – contruction of this road began in 312 BC by Appius Claudius Caecus or “Appius the Blind”. Then one of the censors of Rome, Appius sought to connect the city of Rome to Brindisi, an important port of the empire during that time. Nowadays you can see remnants of the Via Appia Antica outside of Rome in the the Regional Park of the Appia Antica and its borders contain traces of ancient tombs, catacombs and other various monuments. It is also well known for a slave rebellion along the road in 73 BC against Roman soldiers who then crucified more 6000 captured slaves who were then crucified along the Via Appia from Rome to Capua after their leader Spartacus was defeated.
Via Aurelia – The Connector
Dating back to 241BC the Via Aurelia (named after Consul, C. Aurelius Cota) was constructed to connect Rome with the Tyrrhenian Sea along with other trade routes including the Via Appia and Via Aemilia Scaura. It strategically connected Italy with the south of France and various Italian port cities allowing Rome to maintain its control over far-flung provinces and disseminated its culture and architecture. The modern Strada Statale 1 occupies the same route as the Via Aurelia and you can see the remains of several Roman bridges along the road, including the Cloaca di Porta San Clementino, Ponte del Diavolo, Primo Ponte, and the Secondo Ponte (the last three in Santa Marinella).
Via Emilia – The Fertile Land
Also called the Via Aemilia, Via Emilia once ran in a straight line for 260 kilometers from Ariminum (Rimini), on the Adriatic coast, to Placentia (Piacenza) on the river Padus (Po) and was completed in 187 BC under the Roman consul Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. It’s important to note that this area around Northern Italy was known to the ancient Romans during the republican period (around 44 BC) as Gallia Cisalpina, literally: Gaul on the near or the south side of the Alps, because of the Celtic tribes from the Gaul who had in inhabited this area in the 5th and 4th centuries BC. Colonies were built upon this fertile land connecting pre-existing centers such as Rimini and Piacenza. You can still see hints of it today, for example the tremendous Tiberius Bridge in Rimini begun with a decree by Augustus and is traditionally considered the end arrival point of the via Flaminia and the starting point of the via Aemilia. The same route today (a wonderful road trip!) is now upon the SS9 which spans a distance of about 165 miles between Piacenza and the Adriatic coast with remnants of the ancient road lying underneath.
Via Cassia – A Scenic Dream Still Today
The ancient Via Cassia dates back to the 2nd century BC and was built upon pre-existing roads completed by the Etruscans looking to plant a route from Rome to Tuscany. When we think of this historic road, picture-perfect landscapes come to mind as it remains one of the loveliest places to go on a road trip passing through the evocative hills of Val d’Orcia, just look for the directions for S.S. 2 “Cassia”. It passes through the city of Viterbo (a lovely place for a day trip out of Rome) and heads towards Bolsena Lake towards the city of Siena. We recommend stopping at Monteroni d’Arbia and Buonconvento along the way stopping at San Casciano dei Bagni for a dip in the heated thermal waters.
Main photo by Lisart on Flickr