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Via Appia Antica from Cecilia Metella to Torre in Selci
The first section of Via Appia was called Antica after the opening in 1574 of a new road which started at Porta S. Giovanni and joined the old one before it reached Albano. Usually in Italian a thing which has to be distinguished from a new one is called vecchia (i.e. Via dei Banchi Vecchi), but in this case the added adjective was antica, owing to the many ancient monuments aligned along the road.
The archaeological and historical value of Via Appia Antica was recognized at the beginning of the XIXth century during the pontificate of Pope Pius VII and the French annexation of Rome and the first excavations and repairs were supervised by Antonio Canova.
At that time the rigorous criteria which are followed by the majority of today's archaeologists were not yet developed and the public expected the outcome of a campaign of excavations to yield "nice to see" results. This approach continued until the end of WWII: a certain number of monuments were reconstructed on an hypothetical basis or were slightly relocated; pines and cypresses were planted to add to the evocativeness of the site; the ancient basolato (the large flat basalt stones on the surface of a Roman road) was covered with asphalt to allow important foreign guests who landed at Ciampino Airport to reach Rome by Via Appia Antica and impress them with the view of its monuments.
Today, after a never-ending quarrel with the private owners of the villas at the sides of the road, the section of Via Appia Antica covered in this page (between Cecilia Metella and Torre in Selci) is practically reserved to pedestrians, as the ancient Roman basolato has been unearthed again and it effectively discourages the use of cars.
Bagni di Erode Attico
Herodes Atticus was a Greek rhetor who was highly regarded by Emperors Hadrian and Antoninus Pius to the point that he was entrusted with the education of future Emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. He was a very wealthy man and he became wealthier by marrying Annia Regilla, a member of an ancient and rich Roman family; her dowry included a large estate in Valle della Caffarella and also some land along Via Appia.
Archaeologists are in the process of unearthing the remains of baths built by Herodes Atticus near Cecilia Metella; work is in progress (November 2009), but already some interesting mosaics have been found.
Roman Law forbade the construction of funerary monuments within the pomerium, the sacred boundary of the city, which initially coincided with its walls. Because during the Republican period cremation was the ordinary way of disposing of a dead person's body, this prohibition had more to do with preserving the Republic, than with hygienic worries; it was seen as useful to prevent the return of the monarchy or the development of forms of personality cult because it said that no one deserved to be celebrated with a monument inside the city.
The Romans who wanted to show their affection to their deceased relatives had to build tombs outside the pomerium and many of them chose Via Appia, which the Romans called Regina Viarum, because it granted the maximum possible visibility.
While the pharaohs built pyramids, the Romans, with the exception of Caius Cestius and a few others, preferred to build round monuments. Emperors Augustus and Hadrian chose this shape for their mausoleums; along Via Appia, Cecilia Metella and many other tombs are round; the bodies of the dead or their ashes were kept in an underground chamber (hypogeum).
The most imposing monuments were built in opus caementicium and then faced with travertine or marble slabs (see a page on Roman construction techniques). In most cases the decoration has been stolen thus uncovering the structure of the building.
During the Ist century AD the manufacturing of fired bricks underwent a technological advancement; bricks were produced in different shapes and colours; in the following century bricks were no longer used just for the structure of a building, but to decorate it with pillars, capitals and different shades of red (the so called Tempio della Salute, a mile from Via Appia Antica is another fine example of a brick monument, as well as Sepolcro di Annia Regilla).
The small reconstructed monument to M. Servilius marks an important change in the approach followed in dealing with newly discovered decorations of ancient buildings. From the XVth to the XVIIIth century columns, capitals, friezes were taken away from where they had been found and were used for giving an "ancient touch" to churches, palaces, villas and gardens.
Antonio Canova, who found the remains of this monument in 1808, insisted, and obtained agreement from the papal authorities that they should not be removed but instead kept where they had been found; this approach was followed for some other monuments; eventually, given the risk of theft, the originals of many reliefs, statues and inscriptions found along Via Appia Antica have been replaced by copies.
Verba volant, scripta manent (spoken words fly away, written words remain) is an ancient Latin expression which explains why the Romans were so keen on lengthy inscriptions. Those along Via Appia Antica give insight into everyday life in Rome: from them we learn about the jobs of the dead or where they lived; in many inscriptions a series of names is interrupted by L. or P.L.; the names before L. are those of the master, the name after L. that of the libertus, a slave who was manumitted (released from slavery) through a formal legal process.
In Rome it was customary to free educated and trained slaves; liberti added to their name those of their former masters (P. stands for Pater or Patronus), who often belonged to important families. Depending on the form of manumission, liberti could acquire the status of Civis Romanus (Roman Citizen), which granted them more rights than those reserved to many other inhabitants of the Roman Empire (until Emperor Caracalla granted Roman citizenship throughout the whole empire).
Via Appia was so crowded with tombs and other monuments that some of them were built behind the
first line and now are in the fields to the sides of the road. The picturesque ruin shown above is thought to have been a Temple to Jupiter, rather than a funerary monument.
Casale Rotondo (round farm) ends this section of Via Appia. It is one of the largest tombs and its top is occupied by a small farm which at some point replaced a medieval tower. Part of its decoration was reassembled on a nearby wall.