Roman archaeologists search for the start of the Appian Way

All roads lead to Rome, as the saying goes, and the most prestigious is the Appian Way, the strategic highway of the Roman Empire which now hopes to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A tarred road of over 500 kilometers (310 miles) started in 312 BC by Roman statesman Appius Claudius Caecus, the “Via Appia” is an archaeological treasure trove, where an ongoing excavation hopes to uncover the starting point real road to Rome.

The artery leading south to the key port of Brindisi at Italy’s heel provided a gateway to the eastern Mediterranean, particularly Greece, and was of strategic importance to the armies and merchants of a Rome in full expansion.

This week archaeologists showed progress in their attempt to dig deep enough to unearth the start of the route, hidden far below the Roman Baths of Caracalla, built about five centuries after the Appian Way.

“What we see today is the result of an excavation that began in July with the central objective of finding clues to the location of the first section of the Appian Way,” said archaeologist Riccardo Santangeli. Valenzani.

The first and oldest section of the road is the one with “the most problems regarding the precise and exact location”, warned the Roma Tre University professor.

Building the Appian Way required Herculean engineering, from leveling the land, building ditches and canals, and surfacing the road with gravel and heavy stones, to building post offices and inns to support the thousands of soldiers and merchants heading south. .

– Dig deeper –

Wandering today along the Appian Way — its massive cobblestones still visible in sections — is like taking a trip into the past.

Towering monuments such as the first-century BC tomb of a consul’s daughter, Cecilia Metella, sit alongside ancient catacombs and churches, crumbling tombstones of Roman families, and leafy villas.

The Appian Way illuminates not only the Roman Republic and later the Roman Empire, but also life and death in the Middle Ages with its pilgrimage shrines and crypts.

The route also offers a glimpse of modern architectural marvels, such as the lavish villas owned by rich and famous Italians, including cinema legend Gina Lollobrigida or former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Italy, which earlier this month submitted its application for the Appian Way to UNESCO, already has 58 sites recognized as World Heritage Sites, the most of any country.

They include entire historic city centers, such as Rome, Florence and Venice, and archaeological areas such as the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Work to locate the starting point of the Appian Way, believed to be some eight meters underground, has so far been complicated by groundwater.

Nevertheless, digging in higher ground layers has unearthed relics from different periods, including a marble bust from the 2nd century AD and an ancient papal square coin, minted between 690 and 730.

Archaeologists also found fragments of glass and ceramics, mosaics and pieces of amphora.

Excavations so far have reached residential or commercial structures dating from the time of Emperor Hadrian, who died in 138 AD.

Archaeologist Daniel Manacorda said the ongoing excavations had reached the point of “late ancient Rome, those who began to live in the ruins of ancient Rome”.

“If we could keep digging deeper, we would find archaic Rome,” he said.


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