||The building of the Via Appia was ordered in 312 BC by Censor Appius Claudius Caecus. It was a remarkable project for several reasons: first, it was uncommon for a censor to have this type of power, but more importantly: never before had such a durable and great road been built. It first led to Terracina, a stretch with unparalleled straightness, then to Capua and to Brindisi. It was built with innovative techniques. The poet Statius called it ‘Regina Viarum’ (Statius Silvae II.II.12): the Queen of Roads. Today, it is the only surviving ancient road leaving Rome that is a place of public interest.
This thesis is a biography of the sometimes turbulent past of the Via Appia Antica. It researches how the road has become what it is today by writing about the most important time periods that have influenced the layout of the road, but also its Romantic atmosphere. The road has been in use continuously up to the present day, although for different purposes. During the Roman Republic and the Empire, it was used for travel, funerals, transport and military missions. In the Middle Ages, it became both a destination for Christian pilgrimage and a gold mine for reusable materials. The destruction and robbing of the ancient structures was at its peak during the Renaissance: Europeans came to Rome and brought home enormous amounts of art and antiquities to refurnish their palaces. In the sixteenth century the Via Appia was abandoned when high taxes discouraged its travellers and the Via Appia Nuova was built. Nevertheless, the road endured and received renewed attention during Romanticism with the ‘Grand Tour’ of wealthy Europeans. In its state of decay, the Via Appia was popularly painted and it has left us with a great record of eighteenth and nineteenth century paintings. Today, the road looks the way it does in these paintings: it has responded to the Romantic ideal.
Now the Via Appia is a place of residency and recreation. It is used for hiking, cycling and picknicking, but also, at night, for illegal activities. The stakeholders of the road today vary and have conflicting interests. Although a usual biography tells the history of a person, an object or a landscape, this thesis goes the extra mile by also dedicating a chapter to the current state of the road, which is just as much part of the ancient ‘regina viarum’ as any other period of time.