When in town I often visit the best-known places and opt to stay at an Airbnb with a view of the Colosseum (at least from a narrow opening). I know where I can experience the best of Italian cuisine – where I can taste my favorite tiramisu (go to Pompi) and where to eat the best carbonara. My recent visits have allowed me to discover a wine house where I have the opportunity to taste unique and excellent local wine every time.
Most times I just wander aimlessly; Rome is always beautiful, any way you may look at it.
Last summer, I had three days off to myself and I decided that I would travel and see the city on a bike and cycle my way through it, discovering and experiencing beautiful yet lesser-known places in Rome:
The Old Appian Way
The Appian Way was one of the most important roads in the Roman Empire, it connected Rome to southern Italy and, from there, to the rest of Europe and North Africa.
Countless emperors, armies, merchants and humble citizens traveled this very road. It's easy to get lost in this atmosphere that has a historic feel to it, deep in the Roman countryside among ancient monuments and majestic pines.
Today, the Appian Way allows minimal traffic through it and represents a fascinating path for tourist traveling on it.
But of course, there can be no bike ride without... a bike.
I rented a bike close to the first stopover at the Appian Way. It doesn't matter that I haven't ridden a bike in years, but on I go towards the horizon!
Porta San Sebastiano
The starting point of my journey is Porta San Sebastiano, one of the most beautiful and best-preserved gates of the city. Its original purpose, along with a defensive one, was to show to newcomers the power and majesty of the Empire at first glance.
Church of Domine Quo Vadis
The first monument I find along the way is the small Church of Domine Quo Vadis. For centuries, this beautiful church has been an important pilgrimage site for Christians.
Tradition has it that it was here that St. Peter chose to face martyrdom after he had seen Jesus and asked him “Lord, where are you going?” (in Latin: Domine quo vadis); Jesus replied, “I am going to Rome to be crucified again”.
Though historic, the church is a small and bare one. I don’t spend much time there and it wasn’t long before I moved on. I left the church, mount my shiny new bike and resumed my journey.
Catacombs of Callixtus
Twenty minutes into cycling, I arrived at the Catacombs of Callixtus, the finest and the most important catacombs of the city. Dozens of martyrs are buried inside, along with sixteen popes and many early Christians.
This wonderful visit took about 45 minutes and cost 8 euros. After descending underground, it is possible to explore the labyrinths where early Christians used to pray. Despite the darkness, rooms and places of worship are easy to see. Such places are also decorated with frescos in different states of conservation.
If one day you'll have the lucky chance to come and visit the catacombs, it is good to be aware of two inconveniences that I experienced here:
- It's cold. As you will descend deep underground, consider taking a jacket along. Wearing just a t-shirt as I did) is not enough to keep you warm.
- The stairway to walk in order to climb out of the catacombs is a challenge. I must admit that I'm not the most athletic guy in the world. I struggled a fair bit climbing the steps and had to stop for a moment to catch my breath.
Basilica of Saint Sebastian
After a brief coffee break in a nearby bar, I was to resume my journey. Next stop: the Basilica of Saint Sebastian.
Legend has it that this church, slightly bigger than the previous one, was the original burial place of the Apostles Peter and Paul.
The Basilica is also home to the last work of Gianlorenzo Bernini, the artist who decorated the dome of St. Peter's Basilica.
Once again it was a quick visit. It was a lovely day outside and I had every intention of enjoying the sun. My journey was shaping up wonderfully, don't you think?
Once out of the basilica, I started cycling once again only to stop a few moments later as I spot another wonderful monument. I got off the bike and made my way to the Villa of Maxentius.
Villa of Maxentius
The archaeological site is composed of three major monuments: a circus, a villa, and a tomb.
Walking among the remains of such a valuable landmark was highly evocative and touching, even more so with the sight of the Roman hills around me. I truly felt entranced! The tour of the place kicked off from the Circus, a spectacular structure which used to be 528m long and 92m wide. It seemed like it had never been utilized, although I found contrasting reports about this on the Internet.
Just a few meters away sit the Tomb of Romulus, the Emperor's son. The tomb consists of a huge circular corridor, which was a very impressive site. Only a few ruins of the ancient villa are still standing today, but I can imagine how beautiful and majestic it must have been. It was an amazing spot and I could have spent the whole day there if only there wasn't much more to see ahead of me. After a few last photos, it's time to hit the road again.
Tomb of Caecilia Metella
The next stop on my fascinating trip is the Tomb of Caecilia Metella, one of the most famous landmarks on the old Appian Way.
The tomb, dedicated to Caecilia Metella, is, in fact, a monument to the glory of the Metelli family. The history of the Caecili Metelli family is a singular one, predating the concept of the “American dream” by nearly 2000 years.
The Metellis were, in fact, simple plebeians (Roman commoners), but their insights and managerial capabilities (mainly in the building field) allowed them to gather money, power and respect up to the point of becoming the most important family in the Roman Republic.
Though only a few ruins of the original monument are left standing today, the tomb still represents a symbol of the history of Rome.
Villa of the Quintilii
When I arrived at the fifth mile, I encountered the Villa of the Quintilii, one of the most beautiful villas of the Roman times.
I found the villa to be incredibly beautiful and majestic, especially the thermal baths and the numerous frescos decorating the various rooms. The area of the ruins is so wide that in the late 18th century the place was known as “Roma Vecchia” (“Old Rome”), as it was believed that the ruins belonged to a different city that was older than Rome itself.
I chose not to employ a guide during my visit as I wanted to enjoy the place at my own pace, so much so that I lost track of time and ended up staying there for more than an hour until my stomach growls indicated to me that it was well after 2 pm.
Filled with hunger and in light of the wonderful weather, I decided on an ice cream - sour cherry, chocolate and fior di latte, for the record.
I resumed traveling shortly after and saw a multitude of landmarks: the togated statue, the Mausoleum of Casal Rotondo, the Sepolcro dei Grifi (a tomb decorated with marble reliefs depicting griffins) and the Temple of Hercules. However, at this point, it was getting dark and I really wanted to reach the place that I was recommended to visit at the bike rental shop: Parco Degli Acquedotti (Park of Aqueducts).
Parco Degli Acquedotti
The park owes its name to six aqueducts, still partly present on site, which was used to provide running water to the city. The park is one of its kind in the world where history and nature combine charmingly.
Only in Rome would it be possible to play ball, stroll around or enjoy a picnic in around a 2000-year old aqueduct! It is not by chance in fact, that a wonderful scene from the movie “The Great Beauty” which won the Academy Awards in 2013, was shot here.
As the sun set, I realize that it's time to head back. I travel through the Appian Way once more and had the chance to glimpse through all its wonderful landmarks. This road full of history has just allowed me the chance to go on a fantastic journey!
Enjoy all the culinary delights that Italy has to offer when you go on culinary vacation in Rome!