This is one of the most fascinating of all the tours we do in Rome, because you can truly feel like you have traveled back in time and are living in ancient history. The tours begins with a brief stop for a photo and impressive view of Palatine hill, where Rome was founded by twin brothers Romulus and Remus, and the incredible Circus Maximus, built to be the largest stadium in the Empire for the chariot races.
The Circus Maximus was located in the lower area between the Palatine and Aventine hills and was able to accommodate up 300.000 spectators. Do you remember the classic old film “Ben-Hur” with Charlton Heston? The racetrack shown in the film was a replica of the Circus Maximus. This sport was so popular in Rome that even after the fall of the Empire, local people still kept the tradition going.
After a short drive, we’ll pass the Caracalla baths, the second largest thermal bath in Rome, and enter onto the Appian Way at Porta Capena, and you’ll experience the splendor of the “Queen of the road”…
After just a few hundred meters, we’ll drive by the beautiful San Sebastian gate, the southeastern gate of Rome located in the Aurelian wall. This gate is preceded by another arch known as the Druso’s arch the remains of part of the ancient aqueduct which supplied water to the close-by Caracalla baths. This location is worth a stop for a photo!
The drive continues along the Appian Way towards the St. Callixtus catacombs, but right before the gate on the left you will see a church named Domine Quo Vadis. This church was built on the spot in which Peter, fleeing from Rome, was met by a vision of Jesus and asked Him the famous question: “Domine, Quo Vadis?” “Lord, where are you going?” And Jesus’s answer leads Peter to return to Rome. According to legend, Jesus left His footprints on the slab where he was standing which can still be seen today.
Next up is the St. Callixtus’ catacombs, the largest of all the catacombs. They have discovered some 20 kilometers of tunnels and niches on 4 levels. Here you can visit the 2nd level guided by a Catacomb guide in many different languages. This is an experience to try at least once in your life as it is a true immersion into the very origins of Christianity when the early Christian community bought these lands to use as a burial site.
In fact, in the Christian tradition they had to preserve the bodies of the dead while waiting for an imminent rebirth while pagans and most Romans used cremation instead.
The tour of the catacombs lasts about one hour and you can also have a bathroom break and check out the nice souvenir shop. Just a five-minute drive from the catacombs is the famous Cecilia Metella Mausoleum. Here you can view the huge monument created by the rich and powerful Metella family.
This is the second biggest mausoleum along the Appian way, dating back to the 1st Century BC built only to bury the young woman Cecilia Metella. You’ll notice the green landscape, especially because of the famous Mediterranean pine trees, and the high walls that hide huge private villas. Here you can also walk along the original road with the famous roman basalt stone pavement.
The next stop on this wonderful tour is the Aqueduct Park, in which you can admire the Appius Claudius aqueduct dating back to 312 BC and built by the same Appius Claudius who built the Appian Way. This aqueduct was built in close proximity and parallel to the Appian Way for convenience. This section is particularly well preserved so it is often used as a backdrop when shooting historical films.
We will return to driving along the Appian Way and in about 20 minutes we’ll reach an amazing spot where you can get out and take a stroll in the shade of the pine trees and take some pictures at the enormous monumental archway that has been standing for many centuries.