Monday, May 4, 2015

Via Appia

 Procopius described the Appian Way as he saw it during the Gothic Wars:

Now the Appian Way is in length a journey of five days for an
unencumbered traveller; for it extends from Rome to Capua. And the
breadth of this road is such that two waggons going in opposite
directions can pass one another, and it is one of the noteworthy sights
of the world. For all the stone, which is mill-stone[67] and hard by
nature, Appius quarried in another place[68] far away and brought there;
for it is not found anywhere in this district. And after working these
stones until they were smooth and flat, and cutting them to a polygonal
shape, he fastened them together without putting concrete or anything
else between them. And they were fastened together so securely and the
joints were so firmly closed, that they give the appearance, when one
looks at them, not of being fitted together, but of having grown
together. And after the passage of so long a time, and after being
traversed by many waggons and all kinds of animals every day, they have
neither separated at all at the joints, nor has any one of the stones
been worn out or reduced in thickness,--nay, they have not even lost any
of their polish. Such, then, is the Appian Way.

A great description.  And still apt in the year 2015.  After the Byzantines and Goths fought over the area for a generation the population of Rome plummeted. Aqueducts had been destroyed and The Eternal City had lost any lingering traces of grandeur.  All Roads still Led to it but they became low traffic lanes, their original courses often forgotten.

The Appian Way with its many monuments was remembered and preserved fairly early on in the modern era.  For a while a stretch of it had the indignity of asphalt inflicted on it but that has been removed.  Here is the Appian Way as Procopius, and I, saw it.

Procopius lived in diminished times, but was clearly impressed with "The Queen of Long Roads
when she was a mere 800 years old.  Here she still runs straight and true at 2,302!

An awful lot of history has trudged up and down the Via Appia.  Or clattered down it in chariots.
Notice the still visible ruts?  It started out as a strategic military road, a way to move troops fast
towards areas in Italy that still dared to challenge Rome.  Later it became a place for commerce
and travel.  And a place of death.  It was along the Appian Way that Spartacus and his 6000 
were crucified.  You can do the math, how many crosses per mile of the route that we biked
on a bright sunny day.  Oddly it is impossible in this ancient place to see the Hollywood version
in your mind's eye.  "I am Spartacus" did not occur to me.

Later still it became a road of tombs.  In Rome you had to bury outside the Walls, and as the surrounding
countryside got bought up by rich men with political connections they vied with each other to
build ever grander family tombs.  Most are now just piles of crumbing brick, the elegant marble 
long since pilfered by a peasant in need of a new hearth or a Victorian art bandit in search of a 
quick pound sterling.

Some things change slowly, if at all.  The land alongside the Appian Way is still the home of rich men
with political connections.  
They hate the effects of the old Roman stones on their BMWs, and over time most of the 
stretches near the city have been replaced by smooth, modern pavers. 

Procopius would have applauded.  Even with an excellent mountain bike they were a rough ride,
but to be fair it has been 1500 or so years since they have had the rigorous attention of Roman engineers 
and their stern discipline.

No comments: