THE APPIAN WAY

Modern Rome is unlike all other European cities in this respect, that a short distance beyond its gates you plunge at once into a desert. There is no gradual subsidence of the busy life of the gay metropolis, through suburban houses, villages, and farms, into the quiet seclusion of the country. You pass abruptly from the seat of the most refined arts into the most primitive solitude, where the pulse of life hardly beats. The desolation of the Campagna, that green motionless sea of silence, comes up to and almost washes the walls of the city. You know that you are in the immediate neighbourhood of a teeming population; but you might as well be a hundred miles away in the heart of the Apennines, for any signs of human culture or habitation that you perceive within the horizon. There is no traffic on the road; and only at rare intervals do you meet with a solitary peasant, looking like a satyr in shaggy goat-skin breeches, and glaring wildly at you from his great black eyes as he crosses the waste. Far as the eye can see there is nothing but a melancholy plain, studded here and there with a ruin, and populous only with the visionary forms of the past; and its tragic beauty prepares your mind for passing into the solemn shadow of the great Niobe of cities. But it was not thus in the brilliant days of the Empire. For fifteen miles beyond the walls the Appian Way stretched to the beautiful blue Alban hills, through a continuous suburb of the city, adorned with all the charms of nature and art, palatial villas and pleasure-gardens, groves and vineyards, temples and far-extending aqueducts. These homes and fashionable haunts of the living were interspersed in strange association with the tombs of the dead. Through the gate a constant stream of human life passed in and out; and crowds of chariots and horsemen and wayfarers thronged the road from morning to night.

It is only seventeen years since the true point of commencement of the Appian Way was discovered. For a long time the Porta Capena by which it left Rome was supposed to be situated outside of the present walls, in the valley of the Almo. But Dr. Parker, at the period indicated, making some excavations in the narrowest part of the valley between the Coelian and Aventine hills, came upon some massive remains of the original wall of Servius Tullius, and in these he found the true site of the Porta Capena. This discovery, confirming the supposition of Ampère and others, cleared up much that was inexplicable in the topography of this part of Rome, and enabled antiquarians to fix the relative position of all the historical spots. The Via Appia is thus shown to have extended upwards of three-quarters of a mile within the present area of the city, over the space between the wall of Servius Tullius and the wall of Aurelian. And this is still further confirmed by the discovery, three hundred years ago, of the first milestone of the Appian Way in a vineyard, a short distance beyond the modern gate of St. Sebastian, marking exactly a Roman mile from that point to the site of Dr. Parker's discovery. This milestone now forms one of the ornaments on the balustrade at the head of the stairs of the Capitol.

The Appian Way shared in the vicissitudes of the city. After the fall of the Western Empire, about the beginning of the sixth century, when it was finally repaired by Theodoric, it fell into desuetude. The people, owing to the unsettled state of the country, were afraid to move from home. A grievous apathy took possession of all classes; agriculture was neglected, and the drains being stopped up, the line of route was inundated, and the road, especially on the low levels, became quite impassable. For centuries it continued in this state, until it was overgrown with a marshy vegetation in the wet places, and covered with turf in the dry. About a hundred years ago Pope Pius VI. drained the Pontine Marshes, and restored other parts of the road, and made it available as the ordinary land-route from Rome to Naples. But it was left to Pio Nono to uncover the road between Rome and Albano, which had previously been confounded with the Campagna, and was only indicated by the double line of ruined tombs. After three years of hard work, and an expenditure of £3000, the part most interesting to the archæologist—namely, from the third to the eleventh milestone—was laid bare, its monuments identified as far as possible, and a wall of loose stones built on both sides, to protect it from the encroachments of the neighbouring landowners. And now the modern traveller can walk or ride or drive comfortably over the very pavement which Horace and Virgil, Augustus and Paul traversed, and gaze upon the ruins of the very objects that met their eyes.

Taking our departure from the site of the Porta Capena, we are reminded that it was at the Porta Capena that the survivor of the Horatii met his sister, who had been betrothed to one of the Curiatii, and who, when she saw her brother carrying the cloak of her dead lover, which she had wrought with her own hand, upbraided him in a passion of tears for his cruelty. Enraged at the sight of her grief, Horatius drew his sword and stabbed her to the heart, crying, "So perish the Roman maiden that shall weep for her country's enemy!" The tomb of the hapless maiden long stood on the spot. It was at the Porta Capena also that the senate and people of Rome gave to Cicero a splendid ovation on his return from banishment. Numerous historical buildings clustered round this gate—a temple of Mars, of Hercules, of Honour and Virtue, and a fountain dedicated to Mercury, described by Ovid; but not a trace of these now remains.