The Walks of Italy Driving Tour – Appian Way, Aqueducts and Panoramic Views

This driving tour takes in some of the well known but lesser visited sites of Rome outside of the historic centre and also three superb viewpoints, some of which would be pretty near impossible to visit on your own without a car and a guide. The Appian Way was the main attraction for me – I knew how difficult it would be to see this on our own – closely followed by the Park of the Aqueducts whose historic ruins are seldom to be found on any tourist’s itinerary (although after seeing them it was clear that if you have the time, they should be!).

After meeting our guide Amy at Piazza Venezia we climbed into the minibus alongside three other tourists who made up our group and drove first to the Circus Maximus, the site of the first and largest stadium of ancient Rome. If you’ve ever seen Ben Hur, this is where that famous chariot race scene was supposed to be set. The stadium used to be over 600 metres long and held more than 150,000 people and as well as chariot races it also used to be the venue for staged wild animal hunts and religious processions. Here’s our group standing overlooking the centre of the track.

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Amy told us the history of the place. It’s little more than a field with an impression of the track now (a good place to go jogging, which I did later in the week), although there are stadium ruins at one end that will one day be open to the public. I’ve read comments online that complain that this place isn’t worth visiting but if you’ve an interest in sports as well as history and you’ve some imagination to fill in the physical gaps where the stadium is no longer then I reckon you’ll enjoy it. I certainly did. 

Next we drove to the top of Aventine Hill. Our aim was to take in a viewpoint but because we were a little early we had some time to see another attraction, the keyhole in the door of Villa del Priorato di Malta, which hosts the Grand Priory of Rome of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (otherwise known as the Knights of St John). Do note, you don’t see this on all of these driving tours, only if you all arrive early at the meeting point and therefore have a little extra time. It’s a lovely view through that keyhole of the Dome of St Peter’s in the Vatican…

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We walked on around the corner to a shady park, and the first of the day’s city views.

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We drove on outside of the city walls…

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…and towards the Appian Way. I’d wanted to see this Roman street for years, ever since I first found out that Spartacus (a famous historical revolutionary but also the main character of my favourite film) and 6,000 of his supporters were crucified along this route. It’s also known as the place where St Peter had a vision of Christ as he left the city in 64 A.D. We stopped near the fortress-like mausoleum of Cecilia Metella, an enormous tomb built for a Roman noblewoman in the 1st century B.C…

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…and walked the shady, quiet Appian Way for several hundred metres. This was ancient Rome’s greatest thoroughfare and much of the paving is still remarkably intact – the Romans were incredibly competent builders.

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You can still see the ruts made over the centuries by hundreds of thousands of chariot wheels. Here’s my foot resting in one of them.

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We had a drinks and toilet stop at the end of the Appian Way and then drove on to the Park of the Aqueducts. You’d really struggle to find this place on your own; it’s a large field when you get to it but it’s closed in by modern suburbs. Once you get past them though it’s a wonderful sight.

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The Romans built hundreds of kilometres worth of aqueducts, some above ground like these but many below, each of them designed to keep the water moving and fresh as it made it’s way from stream to city centre.

“Many of them were lead lined,” explained Amy. “The Romans knew that lead was poisonous, but they thought it’s toxicity was 100 times less than we think it is today, so many of them did suffer from lead poisoning.”

We had plenty of time for Amy to tell us much more about the Romans, and also to take photos. As you can see we were the only tourists around, as we had been on the Appian Way.

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Driving back into Rome we stopped briefly at the Baths of Caracalla, a place that used much of the water coming into the city via the aqueducts we’d just seen. These 3rd-century baths included an Olympic-sized swimming pool and could hold more than 1,600 people at a time. They were also the site of the famous ‘Three Tenors’ concert that happened back in 1990.

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Our final stop of the day was the piazza and viewpoint atop Janiculum Hill. The views over Rome are said to be the best available and in the centre of the piazza is a huge statue of Garibaldi. The Janiculum was the site of a battle in 1849 between the forces of Garibaldi, defending the revolutionary Roman Republic, against French forces, who were fighting to restore the Temporal power of the Pope over Rome.

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We enjoyed the view as the midday cannon fired.

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Soon after, the church bells of the city began ringing.

“The churches set their clocks by the gun firing,” Amy said, “but some Romans say that they ring just so you can check that you can still hear after that cannon has fired!” It’s true, the cannon was very loud…

This was a tour for history lovers who want to see beyond the crowded central Rome sights; it’s also great for photographers. There were three excellent viewpoints to take in and the historical ruins we visited were devoid of tourists or anybody else, an absence that made for uncluttered photos (bring a wide angle zoom lens or a telephoto lens to make the most of the opportunities).

To discover more, please visit www.walksofitaly.com/tour_bookings

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