9th Oct 2014
My final day in Rome. Tonight I fly home, tomorrow is my birthday. I’ve got mixed feelings as I finish packing up my bags. I adore Italy and there is still so much to see (despite how much I have managed to cram in on this trip) but I’m missing my husband. And besides, my feet are SHREDDED.
In my itinerary I deliberately left this last day blank. If my schedule went without a hitch I could fill this day with unexpected extra sites. If I had to skip something earlier, today would be catch up. As it happens my schedule for day 6 went completely to pot and so my blank day is now pretty full.
I paid a little extra for an evening flight so that I could still cram as much as possible into my last day. That also means that I have luggage to drag behind me. I heave my case (how did it get so much heavier?!?) to Ottaviano metro station and mentally say goodbye to Prati. There is a cheap left luggage in Termini station, so after a brief stop there I head back onto the Metro to Circo Massimo. I’m heading to the Baths of Caracalla.
I’ve visited the colossal bath complex before in 2007 with my husband. It rained and my photos were horrible, but we’d dawdled around so that I could drink the place in. My memories still vivid, I only really want to stay here long enough to take some photos of the baths bathed in gorgeous sunlight.
Caracalla (to give the short version) was a nasty, brother-murdering git who had a penchant for massacres. Boy, could he build a bath complex though! Caracalla (a nickname derived from his fondness for a Gallic style of cloak- so he’s now known, essentially, as “Hoodie”) was assassinated less than a week after his 29th birthday (stabbed by one of his own personal guards as he took an Imperial pee on an Anatolian roadside) and so didn’t leave many monuments in Rome that bore his name. Dedicated in 216AD, the size and obvious grandeur of the Thermae Antoninianae (as the Romans would have called it – Caracalla was then known better by his official name Antoninus) prove that quality trumps quantity.
After reacquainting myself with the Baths I head south east for a stroll down the Via di Porta San Sebastiano towards the Via Appia.
I pass the Tomb of the Scipios and I’m desperate to get in, however the gates are locked and there doesn’t seem to be anyone around. The nearby Museo delle Mura (Museum of the Walls) is also apparently closed so I can’t get the Scipio key from them either. No worries, I’ll make a beeline for both on my next trip.
My tortured feet already throbbing, I decide to cheat and hop on a bus from just outside the Porta San Sebastiano and ride to just before the Tomb of Caecelia Metella on the Appian Way. That’ll get me closer to the part of the ancient road that looks as authentically old as possible. I’ve no burning desire to visit the catacombs in between (and they aren’t going anywhere) but I have always regretted not being able to squeeze in the Appian Way on my brief 2007 trip. A short bus ride later and the Tomb of Caecilia Metella doesn’t disappoint…
The fact that the Via Appia was a prominent road into Rome made it a magnet for the tombs of Romans. Remains could not be buried inside the city walls by law and roads leading from the city were flanked with tombs and shrines for miles. The Appian Way would have been busy with travellers, families having picnics at the tombs of their ancestors and even a few prostitutes touting for business. Inns, bath houses and stables lined the road for the use of weary travellers and well heeled city dwellers who wanted a countryside villa close to Rome snapped up properties close to the road.
The Appian Way was the first of the famous Roman roads and was built in 312 by Appius Claudius Caecus (“the Blind”). It’s worth mentioning that Appius also constructed the first acqueduct, the Aqua Appia, that was capable of delivering over 75.5 cubic metres of water into Rome daily.
Initially the Via Appia led directly to Capua (all the easier to quickly get Roman soldiers down south to defeat the Samnites!) and was eventually extended to Beneventum (Benevento,) Venusium (Venosa) and ended and Brundisium (Brindisi) which was a popular and convenient place to hop on a boat to Greece. The precise engineering and scope of the Roman road network was a huge factor in the rapid expansion and success of the Empire.
Today a chunk of the road is preserved in the Appian Way Regional Park. After exploring the Metelli tomb I was finally ready to head to the road itself.
Until, that is, I got distracted.
The Circus of Maxentius was built next to the Via Appia between 306-312AD. Only the Circus Maximus is bigger. Imagine thousands of Romans trekking out to watch a day of horse and chariot racing with maybe a few other entertainments thrown in for good measure. Sadly the circus only appears to have been used once for the inaugural games. Maxentius drowned on 28 October 312AD during the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, trying to defend his power. His brother-in-law Constantine (who had supposedly had a vision the previous night that promised him victory if he fought under the banner of Christ) was then declared emperor and the new circus seems to have been forgotten.
Back to the Via Appia, which really is as straight as the Romans boasted about. I walked from the Circus to the Via Erode Attico and back. For some reason the section of road beyond that leading down to the Villa dei Quintilii was shut off, scuppering my plan to walk the route I’d planned for Day 6. I wasn’t too disappointed as I’d very nearly got there and my poor, tortured feet wouldn’t have thanked me anyway.
Imagine, if you can/wish to, 6,000 crucified slaves lining this very road at equal intervals following the brutal crushing of the Spartacan Revolt in 71BC.
Naturally the tombs and stones with the biggest/best/most unusual features have all been spirited away to museums. I cannot stress enough how worthwhile it is to spend a considerable chunk of time in the epigraphical sections of museums, in this case particularly the Capitoline, and read the translations on the exhibit labels. That’s when cold stones covered in a ‘dead’ language come to life and you can actually get to know ancient Romans. I’d done this the previous day so I had the stories of the deceased fresh in my mind as I wandered down the road. It is a ridiculously peaceful spot and wonderfully evocative.
This was, in the end, the perfect last day for my Roman Holiday.
With a heavy heart I headed back to Termini station to pick up my luggage and went to the taxi rank.
Whether my taxi driver took his usual route or took pity on the very morose girl who was obviously devastated to be going home, I’ll never know, but he drove me past all of the landmarks which were, by that point, bathed in the golden glow of the setting sun. I’ll admit I had to suppress a tear! All too soon I was at Fiumicino Airport and on my way home on an uneventful flight.
I met my husband at Gatwick just as the clocks hit midnight, so he sang me happy birthday on the drive home to Berkshire. I hope it won’t take me another 7 years to make it back to Rome, but I have definitely made a lot of wonderful memories that will hopefully tide me over until I can go back!