Rome archaeologists search for start of Appian Way
Archaeologists in Rome look for the starting point of the Appian Way, the strategic highway for the Roman Empire, which will hopefully become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
All roads lead to Rome, as the saying goes, and the most distinguished one is the Appian Way, the strategic highway for the Roman Empire, which will hopefully become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Roman statesman Appius Claudius Caecus started a paved road of more than 500 km (311 miles) in 312 BC, the "Via Appia." It is an archaeological treasure trove, and a current excavation might hopefully lead to the actual starting point of the road in Rome.
The artery that leads south to the key Brindisi port at Italy's heel gave a gateway to the eastern Mediterranean, especially Greece, and was strategically important for the armies and merchants of a quickly expanding Rome.
Archaeologists showed off progress this week in their attempt to dig deep enough to find the beginning of the road, hidden far beneath Rome's Baths of Caracalla, built around five centuries after the Appian Way.
"What we see today is the result of an excavation that began in July with the central goal of finding clues to the location of the first section of the Appian Way," said archaeologist Riccardo Santangeli Valenzani.
The earliest section of the road provides "the most problems regarding the precise and exact location", the professor at Roma Tre University cautioned.
Building the Appian Way required laborious engineering, starting with the land leveling, ditches, and canals building, and road surfacing with gravel and heavy stone, to post offices and inns building needed for the support of the thousands of soldiers and merchants headed southward.
Today, wandering along the Appian Way means taking a trip through the past.
Spectacular monuments sit alongside ancient catacombs and churches, old decaying tombstones of Roman families, and leafy villas. One example is the first century BC tomb of a consul's daughter, Cecilia Metella.
Not only the Appian Way casts light on the Roman Republic and later Roman Empire, but also on life and death in the Middle Ages with its pilgrimage shrines and crypts.
The road gives a glimpse of modern architectural wonders, like the luxurious villas owned by Italy's rich and popular, including actress Gina Lollobrigida and media tycoon and politician Silvio Berlusconi.
Earlier this month, Italy presented its bid for the Appian Way to UNESCO. The country already has 58 sites recognized as World Heritage Sites, the most of any country, including entire historical city centers, like Rome, Florence, and Venice, in addition to archaeological areas like the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
To locate the starting point of the Appian Way, work is being carried out some eight meters under the ground and has so far been complicated by groundwater.
Digging in higher strata of ground has nevertheless found relics from different periods, like a marble bust from the second century AD and an early papal square coin, minted between 690 and 730.
Fragments of glass and ceramics, mosaics, and bits of amphora have also been found by archaeologists.
The excavation has so far reached residential or commercial structures dating to Emperor Hadrian, who died in 138 AD.
Archaeologist Daniel Manacorda said the ongoing excavation had already reached the point of "late ancient Rome, the one that began to live in the ruins of ancient Rome".
"If we could continue to dig deeper, we would find archaic Rome," he said.