Thursday, July 4, 2013

All Roads Lead to Rome

By Patricia Winton

The Appian Way
We all know the phrase. It means the same as “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” That is, there’s more than one way to reach a goal or to get what you want. But did you know that the phrase has an historical origin? That at one time, all roads—at least in the known Western world—did lead to Rome? From ancient times, Romans constructed a network of paved courses going south to ports leading to other points on the Mediterranean and north to points over the Alps. These arteries originally provided efficient modes for troop movement but eventually became trade routes as well.

Construction on the first road, Via Appia (the Appian Way), began in 312 BC and eventually proceeded 122 miles southeast to Brindisi—a port town for ships heading for Greece and Africa. Other roads followed including the Via Flaminia, the Via Cassia, the Via Aurelia, and others, radiating from Rome like sunbeams. Some of these early roads take their names from the builder.

Fragment of the Golden Milestone
Emperor Caesar Augustus consolidated road-building and established the Milliarium Aureum (Golden Milestone) in the Roman Forum. From this point, distances along roads throughout the Roman empire were measured and milestones were erected. Eventually, the network included 400,000 km. of roads throughout the republic.

The network throughout the Italian peninsula has proved to be so valuable that modern roads have been build parallel to the originals. The Via Appia has become the Appia Nuova (New Appian Way) but most of the others simply retain the old name while the old road is called, for example, the Flaminia Originale (Original Flaminia). Railway lines often follow the course as well.

Via Flaminia and Flaminia Originale
Many of the roadways still exist in Italy. There’s a section of the Appian Way that hosts limited traffic, but other parts make beautiful walking or bicycling tracks. Recently, I wandered on a section of the Via Flaminia still in use by a limited number of residents living along that stretch. It apparently gets visits from local garbage trucks, too, because I saw trash bins awaiting pickup! And sections of Roman roads have been unearthed throughout the reach of the empire.

With all these roads leading to Rome, is it any wonder that the city has some of the worst traffic congestion in Europe?
Traffic near the Golden Milestone fragment


2 comments:

Georgia Ruth said...

I have to laugh comparing your research with mine. I posted about a walk on an "old road" in North Carolina. Sam Martin got off the boat in Alabama and had to walk home to Connecticut in 1828 on the turnpike that was probably a wagon's width then. Now it's two lane, but not in the same category as the Appian Way! Thanks for the perspective!! And Happy Fourth, far away.

Patricia Winton said...

What fun. Thanks for commenting. I had a lovely Fourth in Florence.