Via Appia Rome
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Nothing can more impress the mind with the grandeur of ancient, and the solitude of modern Rome, than the view of the Via Appia, and the Circus of Caracalla, with its long succession of tombs and monuments, terminating in the grand funereal Tower of Cecilia Metella. Passing the Coliseum, majestic in ruins, and the Triumphal Arch of Titus, then winding by the Palatine Hill, crowned by the palaces of the Caesars, and along the low-lying ground, which skirts the vast towering baths of Cara-calla, you reach Porta St Sebastiano, built by the Emperor Aurelian in the year 273, when he enlarged the Roman walls. This magnificent gate, flanked by two great square buttresses, surmounted by massive circular towers, is a noble structure, worthy of being the entrance into the Via Appia.
This road, paved with rude flat stones, bound together with singular strength, and made by Appius Claudius in the 440th year of Rome, reached to Capua, a distance of 95 miles, and was afterwards extended by Julius Caesar to Brundusium, a city of Apulia.* Its construction affords a remarkable instance of the labour bestowed by the ancients upon their works.
Near to Porta St Sebastiano, and but lately discovered, lie the Tombs of the Scipios, in the vaulted chambers of which a sarcophagus, busts, and several precious inscriptions, now deposited in the Vatican, were found. At a short distance from the gate, in a small vineyard, fine remains are seen of the sepulchres of the freedmen and slaves of Augustus; and particularly of those of Livia, the mutilated friezes and broken pilasters of which sufficiently attest their former grandeur. The walls of the vaults reach to a height of thirty feet, the whole of which are closely lined in separate apertures, with small fragile-looking earthen vases containing the ashes of the dead. The tablets of inscriptions found here, and now preserved in the Museum of the Campidoglio, are most pleasing; bearing a record of the praises and gratitude of the freedmen and slaves towards their master. Tributes, perhaps, expressive of individual feeling, yet when we reflect on the dispositions of Livia, and the general abject state of slaves,* we are almost tempted to regard the truth of these memorials as being some-what hypothetical. Conspicuous among these tombs, one stands high, like a rock on the sea-beach, believed to be the sepulchre of Horatia, sister to the surviving conqueror of the Curiatii, who, rendered furious by her lamentations over her lover, stabbed her. The cabin of a poor peasant now stands perched on the ruins, as if to mock this vain memento of death.
That path must be styled mournful, in which, at every little interval, monuments of the dead are seen rising to view; and the Via Appia is almost lined with sepulchres, even from the gate of Porta St Sebastiano to the great Circus of Caracalla. The finest and most singular of these is the Tower of Cecilia Metella, erected by Crassus the Triumvir, to the memory of his wife. This magnificent edifice, seated on an eminence close to the road, which rises at this point to an almost perpendicular ascent, bears its honours proudly, still attesting its early and yet surviving grandeur. The dimensions are vast, the form round, rising from a base of enormous blocks of stone, in fine proportions, of fair white marble, terminating above by a circular frieze of peculiar beauty, the ornaments of which are composed of the skulls of beeves, from each of which hang rich festoons of white marble. The massive bulk of the structure, its brilliant whiteness, the elevated site hanging over the deep gully of a powerful stream, and seeming as it were to cover the road as a strong castle of defence, gives it a lofty air of ancient grandeur, singularly fine. During the dark ages, this noble edifice served as a strong-hold, and place of impenetrable strength. At that period, a church and various buildings were erected under its protecting walls, of which scarcely a vestige now remains. It is vast and solid as the Pyramids of Egypt, and in grandeur emulates the Mausoleum of Hadrian.*
* Among the ruins of the interior, the small and dismal vault, in which stood the Sarcophagus containing the ashes of Cecilia Metella, is visible. The Sarcophagus is still preserved, and is now in the Farnese Palace.