A Spooky Encounter in the Catacombs at San Sebastiano and the Appian Way

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March 30th 2013
Published: March 31st 2013
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Todays Gelato flavour was : Mint and Chocolate

I have had an ambition since my college days and geography lessons to see what the Appian Way in Rome was all about.

The road was built initially for military purposes in 312 BC and ran all the way from Rome to Brindisi in the south,many hundreds of kilometres away.We were sure it wasn't going to look anything like that today.

The day,at around 16C, was still a bit overcast and rain was in the forecast but not expected until later in the day.However we set off prepared with rain jackets which would also provide insulation from the breeze which was a cool westerly.

Girogio,the B&B owner,suggested a 218 bus from in front of the nearby San Giovanni church.He wasn't sure how you actually paid to ride the bus but he was sure it would be easy for us.We weren't so sure but thought we would give it a go.

We first dropped in to take in the church which like so many others in Rome was a very impressive affair with beautifully decorated ceiling.They aren't as big on stained glass windows in the Catholic churches as they are in Protestant ones.

Easter Saturday has lots of services going on as part of the Easter weekend and the confession boxes were doing a roaring trade and as we had nothing to confess we gave them a miss and didn't join any queue !

There were the usual merchants outside trying to sell scarves and we guess that line of merchandise will change as summer rolls on.There did however seem to be a lack of beggars outside San Giovanni which was a bit of a surprise.The B&B owners wife did warn us about the gypsies as we left the B&B for the day.

We found where the bus left from but then decided that there was no obvious way for paying on the bus that we could see so opted to walk the short distance up to Termini and catch the metro out to where we could access the Appian Way and take in the sights which included what is probably the best catacomb you can visit at San Sebastiano.

After arriving at the station we needed to get off at we headed on a good hours walk to get to what we had come to see.It always seems to take longer getting there than it does coming back as you are never always sure you are taking the right roads and we did wonder why we hadn't bought the GPS with us as that would have at least confirmed a route for us.

The last section of road didn't have a clearly defined footpath and we shared the side of the road for about 400 metres with cars zipping by at 60 or 70kph.We should have had the video camera ready at a four way intersection as a car ran a red light and narrowly avoided one coming across its path.There was much tooting of horns but no one stopped and there was no collision or we would have been putting our limited first aid knowledge to the test !

A quiet road led up to the Appian Way past a number of large estates with huge houses behind locked gates.This was something we expected still in the city and with medium height apartment buildings housing many people back near the station only a short distance away.What an interesting contrast so close together,the rich and the middle class.

The actual roadway is in the middle of a green strip,probably a couple of kilometres wide, that runs from the city some distance away as far as the eye could see in a generally southern direction along a ridge.

The road surface was made up of large flat and smooth boulders easy enough to walk on,cycle and drive a car on.The width was enough for two cars to pass on although were we joined there was little traffic,just people walking.The large estates continued as we started out heading in a direction back towards the city with the aim of going into the San Sebastiano catacomb when we came across it.

We first passed an old church and remains of a castle from the 1300's and read of its history but decided not to pay the Euro8 each for a closer internal inspection.

The Appian Way then became a road with a tar seal with local traffic which to us looked like it was using it only for one purpose and that was the historical sites in the area.

So we had had our small taste of walking in the Roman soldiers footsteps and next was the English guided tour of the San Sebastiano catacomb and we arrived in the nick of time to join a party of about 30 others for the English tour.

There were warning signs about claustrophobia etc etc but we have been down the Waitomo Caves so we felt some experience of enclosed spaces.

The descent was quite steep but the steps were of a good size and flat and the lighting was enough to see your way as we walked past the holes in the volcanic rock walls and ground from where the bodies had been exhumed.

We had been told to keep together as it was easy to get lost in the myriad of paths that went from the one our guide took us.We are not sure if they counted the exact number in the group before we left so how would they know if one of us didn't emerge with the group at the end of the tour?

All of the graves of the persecuted Christians who were buried outside what were the walls of Rome have now been exhumed.Apparently for many years the catacomb and graves had been vandalised.

As the guide gave description of the history of the catacomb and the others around Rome you have a spooky feeling of what it might have been like if this was your last resting place a couple of hundred feet below the earths surface when if you buried today it is usually only 6 feet under !

We are not sure if others in the party felt it but after having been in Christchurch recently and coming from the shaky isles what would it have been like if an earthquake struck while we were down there.

We emerged into the church that was built over the catacomb some time after the ritual of burying Christians there was no longer practiced and viewed the prone figure of Saint Sebastiano with the three arrows through his body that finished him off.He is up there with St Peter and St Paul in importance in past important people of Rome.

Before we walked back to the metro we purchased lunch from a vendor outside the catacomb and sat in the sunshine that had now broken through and contemplated what we had seen so far.

Then it was off towards the metro station but this time over the green fields where there were runners and cyclists on paths and a few other historical building and structures relating to the past in the area including a well preserved 'spring'complete with walled structure which was the water supply for an equally old building on the land above.

It was pleasant stroll away from the traffic but we were soon back to civilisation and we got to the metro just a few spots of rain became apparent.

We said we weren't going to snooze when we took a rest at the B&B but that didn't work and we woke an hour later.

We headed out further afield on the metro to Barberini for dinner and found a restaurant that looked interesting and tucked into tortolleni in a very creamy and delicious sauce with mushrooms.The style of food here is simple whereas in NZ we would probably have had the same dish with other additives which Kiwis seem to expect.With a couple of beers the bill was a bit larger than we thought after a compulsort service charge added in so we will be looking for a more basic café/pizzeria tomorrow night to get back on budget but still eat well.

On the way home I indulged in my first gelato of the BBA V2,a mint and chocolate mix.I couldn'r persuade Gretchen to partake but perhaps tomorrow.

It had been an enjoyable and full day with a couple of things in the bucket list ticked off and we were ready for a good nights sleep as tomorrow,Sunday is the biggie for our stay in Rome...........see the Pope give his Easter message in St Peters Square.

Only local kilometres travelled today so nothing added to the total overall.


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