The queen of the streets is aiming for UNESCO recognition

ROME – Italy has applied to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to recognize the Appian Way, the Queen of Roads (Via Appia, Regina Viarum) as a World Heritage Site.

The candidature for a UNESCO World Heritage Site will serve to preserve the “Outstanding Universal Value for present and future generations” of the Appian Way, a site that “is a phenomenon with its well-preserved infrastructural, archaeological, architectural, funerary and civil evidence that does not represent a phenomenon only of exceptional cultural importance, but also of geographical and political importance,” according to the Italian Ministry of Culture.

The candidacy began in May 2022. The full application was submitted on January 10th and received scientific approval by the Governing Board of the Italian National Commission for UNESCO on January 20th.

“The candidacy of the Via Appia for UNESCO is the result of a magnificent and coordinated work by the institutions in the territories,” said the Council, “which wants to testify, through its archaeological and artistic heritage, to the thousand-year development of Italian civilization and of cultural and economic relations between the continent and the Mediterranean, between the west and the east”.

The Via Appia in Rome [Photo Credit: S. Ciotti]

The Appian Way is perhaps one of the most recognizable names in western history. It is one of the earliest and strategically and commercially most important roads of the ancient Roman Republic. It is often and rightly referred to as Europe’s first expressway.

The Appian Way connected the city of Rome with the Alban Hills, south with Terracina and the areas north of Naples, then divided south at Benevento and east to Taranto and Bari, and then ended in Brindisi. The road allowed Rome to extend control of the Italian peninsula, crossing swamps and mountains, into the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. By the late Republic, Rome had expanded throughout the Italian peninsula, adding new roads and tributaries connecting to the Via Appia, leading to the expression “all roads lead to Rome”.

The full map is available through the UNESCO application portal prepared by the Ministry.

Map of Via Appia (Interactive map available in Italian and English) Courtesy of the Italian Ministry of Culture

The beginning of the Appian Way has two large catacombs and numerous tombs, including the mausoleum of Romulus, the mausoleum of Cecilia Metella and others, from Roman pagans to saints, martyrs and early Christians who could not afford to be buried in Rome will. The slave leader Spartacus was crucified on the Via Appia. The street has monuments from all eras of Roman history.

The Appian Way enabled citizens, pilgrims, and even emperors to reach ancient sacred sites. The road gave access to the nearby village of Genzano di Roma, then called Cynthia Fanum and dedicated to the goddess Cynthia.

The remains of the Roman road off the Via Appia from Genzano di Roma to the Sanctuary of Diana Nemorensis [Photo Credit: S. Ciotti]

Genzano borders the Nemus Aricinum, which contains the sacred woods and sanctuary of the goddess Diana, as well as Lake Nemi, called the Mirror of Diana, and the site chosen by Emperor Caligula to build the famous Nemi ships.

Another short detour off the Appian Way leads to Lanuvium (now Lanuvio), a destination of prominent Roman politicians and home of the Temple of Juno Sospita.

Further south the Via Appia reaches Terracina, the site of the Temple of Jupiter Anxur and a smaller Temple of Venus Obsequens (Venus Pleasurable). The site is a huge complex on a promontory overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea.

The street ends in Brindisi with stairs to the sea and columns. A pillar topped with dedications to Jupiter, Juno, Neptune and Amphitrite still stands.

The Via Appia was maintained and restored by the emperors Augustus, Vespasian, Trajan and Hadrian. In late antiquity, after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the road fell into disrepair and fell into disrepair. But in the 18th century, Pope Pius VI. undertook a restoration and created a new version called Appia Nuova, the new Via Appia.

The Via Appia also witnessed later wars. At its terminus in Brindisi, it became the starting point of the Crusades. The road also saw battles during World War II during the Battle of Anzio. The Allies attempted to use the road to take Rome while the Germans led a counteroffensive. Ultimately, the Allies prevailed and conquered Rome.

The extensive restoration of the Via Appia was recently carried out on the occasion of the millennium celebrations of the Catholic Church and its great anniversary.

The first 10 miles or so of the Via Appia have been preserved in Rome as part of a regional park.

Now the Italian Ministry is seeking full recognition of the entire 900 km road complex from Rome to Brindisi. Four Italian regions (Lazio, Campania, Basilicata and Puglia), 12 provinces and metropolitan areas, 73 municipalities, the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology, 15 parks and 25 Italian and foreign universities have joined the proposal.

The ministry is seeking UNESCO recognition for the cultural importance of the Via Appia for the development of the West. “In our opinion, it is precisely this cultural aspect that is the element that the UNESCO candidacies require,” said Secretary of State for Culture Giancarlo Mazzi when signing the memorandum of understanding for the candidacy.”

As part of the preparation of the application, the ministry has invested €19 million (approximately $21.5 million) in preservation and restoration efforts. “As past experience has taught us,” Mazzi added, “these pathways also result in strong economic impacts on the area. I’m convinced that we can do it because when the Italians play together, no result is impossible.”

The candidature of the Via Appia goes on to UNESCO. If approved, the Via Appia would be the 59th World Heritage Site in Italy and the second longest site after the Great Wall of China.

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