Day 5 in Rome - Feb 8
Via Appia Antica!
The closer we got to Rome on this pilgrimage, the more we thought of Jerusalem, the more we thought of continuing the pilgrimage. We have walked to Santiago, the third most holy Christian pilgrimage, and now to Rome, the second. It is only logical to think of continuing the pilgrimage to the source of Christianity, the primary destination of Christian pilgrimage. Are we ready? Is this the right time? We do not have that answer yet. But we do have the beginning of the route here in Rome, the Via Appia Antica, the main road heading south towards Bari and Brundisi, the ports leading east.
In 312 BCE the consul Appius Claudius gave his name to the road he had built from Rome to Capua. In 268 the Romans extended it to Beneventum and then in 191 on to the port of Brundisium. The road was paved with large flat stones and had a basement of gravel. It was laid straight across the land and a bit over four meters wide, a two-lane highway with walkways on the sides. The road made rapid travel possible in all weather.
As we are here in Rome, we wait for the right day to walk out the Via Appia. It is raining hard as we get up today. But by the time we finish breakfast the clouds are breaking up and the sun is peeking through. We pack our umbrellas and get on the bus for the Coliseum. It is time to symbolically begin our pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
We choose to walk from the Coliseum though there is a bus that goes out to the catacombs of St. Sebastian. We are continuing our pilgrimage so walking is the only logical alternative. We pass the baths of Caracula and enter a park sharing the road with a lot of cars passing close by. We pass through the St. Sebastian Gate and begin walking the modern, paved portion of the Via Appia Antica. Traffic is very heavy. We keep to our small shoulder and move faster than most of the stop-and-go traffic moving into town.
Soon we are at the "Quo Vadis" church, the place where Jesus is said to have appeared to St. Peter trying to escape Rome. Seems he was running away again from being recognized as a Christian as he did the night before the crucifixion when he denied he had anything to do with Jesus. Jesus is supposed to have asked Peter, "Quo vadis?" "Where are you going?" and then admonished Peter for running. Peter returned to his martyrdom.
We miss a path leading to a quiet walk among park trees and tombs and find ourselves walking the Via Appia as it winds itself narrowly between two high walls. Traffic is heavy and the noise is deafening. It takes our pilgrim spirit to continue on. After a couple kilometers we arrive at the catacombs of St. Sebastian and are quite relieved to be told that the peaceful Via Appia park is only a few hundred meters farther.
Sure enough, shortly the traffic is shunted to the right. We continue straight up a hill and are soon on the now familiar large paving stones of a Roman road. Like a ray of light from a flashlight the road stretches out in front of us to a point the distant horizon with large trees lining its side. We walk on alternating patches of ancient paving stones and modern asphalt. Most of the time only a little water stands in pools on the surface. A few times we do have to take to the walkways and bicycle path that parallels the road to avoid water or particularly rough surfaces. In most places the surface is amazingly smooth.
A map we picked up at near the Quo Vadis church describes the ruins along the side of the road. Roman law prevented most people from being buried inside the city. Only the most elite could be buried in the city burial grounds. So those with money built their tombs along the roads outside the city. Like those under St. Peter's we saw yesterday, tombs line the Via Appia for several kilometers into the countryside. Poorer people and those from the non-Roman religions like the Christians were buried in simpler graves also along the highways. Piles of building blocks and holes and columns line the road as we walk kilometer after kilometer. But these tombs suffer the same fate of so many ancient buildings. Over the centuries they offer their stone as a very convenient, ready-made quarry stone. Most are reduced to little more than outlines of what they originally were. Some still stand, especially those that could be converted to newer dwellings or that could act as basses for newer structures like guard or look-out towers.
We walk on and on along this peaceful path that in the high Middle Ages belonged to feudal barons who charged so much toll that the road was abandoned as a viable alternative and the new Via Appia was created. The sun shines brightly and the wind blows lightly while the temperature hovers in the low 60s F.(around 17 C.). We never need the umbrellas we brought along against the threatening morning rain.
At Roman milepost eight (11.8 km, 7.4 mi) it is getting to be mid-afternoon and we are getting hungry. A carabiniere tells us there is a bar in the nearby airport. We walk the kilometer there into an entirely different and now alien environment of a modern airport terminal. The air is sterile, oppressive, and hot. Tension is high. The attendant behind the counter refuses to give us a sandwich until we pay. The sandwich is pretty tasteless. We eat it and make a hasty retreat to the Via.
Now we have a discussion that leads to one of the most important lessons of this pilgrimage for me. We have been tangentially following a paragraph from the web page of a Jerusalem pilgrim describing how he left Rome. The road ahead, he says, is messy; you have to cross a fence and walk through garbage dump. That doesn't sound nice, but he wrote this three years ago. Where do we go now? We know it is a beautiful walk back and we can take bus 118 from the catacombs. It is an easy, pleasant walk. Forward we only know what this guy has written and that isn't terribly appealing. And we can see that there is a lot more garbage lying around now that the official park has ended. Where to go? We debate for fifteen minutes. Finally we decide to go just a little way, down to the barricade of boulders we can see at a distance.
We get to the barricade and see a gateway of trees beyond where the Via disappears over a slight hill. "I want to just see what is over that hill." We go forward to the hill. Ah, another barricade of boulders down there. We go to check that one out too. There is a fence across the path. "Is that the one the guy was talking about?" But we don't have to climb it, we can walk around it. Before we do that we sleep half an hour on a couple building stones laying along the road and then go to see what is beyond the fence.
We pass the fence and find ourselves in a wide grassy field. It is the Via Appia stretching up to the crest of the next hill three or four kilometers away. We have to walk a little farther. Finally we walk all the way to where the modern Via Appia overlays the Via Appia Antica, 17 kilometers (10.5 miles) from the Coliseum. What a beautiful walk, both before and after the airport. We take a bus and a subway to return to the city.
So what's the lesson here? When you have to choice between a known comfortable path and an unknown one, it is often better to choose the unknown. You can even do this in stages, exposing yourself to a bit at first and then choosing later whether to continue or not. And then you can once again choose just a little, and choose and choose and choose.... Likely you will find yourself going far beyond where you thought you could go or thought you wanted to go. I knew this before but this day so clearly demonstrates it again. Expose yourself to the unknown and often you will grow from the experience. Thanks, Universe, for the experience of today.
After thinking on it more, there is another lesson here. This guy's web page write-up provides data designed to tempt our nagging internal "What if?" voice. "What if we have to climb a fence?" "What if we have to walk through a garbage dump--one that is now surely worse than it was three years ago?" "What if we have to walk along a busy road?" So often we let "What ifs?" stop us from moving forward. They are only figments of our imagination. They have no reality. They say nothing of the future. They only slow us. "If only" we could rid ourselves of "What ifs." And while we are at it why not get rid of "If only" at the same time? Just DO IT.
By the time we got to the Via Appia my camera was almost out of power and I had no charger with me. In addition, I had no disk space left to store any pictures I took and I couldn't locate any mini-CDs. Seems there are a lot of mini-DVDs now but few mini-CDs any more. That is regrettable because it was a beautiful day and I could have captured some nice images. So you have to do with someone else's. Luckily I found the site of the Via Appia park where you can not only see some pictures but can learn a lot of history about it too.
We eat tonight in another ethnic restaurant. When we passed through Rome a couple years ago on the way to India, we ate in the Kilimanjaro, an Ethiopian restaurant. We eat there again tonight. As before the food is excelent. We both enjoy the spices of Ethiopia and Eritrea again. They never gave me a good reason for calling it the Kilimanjaro, a mountain in East Africa not Ethiopia.
The Kilimanjaro, a fine Ethiopian/Eritrean restaurant.
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