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Appian Way, the queen of Roman roads, is under threat
The Villa Quintili, seen from the Appian Way, the ancient Roman road leading from Rome to Brindisi. Development along the road is worrying Italy's archaeologists. (Chris Warde-Jones for The New York Times)
By Elisabetta Povoledo
In ancient times the Appian Way, which links Rome to the southern city of Brindisi, was known as the regina viarum, the queen of the roads. But these days its crown appears to be tarnished by chronic traffic congestion, vandalism and, some of its guardians grumble, illegal development.
"Look at this!" bristled Rita Paris, the Italian state archaeological official responsible for the Appian Way, peering through a weathered bamboo screen lining the road while bumpily maneuvering her car through a patch of uneven ancient stones. "You can bet that it was once a canopy that was walled in and transformed into a home."
A bit farther on she fumed about a plant nursery that had become a restaurant, without planning permission, a cistern that had morphed into a swimming pool, and the new villas tacked on to ancient monuments. Several are rented out for wedding receptions or society balls, which makes for a steady stream of traffic - and occasionally, "fireworks," Paris said with a shudder.
Considered prime real estate in ancient times, when the Romans buried their dead along tomb-lined roads outside the city walls, the Appian Way underwent a contemporary renaissance in the 1960s when Rome was known as Hollywood on the Tiber. Italian film stars moved in en masse, although today it is mostly home to the moneyed.
But these days some residents seem indifferent to the roadway's archaeologically rich past, said Livia Giammichele, an archaeologist who, like Paris, has been waging a campaign against denizens whom she describes as "neo-barbarians." They "don't always realize that they're living in special conditions," she said.