Discovering the origins of Rome
The Via Ardeatina is one of the oldest roads, built to connect Rome to the territory of the legendary city of Lavinium and Ardea. Following the route allows to relive Roman memories, from urbanism to the Middle Ages up to the most recent events related to the Resistance.
The urban route had to start from one of the fifteen doors of the Servian Walls, but today it is clearly identified starting from the 1st and 2nd mile of the Appian Way, exactly where the church of Domine Quo Vadis? stands, where the road was supposed to detach from the Appian Way heading towards the coast. The small church, dating back to the 9th century A.D., was rebuilt in 1637 at the behest of Cardinal Francesco Barberini, following a violent thunderstorm that devastated it along with the parsonage almost ten years earlier. Tradition tells that it arose on the spot where Jesus appeared to Peter, fleeing from Rome, to escape the persecution of Nero and, at the request of the apostle “Lord, where are you going?”, He would answer: “I am going to Rome to be crucified again”. Peter, understanding the reproach, retraced his steps and faced martyrdom. Inside the church there is a copy of the stone on which it is believed there are the imprints of the feet of Jesus.
But the street also preserves numerous Roman ruins such as the two monumental catacomb complexes of Domitilla and Saint Callixtus. The former ones owe their name to the nobleman Flavia Domitilla, owner of the area, and are considered the largest in Rome with their 15 kilometers of extension and 150,000 burials, including niches, arcosolia and frescoed cubicles. Among the two cemetery complexes are the Fosse Ardeatine, tufa quarries known for the massacre of 335 Roman prisoners perpetrated, on the evening of 24 March 1944, by German occupation troops as retaliation for the 33 comrades who fell during the war action conducted by the partisans in via Rasella. A sad page of contemporary history, remembered today by a museum entirely dedicated to the period of the German occupation of Rome, from the armistice of 10 September 1943 to the liberation of the city of 4 June 1944.
But the Via Ardeatina is also a symbol of popular devotion to the sanctuary of Our Lady of Divine Love, built in the mid-1700s to house an ancient image of the Lady considered miraculous, frescoed on one of the towers of Castel di Leva. The sanctuary, transformed into a modern complex, is still a pilgrimage destination for devotees.
The current town of Pratica di Mare hosts the remains of Lavinium, religious centre of the Archaic period and place, according to the Aeneid, where the Trojan hero founded the city putting an end to his long wanderings.
The archaeological area includes a sacred area, with temples and shrines, one of which is dedicated to Minerva. The findings, datable between the 5th and 3rd centuries B.C., reproduce human figures in life size, portrayed in various stages of life, from childhood to adulthood.
Even Ardea, the ancient capital of the Rutuli, is mentioned by Virgil as a place whose great splendor has died out, after the defeat by Aeneas. The town holds some of these memories in the acropolis, with remains of archaic fortifications and walls, traces of temples and a basilica. Recent excavations then led to the discovery of an important temple complex under the acropolis and of port structures at the mouth of the Fosso dell’Incastro. The churches of Saint Peter (12th century, then remodeled in the 19th century) and Saint Marina (12th century) prove the existence of this small town in the medieval period.
Alongside these ancient remains, the Manzù Museum recalls the stay in Ardea by the sculptor Giacomo Manzù, who built one of the bronze doors of Saint Peter’s Basilica.