The Roman Roads and Bridges You Can Still Travel Today

Rare indeed is the ancient-his­to­ry buff who has nev­er dreamed of walk­ing the roads of the Roman Empire. But unlike many long­ings stoked by inter­est in the dis­tant past, that one can actu­al­ly be ful­filled. As explained in the video above from Youtube chan­nel Intrigued Mind, a fair few Roman roads remain in exis­tence today, albeit only in sec­tions, and most­ly ruined ones at that. “Like oth­er incred­i­ble mon­u­ments that still stand, as if to prove the pow­er of the Roman Empire, there are a sur­pris­ing num­ber of Roman roads still in use today,” some con­vert­ed into mod­ern high­ways, but “many still paved with their orig­i­nal cob­ble­stones.”

Of all such roads, none has more impor­tance than the Via Appia, or Appi­an Way, whose con­struc­tion began back in 312 BC. “The first long road out­side of the greater city of Rome that was­n’t Etr­uscan,” it “allowed Romans to make their first major con­quest” and begin their mighty empire’s “con­quest of the world.” With­out under­stand­ing the sto­ried Via Appia, none of us can tru­ly under­stand Roman his­to­ry. But to grasp the con­text of the Roman Empire, we can hard­ly ignore the even old­er roads like the Via Domi­tia, which was “the road Han­ni­bal used to invade Italy, 100 years before the Romans claimed it” — not to men­tion an impor­tant set­ting in the Greek myth of Her­a­cles.

You can still cross one of the Via Domi­ti­a’s bridges, the Pont Julien in the south of France. In that same coun­try stand the more-or-less intact Pont Fla­vian, orig­i­nal­ly built along the Via Julia Augus­ta, and the Pont du Gard, the most famous and ele­gant Roman aque­duct of them all. Nor should enthu­si­asts of Roman infra­struc­ture miss the Alcan­tara Bridge in Spain, the Man­fred Bridge in Ger­many, or the ruins of Tra­jan’s Bridge — made into ruins delib­er­ate­ly, by Tra­jan’s suc­ces­sor Hadri­an — in Roma­nia. The most seri­ous among them will also want to go as far as the Mid­dle East and trav­el the Via Maris, which con­nect­ed Egypt to Syr­ia, and the remains of the bridge across Cae­sar’s Dam in Iran.

Iran belonged, of course, not to the Roman Empire but the Per­sian one. But “leg­end has it that the Per­sian emper­or cap­tured the Roman emper­or and forced him to use his army to build the dam and the beau­ti­ful bridge to cross it.” All was fair, it seems, in the expan­sion and con­flict of ancient empires, and the ruins scat­tered across their vast for­mer ter­ri­to­ries tes­ti­fy to that. Though much less tech­no­log­i­cal­ly advanced than, say, mod­ern free­way sys­tems, the Roman roads that sur­vive have proven sur­pris­ing­ly robust, a phe­nom­e­non exam­ined in the video just above by his­to­ry Youtu­ber Told in Stone — a Chicagoan, inci­den­tal­ly, who acknowl­edges that the Via Appia has nev­er had to take a Windy City win­ter.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The First Tran­sit Map: a Close Look at the Sub­way-Style Tab­u­la Peutin­ge­ri­ana of the 5th-Cen­tu­ry Roman Empire

How Did the Romans Make Con­crete That Lasts Longer Than Mod­ern Con­crete? The Mys­tery Final­ly Solved

How Did Roman Aque­ducts Work?: The Most Impres­sive Achieve­ment of Ancient Rome’s Infra­struc­ture, Explained

The Roads of Ancient Rome Visu­al­ized in the Style of Mod­ern Sub­way Maps

The Roman Roads of Britain Visu­al­ized as a Sub­way Map

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.