When architecture speaks: Via Egnatia


In this new article, we will change the format a bit and won’t tell you about a building, but about a street. What can Via Egnatia teach us about the past? What kind of events did it see during its two millennia-long history? Follow us on this path to discover more about this famous road!

From a Roman road to a motorway

In the Greek peninsula, the Romans built an important west-east axis, the via Egnatia, during the second century BC. If you live in Thessaloniki, this name is probably ringing a bell. It used to pass through the city, which the names of the Egnatia street but also of the Egnatia Odos motorway commemorate.

The latter is quite an interesting reference to the name because the motorway was constructed in the nineties. Turkey was working to join the European Union and, as a consequence, the traffic would have grown. Thus, it was a historical allusion to the former road. Indeed, the Egnatia way was coming from the Adriatic coast of the Balkans, the port Dyrrachium, then following the Aegean shoreline all the way to Constantinople – the former name of Istanbul. It continued the via Appia, through the Adriatic sea.

Egnatia road / Credit: Eric Gaba

An important historical axis

But what led to the construction of this road in the first place? Well, it started when Macedonia became a Roman imperial province in 146 BC. Because of this, the Empire had to send troops to these new territories to consolidate the annexation. It was then one of the most important connections between Rome and Greece.

Indeed, this road had a major role in the management of the eastern side of the Mediterranea and in the defense of the Roman Empire. It was a via militaris that enabled Rome to unify the regions of Illyria and Macedonia. It was also thanks to via Egnatia that Rome could extend its power to the East, to Asia.

Several historical events happened on this road, for example, the battle of Philippi, after the murder of Julius Caesar. It is also this path that Crusaders followed when they went to Constantinople.

The remainings of the main street in Edessa
Credit: Via Egnatia Foundation

Besides its military function, via Egnatia was also a unifying element – when the Empire began its division for example. Moreover, it was a commercial path, which had long-lasting consequences on the economic dynamism of Northern Greece, compared to Central Greece or Peloponnese. Indeed, via Egnatia favored the implantation of Roman colonies in Macedonian cities and played a huge role in the economic, demographic and cultural growth of these regions. It allowed an easy transport of a lot of goods, from silver to fish or oil.

Thanks to this prosperity and commerce, Thessaloniki became one of the biggest urban centers of the Balkans. It was a key commercial cross-road, with a lot of cultural and artistic activities.

The road today

Nowadays you can see some museums or archeological remains on the road. It was also resurrected through a hiking trail, that is especially interesting if you want to discover more about the Balkans.

Hiking trail following the Via Egnatia, in Albania
Credit: Via Egnatia Foundation

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