Rome is a beautiful city, and it’s no wonder that so many people head back to the Italian capital time and time again. What’s not to love? Food, friendly people, ancient history, ruins to explore, and that fashionable vibe that only comes from being in Italy overall.
Of course, not everything is always what it seems, and whilst you might be more au fait with what Rome is famous for on the ground, have you ever given much thought to what lies beneath the surface of the land?
Seriously, with every step you take, you’re walking on history beneath your feet, and much of it is still totally undiscovered!
Rome is famous for its underground catacombs; miles upon miles of ancient burial chambers which date as far back as the 2nd Century AD.
And you thought Rome was all about football, pizza, and gladiator arenas!
If you haven’t got the first clue what a catacomb is, we should really cover that question first, so we can get into the real nitty-gritty of where to go.
What are the Rome Catacombs, and Why Are They Important?
A catacomb is a network of underground tunnels which were used years ago to bury their dead. Instead of cremating or burying in what we now have, e.g. graveyards, the Roman Christians adopted the Jewish idea of burying underground. This is because the early Christians considered it wrong to cremate the dead, and therefore they took to building tunnels under the ground, simply because above the ground there was a huge lack of space.
The catacombs of Rome are thought to total around 40, but only certain ones are open to the public; it is even thought that some haven’t been discovered yet! The ancient burial chambers are all the property of the Catholic Church, and no-one is allowed to go into a chamber and explore it without express permission from the Vatican. Obviously, this isn’t the easiest thing to do, which is why some catacombs remain undiscovered.
You might be wondering why the catacombs in Rome are so important, but the ones here are thought to be some of the longest and the oldest in the world, spreading out in all directions. As time went on, and more people died and needed to be buried, the chambers grew massively, and this is because people wanted to be buried close to their religious saints and leaders. As the land grew overcrowded, as time went on, so did the catacombs!
Whilst you might be thinking that these are gruesome and rather gory places to visit, the reality is actually quite different. There are countless pieces of early Christian art to be found in the catacombs, and the fact you are surrounded by history this old really is a reason to head underground and explore the mystery.
A Few Catacomb Rome Options to Check Out
Obviously you can’t get around all the catacombs in Rome, that would be impossible and would take far too much time, so you need to figure out which ones to visit first and foremost.
There are many walking tours around Rome which take you to some of the main sites, as well as some of the most famous catacombs too – this is a great way to find out more, because you get the help of a guide.
Via Appia Antica
This is probably one of the most famous, and one of the most visited, so a good place to start. This particular catacomb is actually outside the city walls, because it was actually forbidden to bury the dead within the city walls prior to this. You’ll find thousands of burial chambers, as well as some beautiful examples of art too. This particular catacomb is also super-easy to get to, and there are three main catacombs to explore – you will need to buy a ticket for each one separately.
Catacombs of St Callixtus
This is the biggest of all the Roman catacombs in the city, and for that reason it is very well visited. You will find 19km long chambers, which are around 20 metres deep, and you’ll also not struggle to find a tour which lets you explore them. Some of the most notable parts to visit include the Crypt of Nine Popes, as well as some of the most famous early Christian art in the city. Bear in mind that the catacombs are closed on Wednesday and throughout February.
Catacombs of St Domitilla
This is the oldest, and to get into the catacombs you need to enter a beautiful church, dating back to the 4th century. This particular location is closed during January and also on Tuesdays, so do bear that in mind. You’ll also fine art dating back to the 2nd century here, called The Last Supper. This is definitely one for those who want to appreciate true history and mystery.
If you want to be spooked out a little, this is the place to go! Located in the centre of historic Rome, you will find the Capuchin Church of the Immaculate Conception, and beneath you will find the Capuchin Crypt. This catacomb dates back to 1645 and holds the bones of around 4000 monks – some of these are set into patterns!
Ready to Visit Rome’s Mysterious Catacombs?
Whilst you certainly don’t hear as much about the catacombs as you do about other famous attractions in Rome, such as The Forum, The Colosseum, Vatican City, Trevi Fountain, or The Pantheon, you will be missing out if you don’t head underground and really explore ancient history’s slightly gorier side. Visiting the Rome Catacombs is a must on any tour in Italy.
In order to understand how life was back in the day in this amazing Italian capital, you need to understand how it began, how it was lived, and how it ended – you won’t find this in a more startling form than in the Rome Catacombs.
Remember to check out opening and closing times before deciding on your location, as these do vary, and be ready to explore what lies beneath!