Catacombs of Rome

How many catacombs exist in Rome? Which are the popular ones that we can visit?

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Catacombs of Rome - Underground burials

Rome is the capital of catacombs in Italy, and all of the underground cemeteries have a rich history. Catacombs are underground tombs where people used to be buried, and in Rome the oldest catacombs were made by the Jewish community, and later by Christians. Catacombs are a significant part of the religious history in Rome, and they stand out next to the ancient Roman history as pagan Romans burned their dead rather than burying them. Historians used to think that these tunnels were places for people to hide from persecution, and there have been myths and legends of a Holy Grail hidden in the extensive tunnels running underneath the city, but they are simply burial sites made in the first and second century by people who did not believe in cremating their dead.

Rome has 60 known Catacombs!

Rome has an extensive complex of underground catacombs running underneath the city, and they were mostly made in places where the soil was easily removed. There are around sixty Christian catacombs in Rome, and there are probably many more that are undiscovered as people cannot explore the Christian catacombs without express permission from the Vatican. Although there are many catacombs in Rome, not all of them are open to the public. There are also several crypts, as well as churches that hold religiously significant relics and remains of Saints.

Most popular Catacombs of Rome

1. Catacombs of San Sebastiano

This crypt is named after the Christian martyr Saint Sebastian that is buried here. This set of catacombs has had a turbulent past, with many exploitations carried out and buildings built on top of it. This site is most well-known for the works of art that are in the residential buildings that were built above. These catacombs are also the place where the bones of Saints Peter and Paul were held for safekeeping.

2. Catacombs of San Callisto

This is one of the most popular catacombs in Rome and it is located along the Appian Way. Here you will find the remains of many popes, as well as Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music. These are the largest and most important catacombs in Rome, and became the official cemetery of Rome during the third century. Here you will find 20kms of tunnels, and it is the most impressive in terms of what you can actually see in the catacombs. It is also one of the most crowded and popular catacombs to visit so you should be prepared for a lot of people.

3. Catacombs of Domitilla

These catacombs were discovered much later, and are made up of tunnels more than 15 km long that run underneath the city. They are named after the granddaughter of Vespasian, and it is located underneath a church that is named after two Christian martyrs Nereus and Achilleus. These catacombs are the oldest in Rome, and also the best preserved, and still have some of the beautiful early Christian paintings adorning the walls.

4. Catacomb of Saint Agnes

The catacombs of Saint Agnes are worth visiting for the surrounding complex even more than catacombs themselves. The catacombs in this place were built around the tomb of young girl (Agnes) who was killed because she refused to marry the son of a Roman official. Around the same time another young girl was also killed and buried here. Agnes became a martyr, and both pagan Romans and Christians were shocked at the deaths. The daughter of the emperor built a stunning mausoleum on the site so that she could be buried next to her, and this is now a church that holds some of the most stunning 4th century mosaics.

5. Priscilla Catacombs

In the north of the city you can find the Priscilla catacombs, and here you will find stunning Christian frescoes. These are all very well preserved, and depict famous biblical scenes. In old religious texts this catacombs is referred to as regina catacumbarum – the queen of the catacombs. This is because of the number of martyrs that were buried here. The catacombs themselves are named after a noblewoman named Priscilla who granted the church the land to construct the catacombs.

6.The Capuchin Crypt

In reality this is not a catacomb, but if you are wanting to explore ancient burial rituals, then the Capuchin crypt is definitely worth visiting. This is a church that is decorated with the bones of 4,000 Capuchin friars, and you can expect to be a little creeped out if you visit this place. Rather than burying their dead, the friars believed that the bones should serve as a reminder that death can come at any time.

7. Arciconfraternita Santa Maria dell'Orazione e Morte

Like the church decorated with bones, this is not a catacomb, but it will still give you a unique insight into ancient burials. If you visit this church, you will be lead down a short flight of steps by a nun, and then left in a crypt full of skeletons. This was a burial place for abandoned corpses with nowhere else to be laid to rest, and here you can sit amongst what remains of the 8,000 unnamed skeletons that were left here.

8. Basilica di San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura

This is a church that is not only old, but also reflects old architecture. There are catacombs beneath this historic church, and even though you cannot go into them, this is a place of interest as an amateur archaeologist called Alfredo Barbagallo has claimed that these are the catacombs where people could find the Holy Grail. The Vatican has not allowed anyone to go into the catacombs, but this church is place of interest nonetheless.

9. Basilica San Clemente

The basement underneath Basilica San Clemente is another example of underground structures that are not technically catacombs, but offer extremely interesting insights to the history beneath the streets of Rome. Here you can explore the extensive underground structures that show ancient Roman life, and if you listen carefully you can hear an ancient underwater fountain that has been there since the time of Imperial Rome.

The best catacomb to visit - Domitilla

If you only have time to visit one of the many catacombs in Rome, you should consider going to the catacombs of Domitilla. These catacombs are among the largest in Rome, and are the best preserved. Here you can explore over 15 km of tunnels, on four different levels, and see many ancient frescoes on the walls. This complex also has a lot of interesting information about ancient burials on display. You start your visit in the basilica dedicated to the two martyrs Nereus and Achilleus, and then make your way underground to explore the extensive catacombs.

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Recommended answer 2 of 2

Recommended Catacomb tours

If you want a greater appreciation of the catacombs, and want to cover ground easily in one day, catacomb tours can be an easy and informative way to explore the catacombs. Different tour companies offer tours around different places, so you would choosing a tour based on which places you want to see.

The Roman Guy

The Roman Guy tour company offers a comprehensive tour of the different types of catacombs in Rome. Their "Catacombs Private Tour in Rome" will take you the Basilica of San Clemente with its underground basement, then on to the impressive Domitilla catacombs, and then finally up to the Appian Way to see the famous catacombs on the historic stretch of road. This tour runs for approximately three hours, and it is all done in a private coach.

City Wonders/Dark Rome tours

The City Wonders Tour Company will also take you to several different places in a private coach with all entry tickets included. The Original Rome Crypts and Catacombs Tour will take you to the ancient Roman catacombs, then on to the Basilica of San Clemente, and finishing at the Capuchin Crypt with the creepy skeleton decorations.

Olympus Tours

Olympus tours offer a half day walking tour where you can explore the Appian Way, the catacombs, and the ancient Roman aqueducts, all with a professional guide. You will be picked up in a private coach in the centre of Rome and transported to the Appian Way where you can wander and appreciate the ancient road in the countryside, then you can explore either the San Callisto or San Sebastiano catacombs. After this, you will be taken to Rome’s remaining aqueducts and learn about the engineering mastery that is still standing today.

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