Catacombs of Rome
Popularized by the movie Indiana Jones, the Roman Catacombs are ancient underground burial places underneath Rome and its outskirts (there are at least forty, some of them discovered only in recent decades). Those kilometers of underground cemetery are some of the oldest burial tunnels in the world. Situated just outside the city of Rome, the catacombs were created in response to a shortage of land for deceased’s remains. Today the narrow tunnels are eerily quiet but full of Roman history, including some of the best-preserved early Christian frescoes and sculptures. Some of the catacombs are well known and open to visitors, while others are still scarcely explored.
The rather gruesome, yet extremely interesting Catacombs of Rome are a very popular spot to visit in the city. A former underground burial spot, the catacombs date back to the 2nd century and were used mostly by Christians and Jews at the time. The use of catacombs ended in the fifth century, but you can visit today and explore the underground chambers. Throughout the entire city, there are 60 catacombs in total, but only five of them are open to public viewing, these are the Catacombs of San Sebastiano, San Callisto, Priscilla, Domitilla, Sant Agnese. It is a fascinating way to see a different side of Rome. The various catacombs all have different opening and closing times, but during the main summer season, when Rome is at its busiest, most of the sites are open from 9 am until 12 pm, and then again at 2 pm until 5 pm or 6 pm.
Many cities around the world have catacombs, which are ancient burial areas, underneath the ground. Rome’s network of catacombs spans to around sixty different areas, but the five which are open to the public are indeed worth visiting. Used between the 2nd and 5th centuries, the catacombs were mainly used by Christians and Jews in the area, who disagreed with the tradition of burning a dead body as part of the funeral process, and instead decided to use underground burial chambers. The catacombs form a considerable number of underground passages, and there are rectangular sections cut out, where the bodies would be placed. Upon someone dying and going into the catacomb, the name of the person would be carved on the section’s cover, as well as a symbol of Christianity. The various catacombs are named after important Christians of the time, and while you might think it strange or even gruesome to walk through a burial chamber, it is a way to learn about history and the history of religion in and around Rome at the time. Just like walking through a regular graveyard, in certain spots you can still see the names carved into the area where the person would have been placed. The graves inside the catacombs would all have been dug out by hand, and walking through gives you a sense of true sombreness, as well as a sense of what times were like in ancient Rome for Christians who were often persecuted at the time for their faith. After the fifth century, churches began to be built, as equality of religion was realized, and that is why the catacombs were caused no longer used. These were rediscovered in the 16th century by Antonio Bosio, who almost became lost walking through the tunnels. When visiting the catacombs, take your time to walk through and don’t rush. It is a very touristic spot and it can get very crowded during the peak summer season. The underground area is quite damp, but a lot cooler than the outside, so an excellent place to visit when the temperatures are soaring outdoors! The entrance to the visitable catacombs is slightly outside of the city center, on Appian Way, but walking around this area is also something to enjoy while visiting Rome itself.