Catacombs of Rome – ancient tombs of Italy

Catacombs of Rome

Catacombs of Rome (Italian Catacombe di Roma) is a large network of underground tunnels that began to appear in the pre-Christian era. Once a burial ground, the intricate passageways are now a popular sightseeing attraction in the Italian capital.

Catacombs of Rome – the fascinating underworld of the Eternal City

Roman catacombs accidentally discovered in the 16th century and they began to be studied by Antonio Bosio, an Italian archaeologist who first described the ancient underground cemeteries. His follower in the mid-nineteenth century was Giovanni Battista de Rossi, who in 40 years discovered 27 catacombs. Archaeologists have established that the tunnels originated in the 1st century AD.

Catacombs are dug in volcanic tuff at a depth of 8 to 25 meters and consist of one, two, three or even four floors, which are connected by carved stairs. The walls of the most famous tunnels are painted with frescoes and mosaics.

In Rome and its environs there are more than 60 catacombs with a total length of 150 km. They were mainly built along consular roads, such as the Appian, Via Ostiense, Via Labicana, Via Tiburtina and Via Nomentana.

The Appian Way in Rome_catacombs

Nowadays, these ancient underground passages are a popular tourist spot. Of all the famous catacombs of Rome, you can visit only 6 catacombs, which have electricity. Guided tours of the tunnels are available.

Catacombs of Saint Callistus

The Catacombs of Saint Callisto (Italian: Catacombe di San Callisto) are the oldest and best-preserved cemetery on the Appian Way. Its tunnels, created at the end of the 2nd century, cover an area of 15 hectares and consist of almost 20 kilometres of underground passages, which go down to a depth of 20 metres. At the beginning of the 3rd century the cemetery was significantly expanded by order of the Pope Calliste, after whom the burial complex was named. More than 50,000 Christians, including many martyrs and pontiffs, have been buried in these catacombs.

What to see

The Tomb of the Popes (Italian: La cripta dei Papi) is the most important place in the catacombs of Saint Calliste. There are 16 niches for sarcophagi and a monumental tomb on the back wall. This part of the complex was discovered in 1854 by archaeologist De Rossi, who gave it the name “little Vatican” because the tomb was the burial place for 9 popes and 8 third-century bishops. On the walls you can see the names of the pontiffs carved in Greek.

Tomb of the Popes in the catacombs of St. Callistus

In the adjacent crypt is the tomb of St. Cecilia (Italian: La tomba di Santa Cecilia), decorated with frescoes and mosaics from the 9th century. By order of Pope Paschal I in 821 the relics of the saint were transferred from the catacombs to the church of St. Cecilia in Trastevere, where they are kept to this day. In the catacombs, a statue of St. Caecilia was placed at the site of the first burial.

Tomb of St. Caecilia in Rome

Catacombs of St. Sebastian

The Catacombs of St. Sebastian (Italian: Catacombe di San Sebastiano) are located in the southern part of Rome along the Appian Way. The tunnels of this complex were formed as a result of pozzolana mining and were originally used for pagan burials and later for Christian burials. The catacombs were named after St Sebastian, who was buried here at the end of the 3rd century.

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Inside, the catacombs of this necropolis are very similar to those of St. Callistus. They are four levels deep and have intricate underground corridors in which ancient inscriptions and frescoes of religious themes are still visible.

Tourist route to the catacombs begins with the Baroque basilica of St. Sebastian, whose construction was ordered by Cardinal Scipione Borghese in the XVII century.

Catacombs of St. Sebastian in Rome

In addition to the relics of St. Sebastian, the temple contains sacred relics such as a stone with the imprint of Jesus Christ, some of the arrows that pierced St. Sebastian, the column to which the saint was tied, the hands of St. Callistus and St. Andrew.

Catacombs of Priscilla

The Catacombs of Priscilla (Italian Catacombe di Priscilla) are located along the ancient Salt Road, which was used to transport salt. The name of the complex comes from a woman who in the second century gave her possessions for an underground cemetery, which took three centuries to build. The tunnels of these catacombs extend for 13 kilometers at various levels of depth and contain about 40,000 burials.

In the catacombs of Priscilla, many frescoes dating back to the II-IV centuries have survived to this day. Here you can see the most ancient images of Our Lady with Child and Our Lady of Oranta.

Catacombs of Priscilla

Depiction of Our Lady of Orant, 3rd century

Catacombs of Domitilla

The Catacombs of Domitilla (Italian: Catacombe di Domitilla) on the Ardeatine road are the largest burial grounds in ancient Rome. In the II century in these tunnels began to appear separate family vaults, which at the end of the IV century, united in a large necropolis consisting of 4-level galleries and corridors for a total length of 17 km. There are about 150,000 burials in the catacombs of Domitilla. The dead were mostly buried in shallow crevices carved in the stones and the wealthy Romans had real family tombs.

Domitilla Catacombs

The complex includes a semi-subterranean basilica from the 4th century that housed the relics of Saints Nereus and Achilleus, the most important Roman martyrs, until the 9th century. Today, tours of the catacombs of Domitilla begin with this church.

Basilica in the Domitilla Catacombs

Basilica in the Catacombs of Domitilla

Visiting the catacombs of Domitilla, you can see the magnificent frescoes that have survived to this day and introduce us to the life of the early Christian communities, their belief in the resurrection and eternal life.

Catacombs of Domitilla

Catacombs of Saint Agnes

The Catacombs of Sant’Agnese date from the 3rd and 4th centuries and are named after the Christian martyr Agnese of Rome, who was buried there. Her grave was visited by Roman and foreign pilgrims. St. Agnes was also highly revered by the family of Emperor Constantine, who commissioned the construction of the basilica of Sant’Agnese-fuori-le-Mura over the underground cemetery. Today this temple houses the relics of the saint, transferred from the catacombs.

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The catacombs of Saint Agnes, unlike the other catacombs, have no frescoes or paintings, but there are many ancient inscriptions in several crypts.

Catacombs of Saint Agnes

Catacombs of Saints Marcellinus and Peter

The Catacombs of Saints Marcellino and Peter (Italian: Catacombe dei Santi Marcellino e Pietro) are located in Rome on the ancient Labicana road. The tunnels of this complex, built in the II-III century, go down to a depth of 16 meters and cover an area of 18,000 square meters. The crypts of the underground cemetery are decorated with frescoes of biblical subjects.

Catacombs of Saints Marcellinus and Peter

The complex of Catacombs of Saints Marcellinus and Peter includes the Basilica of the same name and the Mausoleum of St. Helena.

Tourist information

Address: How to get there from Termini Station Ticket price* Working hours Weekends
Catacombs of St. Callista Via Appia Antica, 110 Take the Metro to Colosseo Station (line B), then take bus number 118 to the Catacombe of San Callisto stop full ticket €8, concessionary ticket €5 09.00-12.00; 14.00-17.00 Wednesday
Catacombs of St. Sebastian Via Appia Antica, 136 Take the Metrobus to Colosseo station (line B) then take bus number 118 to the Basilica S. Sebastiano stop. Sebastiano full ticket €8, concessionary ticket €5 10.00 – 16.30 Sunday
Catacombs of Priscilla Via Salaria, 430 Take bus line 92 or 310 to the Priscilla stop. full ticket €8, concessionary ticket €5 09.00 – 12.00; 14.00 – 17.00 Monday
Catacombs of the Domitilla Via delle Sette Chiese, 282 Take bus number 714 to the Navigatori stop and walk 10 minutes. full ticket €8, concessionary ticket €5 09.00-12.00; 14.00-17.00 Tuesday
Catacombs of St. Agnes Via Nomentana, 349 Take the Metro to S. Agnese/Annibaliano station and walk 5 minutes. full ticket €8, concessionary ticket €5 09.00-12.00; 15.00-17.00
Catacombs of St. Marcellino and St. Peter and Paul Via Casilina, 641 By bus line 105 to the stop in Via Casilina/Berardi full ticket €8, concessionary ticket €5 10.00; 11.00; 14.00; 15.00; 16.00 Thursday

*The excursion is included in the price of the admission ticket.

Admission is free for people with disabilities, children under 5-6 years old and students of the Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology.

Holidays: December 25, January 1, Easter Sunday.

For more information and visiting features, visit the official websites:

Planning to visit the Eternal City soon? We offer you an overview of the best hotels in Rome with descriptions and photos. In this city you will find many interesting places and attractions, one of them is the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, there are preserved mosaics from the 5th century.

Catacombs of Rome

There are more than 60 catacombs in Rome. They are a system of underground passages, often resembling labyrinths. The wall frescoes in the catacombs are optimistic and filled with faith in resurrection. There is peace and tranquility.

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Roman Catacombs - ancient underground tombs

Roman Catacombs – Ancient underground burials, fto peet-astn

About the Catacombs

The Catacombs of Rome (Catacombe di Roma) are huge, multi-level galleries, intricate passages that encircle and permeate the space beneath the Eternal City. They originated in the pre-Christian era. Most Roman catacombs were created during the early Christian period. Total in the Italian capital was found more than 60 secret labyrinths (150-170 km long, about 750 thousand burials).

Types of Roman catacombs

  • pagan
  • syncretic
  • Jewish
  • Christian

Catacombs of St. Agnes

Catacombs of St. Sebastian

Catacombs on the Via Latina

Catacombs of Ad Decimum

Christian Catacombs

The oldest Christian catacombs in Rome date from around 107 AD. The first Roman Christians were persecuted. Believers used abandoned tuff quarries to perform rites and bury the dead according to religious canons.

Procession in the San Callisto Catacombs

Procession in the Catacombs of San Callisto

Christians felt safe in the dungeons. They arranged prayer rooms and burial chambers, dug new labyrinths, widened existing corridors, and made niches in their walls. The underground passages were about 1-1,5 m wide and 2,5 m high. Sepulchral niches were arranged on both sides of the corridors, in several tiers. One or several bodies were placed in each cavity, and then sepulchres were filled with bricks or stone slabs. Exits and ventilation shafts opened from the dungeons to the streets of Rome.

Since 312 at will of Emperor Constantine Christianity has been declared legal religion, persecutions on believers have ceased. The catacombs became an official and revered burial ground. By the 5th century, burying underground ceased, and even many remains were moved to churches in Rome, the Roman labyrinths came into disrepair and were long forgotten.

Catacombs of Priscilla

Agapa, the “Table of Love,” which Christians held in the catacombs to commemorate the evangelical Last Supper, and where they administered the sacrament of the Eucharist

Ten centuries later, in 1578, during the construction of the Via Salaria road, the first underground cemetery was discovered. These were the oldest catacombs in Rome, the Catacombe di Priscilla, with burial chambers of early Christian martyrs. The aristocrat Priscilla of Rome descended from the family of the consul Aquilius Glabrio, who owned extensive lands on which the underground cemetery was formed.

These catacombs were not plundered by barbarians in the fifth century, so the burials are well preserved. Exactly here unique samples of early Christian art were discovered, the skilful frescos representing the Good Shepherd with fishes (Jesus symbol), drawings of St. Virgin Mary (II century A.D.), wall paintings with Old Testament scenes and scenes of the New Testament. The main attraction of the Priscilla Catacombs is the Cappella Greca, a room with benches for memorial meals, with Greek inscriptions on the walls.

Fresco with Woman in Veil

Il Cubicolo della Velata, photo by Martin Conde

The catacombs have a Room of the Veiled Woman (Il Cubicolo della Velata), famous for the fresco depicting a young woman praying in a purple dress and white veil. Scenes from her life are painted next to her and above her head is the Garden of Eden. The painting is from the second half of the second century and is in good condition.

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How to get there

The entrance to the Catacombs of Priscilla is in Via Salaria, 430. It is next to Villa Ada Park.

Take bus line 92 or 310 from Termini station to the Piazza Crati stop and bus line 63 from Piazza Venezia to Piazza Crati. Then follow the sign in via di Priscilla.

Opening hours

WT-WS 09:00-12:00 and 14:00-17:00. On holidays.

Tickets

Full ticket €8; children (7-15 years old) €5.

Read more about the Priscilla Catacombs on the website.

Catacombs of Saint Callistus

Entrance to St. Calliste's Catacombs

Entrance to the St. Calliste Catacombs, photo by kiwioutthere

The largest and most famous underground Christian burial ground in Rome is the Catacombe di San Callisto (II-IV centuries), founded by Bishop Callisto. The four-level labyrinth with hundreds of thousands of tombs stretches for 12 km. It covers an area of 15 hectares on the territory between the old Appian Way and the Via delle Sette Chiese and Via Ardeatina. It is a real “city of the dead”: several necropolises of different periods are united in the dungeons of San Callisto. It has its own streets, squares, and crossroads.

Crypt of Popes

In the underground area of the “Little Vatican” 9 popes were buried, who led the church in the III century (in total in San Callisto are buried 16 pontiffs and more than 50 martyrs). The most visited place in the catacombs is the crypt of Santa Cecilia – the tomb of Saint Martyr Cecilia with well-preserved reliefs, frescoes and mosaics.

The total length of the underground corridors of San Callisto, accessible today, is about 20 kilometers. Archaeological research has been going on since the middle of the XIX century, not all the tombs have been discovered yet.

How to get there

The entrance to the San Callisto catacombs is in Via Appia Antica, 110/126.

From Termini Station it is necessary to go:

  • Take Metro A (direction Anagnina) or bus 714 (direction Palazzo Sport) to Piazza di S. Giovanni in Laterano. Then take bus 218 to the Fosse Ardeatine stop;
  • By subway B (direction Laurentina) to the stop Circo Massimo. From the Circo Massimo stop or from the Terme Caracalla/Porta Capena stop take bus 118 (direction Villa Dei Quintili) to the Catacombe di San Callisto stop.
Opening hours

WT-WT 09:00 am to 12:00 pm and 14:00 pm to 5:00 pm.

Wed, Catholic Easter, Christmas and January 1 are weekend.

Tickets

Full ticket €8; children (7-15 years old) €5.

For more information about the Catacombs of St. Calliste, visit: catacombe.roma.it

Jewish catacombs

Epitaph with a menorah from the Jewish catacombs

Epitaph with a menorah from the Jewish catacombs, photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen

The Jewish catacombs are considered to be the predecessors of the Christian catacombs. They date from approximately the 1st century B.C. The difference between the Jewish and Christian catacombs is that the tombs were first separated and later joined together by corridors. The walls are decorated with frescoes that show menorahs, flowers and animals, but not scenes from the Old Testament.

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Famous Jewish catacombs
  • Burials under Villa Torlonia Underground burials of third- and fourth-century Jews. Mussolini used the villa as his residence. During World War II, there was a bunker in the catacombs.
  • Vigna Apolloni The funeral rites were held in small rooms with murals on the walls. There are inscriptions in Greek and Latin; almost none in Hebrew or religious figures.
  • Vigna Cimarra The vaulted niches, paintings with Jewish themes and Hebrew inscriptions distinguish this tomb. Some skeletons were found in the vaults.
  • Vigna Randanini The tomb was discovered in 1859 but is well preserved. Burials from the beginning of the era. The ceilings are painted.
  • Monteverde The inscriptions on the walls, made in 300 Italian square script, tell of Jewish history and tradition.

Syncretic Catacombs

Syncretic Catacombs

Syncretic Catacombs, photo scoprendoroma.info

The underground temples of the syncretic catacombs feature a mixture of Roman and Greek philosophy with Christianity. It has been suggested that these are the tombs of a sect of Gnostics.

Famous syncretic catacombs:
  • Underground Basilica near Termini Station Discovered in 1917. In the first century B.C. it was used as a meeting place for the Neopythagoreans. Known for its plaster bas-reliefs.
  • Hypogeum Aurelius Underground tunnels discovered in 1919. Frescoes are preserved on the walls and mosaics on the floor. Originally the catacombs were two stories. The upper one – a spacious hall – exited to the surface. The lower one – some mirror rooms went under the ground.
  • Hypogeum Trebius Justus In the catacombs are well preserved frescoes on religious themes and symbolic paintings.
  • Hypogeum Vibiana Catacombs in the grounds of the Villa Casali. These are 8 underground rooms decorated with frescoes depicting Jupiter, Sabatius, Hermes, Psychopompus, animals and subjects from religious books.

Catacombs in Via Latina (Catacomba di Dino Compagni)

Catacombs of Santi Gordiano ed Epimaco

Catacombs of Santi Gordiano ed Epimaco, photo sconosciuto

The catacombs were found in 1955. They are rich, private burials. Perhaps both pagans and Christians were buried there (about 400 graves). The wall paintings depict scenes from the Old and New Testament in new iconography.

Famous catacombs:
  • Aproniano Still under excavation. Buried are pagans and members of the early Christian denomination.
  • Burials on the Via Latina 1000 graves found in 1955. Many were destroyed during the construction of the railroad lines.
  • Hypogeum Cava della rossa Burials of members of wealthy families. The catacombs have several two-level galleries.
  • The sepulchre was opened in 1905. There are 5 galleries on different levels.
  • Santi Gordiano ed Epimaco There are buried people of different religions. The catacombs are multilevel.
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