Not all the wonders of Rome, Italy, are above ground.
If you are able to walk down steep stairs and along narrow tunnels, a visit to the catacombs – or underground cemeteries – of the Eternal City is both fascinating and memorable.
There are several choices, but we’ve been to the Catacombs of Callixtus, which are beneath a 90 acre site off the famous Appian Way – contain a network of galleries in four levels, more than 20 metres below the surface.
In this catacombe – which dates to the middle of the second century – were buried tens of martyrs, many Popes and hundreds of thousands of Christians. Their graves were carved through tufo, a soft volcanic rock, outside the walls of the city, because Roman law forbade burial places within city limits.
Tours of the Catacombe of Callixtus are conducted in several languages and we were told of an area known as ‘The Little Vatican’, so called because it was the official burial place of many Popes.
Our guide explained that in tunnels explored to date, archaeologists had found the tombs of about 500,000 people.
He also pointed out that the patron saint of music, Saint Cecilia, was initially buried in the catacombe, though her body was later removed.
The Catacombe of Callixtus was almost lost during the Middle Ages, when the area was no longer used and fell into disrepair. Centuries later, the underground cemetery was explored and studied in the 1500’s and again in the 19th Century – and is now open for visitors to inspect.
We thoroughly recommend it, however stress that ascending the steps into the tunnels can be steep and somewhat arduous. See details of opening times.
We made our way to the site by train and local bus.