The catacombs are underground passages that were used for several centuries as burial places for Roman and Jewish citizens, pagans and Christians from the 2nd to 5th centuries AD.
The Origin of the Catacombs
A differenza degli antichi romani, di religione pagana, i cristiani erano contro l’usanza di cremare i loro morti. Tuttavia non era impossibile creare i cimiteri cristiani come li conosciamo oggi: c’era grande mancanza di spazio e i terreni erano piuttosto costosi.
Ecco l’orgine delle Catacombe: i cristiani decisero di creare questi enormi cimiteri sotterranei fuori dalle mura della città.
Oggi le Catacombe sono veri e propri labirinti, lunghi anche diversi chilometri. Lungo questo gran numero di cunicoli sotterranei sono state scavate file di nicchie rettangolari.
Proprio in queste nicchie i cadaveri venivano avvolti in un lenzuolo. Le nicchie venivano poi richiuse con lapidi di marmo o di argilla. Su queste lapidi venivano poi incisi i nomi dei defunti, accompagnati da un simbolo cristiano.
Anticamente, nell’impero Romano era vietata la sepoltura dei defunti all’interno della città. Le catacombe infatti erano state create fuori dalle mura: qui i cristiani potevano seppellire i propri morti utilizzando liberamente i simboli della loro religione.
Questi luoghi sotterranei separati e nascosti costituivano il rifugio perfetto a questo scopo.
The end of persecution
The persecution of Christians ended with the signing of the Edict of Milan in AD 313: Christians could start building churches and acquiring land without the fear that they would be confiscated.
The tradition of catacombs, despite this, continued until the 5th century AD.
The Catacombs of Rome
The Catacombs of Rome
There are more than 60 catacombs in Rome. In total there are hundreds of kilometers of underground tunnels guarding thousands of Tombs.
During your visit to Rome you can choose to visit among five of these countless catacombs.
Catacombs of St. Sebastian
The Catacombs of St. Sebastian are located beneath the 17th-century Church of St. Sebastian, on the spot where a basilica once stood.
These 12-kilometer-long catacombs are named after St. Sebastian, a soldier who became a martyr for converting to Christianity.
Without a doubt these catacombs are the most interesting, along with the Catacombs of San Callisto.
Address: via Appia Antica 136, Rome
Hours: all. days 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. (last entry 4:30 p.m.)
Closed: January 1 and December 25.
Catacombs of San Callisto
The vast catacombs of St. Callistus are arranged on 4 levels, and can be visited only partially.
The most important crypts are decorated with frescoes. The visitable area includes the Crypt of the Popes, where many of the early popes (sixteen in all) were buried, and the crypt of St. Cecilia where the body of the saint was found in 820 AD.
The saint’s remains were later transferred to the church of the same name in Trastevere.
Dozens of martyrs were also buried in these catacombs.
Address: 126 Via Appia Antica, Rome
Hours: Thursday through Tuesday 9 a.m. – 12 noon, 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. (last admission 4:50 p.m.)
Closed: every Wednesday, January 1, December 25, Easter.
Catacombs of Priscilla
The Catacombs of Priscilla are located in a 15-kilometer tunnel on three different levels under the vast estate of a 1st-century AD Roman aristocratic woman known as Priscilla.
These catacombs, which contain the graves of more than 40000 Christians, are rarely visited by tourists and are run by a small community of Benedictine nuns.
These catacombs also contain the oldest known image of the Madonna and Child, dating back to the late 1st or early 2nd century AD.
Address: Via Salaria 430, Rome
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday 9 a.m. – 12 p.m., 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. (last admission 4:50 p.m.)
Closed: every Monday, January 1, December 25, Easter.
Catacombs of Domitilla
The catacombs of Domitilla, named for Vespasian’s niece, are the largest in Rome.
Many of the graves from the 1st and 2nd centuries AD are not Christian burials.
There are frescoes of classical and Christian scenes in the visitable crypts, including one of the earliest depictions of Christ as a good shepherd.
Above the catacombs stands the Basilica of Saints Nereus and Achilleus, but after reconstructions restorations little remains of the original 4th century AD church.
Address: Via delle Sette Chiese 280, Rome
Hours: Wednesday through Monday 9 a.m. – 12 p.m., 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. (last entry 20 minutes before closing)
Closed: every Tuesday, January 1, December 25, Easter.
Catacombs of St. Agnes
Il nome di questa catacomba deriva da quello della vergine e martire Sant’Agnese, l’unica sepolta in questa catacomba.
Indirizzo: Via Nomentana 349, Roma
Orari: ore 9.00 – 12.00, 16.00 – 17.00
Chiuso: tutte le domeniche mattina e lunedì pomeriggio, 1 gennaio, 25 dicembre, Pasqua.
How to reach the Catacombs
To visit the catacombs you have several options:
- Book a tour: booking a guided tour is the easiest and most practical way to discover the catacombs and monuments of the Appian Way. Here you can book a tour that includes transportation, tickets and an official guide.
- Public bus: undoubtedly the cheapest way to get to the catacombs, but also the slowest. Bus 118 and 218 to in San Callisto and San Sebastiano, Bus 218 and 716 to Domitilla.
- Cab: Definitely the fastest and most expensive means, but it may be difficult to find a cab for the return trip.
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