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Catacombs

An underground network of ancient Christian burial grounds.

TravelCurious Tip

Pay attention to the walls as you walk through the labyrinth of tombs and see some of the world’s earliest Christian art – a striking contrast to the rich decoration of the Vatican.

Hidden tombs

There are at least 40 catacombs beneath Rome. These were some of the earliest places of Christian burial in the city: Christians preferred interment to cremation, as they believed that when Christ the Redeemer returned to earth to judge the living and the dead the bodies of the faithful would be restored to them in Heaven.

The Christian faith was outlawed for centuries. Its monotheism flew in the face of pagan belief, which upheld the notion of many gods - neighbouring households would have different patron gods to protect them, and the Romans even adopted gods from other faiths. Christians suffered regular persecution, which reached its height under the Emperor Nero when he accused them of starting the Great Fire which blazed through most of Rome in 64 AD - while he reputedly played the violin. This state of fear and confusion persisted until Emperor Constantine legalised Christianity in 313 AD. Early Christians were therefore secretive in practising their faith, making use of secret meeting places and communicating with cryptic symbols.

The vast networks of burial chambers were constructed largely through a series of grants and donations by newly converted and wealthy Christians. Open to all members of the faith, the chambers grew into an underground centre of community. Countless Christians and many of the first martyrs and popes were buried in the catacombs.


Martyrs and more

Christians continued to bury their dead in the catacombs until the 5th century, when the church ordered that people should be buried above ground. They were largely abandoned by the 8th century, and forgotten until their rediscovery in 1578, which sadly saw them stripped of many valuable artworks and artefacts; a full modern excavation was undertaken in the 1800s.

The chambers are a crucial record of early Christian art. Pre-5th century gold glass medallions, fresco and sculpture have all been found here, though much has been looted over the years and most surviving art is now held elsewhere for safekeeping. In a bold response to the iconoclasm of the 16th and 17th centuries, the Vatican ordered thousands of corpses to be exhumed from the catacombs and exported to Catholic churches throughout Europe: these ‘catacomb saints’ were lavishly decorated with gold and jewels and given the fictitious names of Christian martyrs.

Nearby Attractions

See all attractions in Rome
Basilica of San Clemente
This church is on three levels: medieval, early Christian and finally an ancient Roman cult sanctuary.
Appian Way
This ancient Roman road goes outside the city walls and is crammed with fascinating sights.
Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls
This church was built over the burial place of St. Paul, and is one of the four most important basilicas in Rome.
Archbasilica of St. John in the Lateran
Said to be the oldest in the world, this is the mother of all Christian churches.
Wine
When in Rome, drink what the Romans drink.
Pyramid of Cestius
A rarely-visited tomb that is over 2000 years old, well preserved thanks to its part in the ancient city fortifications.

Related Tours

Private Underground Rome Tour inc Transportation: Ancient Catacombs and Secret Temples
Fully explore the depth of the Eternal City with a fascinating tour of the subterranean labyrinths below its surface - the underworld of Rome.  You'll get private access through these ancient underground cemeteries and feel the magnitude of the catacombs as you quietly walk among the now empty graves.

  • Enter Basilica San Clemente and the Catacombs.
  • Discover subterranean tunnels, different kinds of tombs and the cult of Mithras.
  • Learn about the two millennia old layers of history underneath the Eternal City.
  • Witness some of the most important early-day Christian frescoes in the world. 
  • See one of the earliest depictions of the Virgin Mary.
The quiet tunnels will come to life as your guide tells you the stories and legends of early Christianity during the days of Roman persecution.  The catacombs were the underground burial places of the Christian and Jewish communities from the second century AD. Christians would gather in the Catacombs for funerals and to celebrate the anniversaries of martyrs and the dead. During the time of Christian persecution the catacombs served as the burial site for Christian martyrs and were also used to celebrate the mass in secret. Around the year 366 AD these underground cemeteries became shrines for the martyrs and popular sites for pilgrimages. 

Step into this mystical maze and see some of the most important Christian frescoes in the world - such as the earliest depiction of the Virgin Mary and the oldest image of the Magi kings. Learn how the catacombs were started, and listen to the stories of some of the important figures, including Saints Peter and Paul, who were once buried there. See how pagan artwork translated into Christian Rome.

Discover within these subterranean tunnels, the different kinds of tombs - arcosolium, the sarcophagus, the forma, the cubiculum and the crypt. Learn about the special guild of workers referred to as fossores - ' gravediggers' - who dug miles and miles of these galleries in the dim light of oil lamps. Don't miss out on the opportunity to see this awe-inspiring underworld beneath one of the most ancient cities in the world.
Appian Way and Aqueducts Private Golf Cart Tour
This tour will whisk you away to the cobbled lanes and idyllic fields of the Italian countryside. 

  • Escape the crowds of central Rome to the cobbled lanes and idyllic fields of the Italian countryside.
  • Follow the iconic Appian Way - the immaculately preserved ‘Roman Queen of Roads’
  • Venture off the beaten track to discover ruins, relics and curiosities hidden from the eye.
  • Follow a trail of Rome’s beautiful Roman aqueducts - the city’s lesser known treasures.
  • Visit the ancient Baths of Caracalla and stop off at the tomb of Cecilia Metella.
  • Take centre stage and go at your own pace with your guide
  • Combine the intimacy of a walking tour with the comfort of a driving tour
Hop on a golf cart with your own expert guide and embark on an adventure across the less travelled side of beautiful Rome - the majestic Appian Way. At one time the most important road in the Roman Empire, immaculately preserved, it rolls from Central Rome to the beautiful hills and fields of the neighbouring countryside (and eventually all of the way to the City of Brindisi). Sided by sleepy churches, farmhouses and crumbling Roman ruins, it is a truly magical picturesque route.

Stumble upon an ancient catacomb, and discover the city’s remaining network of aqueducts. Once the pride of Roman engineering, these wonders transported water over long distances to towns and cities, providing the means to construct complex sewage and irrigation systems as well as baths, amongst other things. After stopping for refreshment and lunch at one of the top eateries in the local idyllic setting, leisurely return to Rome. A day not to be missed!

We created this tour because 
it allows visitors to see a different part of Rome, away from bustling crowds and offering the chance for you to unwind. 
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