In Rome we can find countless enigmatic places but none as chilling and mysterious as the Catacombs.
Although many people think that they were the secret places where the first Christians met, in reality this was not the case.
Here we tell you what their origin was, what they were used for and practical information to visit them.
The origins of the Catacombs
The Catacombs of Rome are an underground network of passageways and rooms that are approximately 150 km long and that served to bury the first Christians who populated the city.
At that time it was usual to cremate the dead but the Christians did not agree with this pagan custom and decided to build these underground cemeteries to bury their deceased.
Little by little, the Catacombs grew until they formed a labyrinth with different rectangular niches in the walls with capacity for one deceased person, although there were also some where two were buried.
The dead entered the niche wrapped in a sheet and it was closed with a marble tombstone where their name and the Christian cross were engraved.
The reason that the catacombs are so far from the center is that Roman law prohibited burying the dead within the city walls, so the Christians had to go to the outskirts where land was also cheaper.
The end of the Catacombs
The Catacombs of Rome were created in the second century and the following century was when they grew the most.
However, despite the end of the persecution of Christians in 313, they preferred to continue burying their dead underground and the network continued to grow.
In any case, they were able to start building churches and create surface cemeteries, so growth was less.
Later, with the invasion of the barbarians, the tombs were looted, so the various Popes chose to move the relics to the churches that were in the city, so the catacombs were abandoned and forgotten.
Until in the 19th century they were rediscovered and excavations began to rescue them. Currently 60 are known but many more remain to be discovered.
Visit the Catacombs of Rome
To visit them you have to go to the Via Appia Antica, where the main ones are.
Of the 60 that are known, only 5 can be visited. All of them are close to each other, although it can be a bit difficult to find if you do not know the area and you have to take into account that they all close one day a week that alternate..
The catacombs that can be visited on the Via Appia Antica are the following:
- Catacombs of San Callisto. It is the most interesting of all and 16 Popes and martyrs were buried there. In it we can highlight the Crypt of the Popes and the Crypt of Santa Cecilia. It is visited in a group with a guide and it is closed on Wednesdays.
- Catacombs of San Sebastian. It is also very interesting and competes with the previous one and they owe their name to a soldier who was martyred for converting to Christianity. It is said that Saint Peter and Saint Paul were also buried here for some time, although this is not confirmed. Closed on Sundays.
- Catacombs of Domitilla. Vespasian’s granddaughter, another Christian martyr, is the one after whom these catacombs are named. She closes on Tuesdays.
Off the Via Appia Antica, further north from Rome we find two other catacombs that you could visit:
- Catacombs of Santa Inés. Dedicated to another Christian martyr who was buried in this place. In this case, it closes on Sunday morning and Monday afternoon.
- Catacombs of Priscilla. They are the largest of all and inside, the Basilica of the Martyrs Nereo and Aquileo stands out above all else. Closed on Tuesdays.