The legend goes that when a visitor tosses a coin into the Fontana de Trevi, then he or she is destined to return to Rome! Whether you flipped a cinquanta centesimi coin into the fountain a few years ago, or you’ve never even set foot inside the city limits, it’s about time you jetted off to Rome. So grab some Euro coins to flip and get going—ciao!
Whether this is your first visit or your return to Rome, this romantic and vibrant city will charm you with its wealth of iconic landmarks. Stand transfixed as you discover the majesty and history of the Colosseum. Climb those Spanish Steps, marvel at St. Peters and The Vatican, cross the bridge to Castel Sant’Angelo, sigh in the pristine Sistine Chapel, and then feast on pizzas in piazzas. After all, as the old saying goes—”When in Rome!”
But to give your Roman holiday a totally different perspective, let’s venture underground!
Rome is home to miles and miles of hidden, underground catacombs and crypts. Creepy, huh?
Contrary to popular belief, these catacombs are not solely burial grounds. Most contain fascinating insights into Rome’s history, amazing sculptures, art, and best of all, there’s one that’s even tricked out with the bones of dead monks! Don’t get any interior design ideas here, please!
Here are some of the most popular catacombs and crypts to visit, “when in Rome!”
1.) Capuchin Crypt
I’m sure you’ll go home with your own “tales from the crypt” after a visit here!
The most bizarre of Rome’s ancient burial sites, this creepy crypt’s walls are covered in the bones of dead monks. Dating back to 1645, there are reputedly over four thousand monks adorning the ceilings and walls in a variety of strange patterns, including a clock formation. I guess “time was up” for some of these guys, after all!
As well as the crypt, take in the church and museum near Barbarini Square, as you learn more about the fascinating secret lives of these Capuchin monks. This crypt, nicknamed “The Bone Chapel,” is absolutely perfect for the creepy, catacomb curious amongst you! Mwahahaha!
Open daily from 9:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
2.) Catacombs of St. Callixtus
When it comes to catacombs – size does matter!
One of the biggest and most popular of Rome’s catacombs is locally called the Catacombe di San Callisto. Stretching over twelve miles long and descending over sixty five feet, these cavernous tunnels, named after the cemetery’s first administrator and future Pope, are the final resting place for no fewer than sixteen Popes, nine of which can be found in their own exclusive crypt, nicknamed appropriately “the Little Vatican.”
Martyrs, families, and dignitaries of Rome were all buried here, in what was the Church of Rome’s official cemetery. These catacombs are also the underground home of an amazing collection of early paintings, frescoes, and statues. Located close to Rome’s most famous historic road, The Appian Way, the catacombs of St. Callixtus are an eerie and intriguing glimpse into the past.
Open six days a week from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with a two hour closure starting at noon, the catacombs of St. Callixtus are closed on Wednesdays, and throughout the month of February.
3.) Catacombs of St. Domitilla
Close to St. Callixtus, along the famed Appian Way, you’ll find the oldest, best preserved, and spookiest of Rome’s catacombs—the Catacombe di San Domitilla!
Enter through a subterranean fourth century church for a glimpse of a second century fresco of the “Last Supper,” but watch where you step! These catacombs are the only ones to still contain bones. (The previously mentioned, bone-filled Capuchin is a crypt, not a catacomb!)
Thought by many to be the spookiest catacombs in town, this network of tunnels has several sections closed off to the public, the result being an intimate and eerie tour. As you tip-toe around, head bowed to avoid the low ceilings, it’s easy for your mind to wander—what could be lurking in those closed off sections? But don’t worry—a bevy of fun, entertaining tour guides are available to show you the highlights and keep you safe!
Open year round (except mid-December to mid-January) from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Wednesdays through Mondays, with a two hour break from noon (the guides have to eat lunch—and I’m hoping “ribs” aren’t on the menu!), these catacombs are a must-see stop on your trip to Rome.
4.) Underneath the Colosseum!
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the venue for so many barbaric and violent gladiatorial contests, public executions, and battle re-enactments should contain a few underground secrets! It’s estimated that countless hundreds of thousands perished within the arena’s walls from 80 AD to Medieval times, at which point the Colosseum finally began to take on a more civilized role in Roman life.
Nowadays, visitors can venture below the excavated wooden Colosseum floor, into the hypogeum, which literally translates to “underground.” Marvel at the network of tunnels and cages that gladiators and animals were housed in, prior to being released into the main arena through a series of shafts, elevators, and pulleys! Most of the resulting dead bodies were quickly stripped of armor and weapons and processed through the spoliarium, where, if the stories are to be believed, they were either tossed into the Tiber River, or fed to the next bunch of ravenous wild animals. Oh my!
Tours are available during the day—featuring a “gladiator view,” where you can get an idea of how it would feel to stand in these corridors awaiting your fate—and for the more adventurous of you, at night. Less crowds, more creepy shadows! The Colosseum is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 7:15 p.m.
So, now that we’ve shown you the cool and creepy side of the city and clarified that “catacombs” are not feline grooming accessories, why not explore underground Rome for yourself? Not only will this give you a “deeper” understanding of this great city, but it’ll also help you dodge all those Vespa scooters buzzing around on street level. Phew!
Arrivederci – oh – and don’t forget to throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain when you pass, so you can visit Rome all over again, and again!
Let us know where you think is best to “roam” when in Rome, in the handy comments section below! Mwahahaha!