Catacombs have taken on a mystical and spooky nature. Today there are catacombs under many of the world's old cities like in Paris and in Odesa in Ukraine. But the original catacombs are the Catacombs of Rome.  They are ancient and were used for underground burials in and around Rome.

These catacombs are famous for their importance to early Christianity and had a big influence on the development of the early church in Rome. Hundred of thousands of early Christians were buried in these passways underneath the eternal city. Some of them are massive and only a select few of them are open to the public today.

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About The Roman Catacombs

There are multiple catacombs in Rome - currently, at least forty are known. Amazingly some have only been rediscovered in recent decades.

The Catacombs of Rome are mostly of Christians, but there are also Jewish burials and a variety of pagan Roman burials of those pagans who did not cremate their dead. The burials in these catacombs were in response to the city being overcrowded in the 2nd century AD and burials being banned in the city due to limited land availability. Interestingly, overcrowding and land shortage are also what drove the burials in the catacombs of Paris.

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One of the most famous of the various Roman catacombs is the Catacomb of Callixtus. It is a Christian catacomb and is located near the modern Park of the Cafferalla.

The Roman Catacombs are very important to Early Christian art. They were also refugees in times of Christian persecution in Rome.

The Roman Catacombs are so old that many of them actually predate the Romans. Many were first excavated by the Etruscans who lived in this area before the Romans. Like the quarries (now termed catacombs) of Paris, they were excavated to mine various rocks like sandstone and limestone in order to build the city. These quarries were enhanced later on by the Romans for more rock resources and then by Christians and Jews to bury their dead.

  • Decline: Started To Decline After 380 AD
  • Ransacked: It Seems Vandals, Ostrogoths, And Lombards Looted The Catacombs Looking For Valuables
  • Largely Abandoned: They Were Largely Abandoned After The 10th Century And The Relics In Them Were Transferred To The Basilicas

After Christianity became the state religion in 380 AD the practice of entombing their dead in the catacombs began to decline. Instead, as time worn on, it became more popular to bury dead in the church cemeteries and by the 6th century the practice had ceased and they were used only for martyr's memorial services.

Today it is the Holy See of the Catholic Church who is responsible for the Christian catacombs. They are managed by the Holy See's Pontifical Commission of Sacred Archaeology.

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Catacombs That Are Open To The Public

Today of the 40-60 catacombs of Rome only five are open to the public and can be visited. These are:

  • Catacombs Of San Callisto: Over 20 Kilometers Or 14 Miles In Length. They Contain 16 Pontiffs And Many Important Christian Martyrs. Open Thursday To Tuesday. Hours 9:00 am to Noon and from 14:00 pm to 17:00 pm
  • Catacombs Of San Sebastiano: 12 Kilometers Long Or Around 8 Miles. One Of The Best Two To Be Toured (Long With San Callisto Catacombs). Open Monday To Saturday. Hours 9.00 am to Noon And From 14.00 pm to 17.00 pm
  • Catacombs of Domitilla: These Are Around 15 Kilometers Or 10 Miles Long. They Were Rediscovered In 1593, Open Wednesday to Monday. Hours 9.00 am to Noon And From 14.00 pm to 17.00 pm
  • Catacombs Of Sant'Angese: Named For A Woman Sant'Agnese Who Was Martyred For Her Faith. Open Every Day But Closed Sunday Mornings And Monday Afternoons. Hours 9.00 am to Noon and From 16.00 pm to 18.00 pm
  • Catacombs Of Priscilla: These have Interesting Frescos That Are Important To Christain History of Art. They Are Believed To Be The First Depictions Of The Virgin Mary. Open Tuesday To Sunday. Hours 9.00 am to Noon And From 14.00 pm to 17.00 pm

Visiting The Catacombs

Taking a guided tour of the catacombs is easy, affordable, straight forward. One example of a guided tour to the Basilica of Saint Sebastian and its Catacombs.

  • Length Of Tour: 3 Hours
  • Cost: $ 47.30
  • Meeting Time: 10.00 am
  • Included: Tour Guide

Tourists can book guided tours of the Roman catacombs here.

Touring the catacombs of Roman is one of the most rewarding and interesting things one can do. All too often tourists are so preoccupied with seeing what is above ground that they don't stop to think about what could be underground. Much of the most important history of the City of Rome lay underground just waiting to be seen and is an important part of one's weekend Rome itinerary.

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