A Rome Catacombs tour is the perfect way to explore the darker side of the Eternal City. They’re a little bit spooky, and extremely interesting - the places where the early Christians buried their dead and worshipped among them. Here is everything you need to know if you are planning to incorporate a trip to the Roman Catacombs into your vacation in Rome!
Where are the Catacombs?
There are only a handful of catacombs that are actually open to the public in Rome. You can wander around them, following in the footsteps of a society who had to descend into the underbelly of the city to bury their friends and neighbors. Left behind today are the burial niches, honeycomb-style in the walls of the underground tunnels, as well as a variety of ancient artwork.
You will find the (separate) Catacombs of San Sebastian and St. Callixtus on the old Appian Way, known in Italian as Via Appia Antica. The 118 bus from the city center of Rome takes you to this ancient and important road.
The Catacombs of Sant’Agnese are located at Via Nomentana. From central Rome, take the 66 bus to Ojetti/Primoli followed by the 337 bus as far as Nomentana.
The Catacombs of Domitilla can be found at Via delle Sette Chiese, 282, 00147. The 218 bus from Porta S. Giovanni will get you to these catacombs in just over 10 minutes!
The Catacombs of Priscilla are underneath Via Salaria, 420, 00199. To travel by bus, jump on the 92 from Volturno/Cernaia in central Rome. It takes just under 20 minutes to reach the catacombs.
If this prospect of Italian public transport isn’t quite calling out to you, then book a Roman Catacombs tour with us. The tour involves visiting catacombs as well as a crypt and a basilica - traveling easily between each location in a comfortable, climate-controlled bus. No hot and humid buses or cold walks between areas of interest!
Why are the catacombs worth visiting?
Rome catacomb tours are a brilliant way of exploring the hidden side of a city so steeped in beauty. From stunning churches to incredible artwork, Rome has it all - but alongside it, there is a dark history of illegal religion and underground worship, burials outside of the city walls and hidden art.
The catacombs are an amazing opportunity to learn about parts of the city’s history you might not otherwise come across. Popes were buried in the Roman catacombs, and early Christians took tables and benches down to the tunnels as the religion outgrew home-worship.
Rome’s catacombs are some of the oldest in the world. For those interested in history, this in itself is a massive draw; the tunnels themselves, turned into catacombs by the ancient Roman’s, actually go back further. They were carved out by the Etruscan people to be used for mining limestone and sandstone.
It’s not only history and spooky stories, though. The catacombs are almost an underground art gallery: frescoes and smaller, framed paintings can be found in the catacombs. Said to be the most valuable collection of Christian artworks in the world, save for that in the Vatican, it really is a wonder to behold this well-preserved art located beneath the hustle and bustle of the city. It is also incredible to see artwork in a different context to a brightly lit gallery full of field trips and families!
Where else can you see the darker side of Rome?
The catacombs are not the only example of the Eternal City’s dark side. Our tour combines a catacombs visit with a trip to the Basilica of San Clemente and the Capuchin Crypt and Museum.
San Clemente provides a fascinating example of church reuse; head underneath the church and you will find a preserved Roman street, complete with a working aqueduct and a room use for the secret meetings of a pagan mystery cult.
From here you’ll head to the Church of Santa Maria della Concezioni dei Cappuccini - the museum of the Capuchins, and home to the Capuchin Crypts. Here lies the bodies of 4000 friars, rehoused in the 17th century and arranged in elaborate patterns designed to remind those who visit that death cannot be escaped…
Practical tips for visiting the catacombs
Our tours of the Roman catacombs are led by English-speaking archaeologists, experts in their field who can tell you so much about the history of the underground burial chambers. Groups are of 20 people or less, and this is the perfect amount for enjoying a trip to the catacombs without it being too crowded.
Think carefully about what you’ll wear when visiting the catacombs. Being underground, they can get quite cold even in the summer - so while you may be exploring the city in a t-shirt and shorts, be sure to pack a lightweight jacket that you can put on when you head underneath the city streets. Comfortable shoes, like sneakers or walking boots, are a must - the catacombs are ancient, and weren’t built with easy exploring in mind!
When heading to the crypts, it is worth noting that your knees and shoulders must be covered. When visiting Rome in the winter months, jeans and a sweater (or a t-shirt and jacket combination) are fine. If you are visiting in the summer, consider wearing a thin shirt or blouse and some thin trousers like khakis or harem pants. That way you can keep cool but still be within the realms of respecting the dress code.
Rome catacombs tours are the best way to explore the hidden side to a city so famous for its historical, religious and artistic landmarks. Get underground and see for yourself the darker past that Rome shies away from today…