When people think of Rome, what often pops into their heads is food, the Colosseum, and the Vatican. And that’s pretty accurate, but the city has so much more for you to see and do! One of them is the Catacombs of Rome, which we highly recommend putting at the top of your list. In this guide, we cover how to visit the Rome Catacombs.
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Visiting the Catacombs of Rome: What We’ll Cover
- Catacombs of Rome History
- Hours, ticket prices, and catacomb options
- Catacombs Tour Options
- How to get to the Catacombs
- Things to see at the Catacombs
- Where to eat nearby
History of the Rome Catacombs
Some say the Catacombs were located underground because the Christians had to hide the bodies from the Romans due to religious persecution. Nothing could be further from the case.
Many of Rome’s catacombs were built on or around the Appia Antica, which was Rome’s principal road in and out of the city. If Christians were attempting to hide there, it was a poor choice in location as it would have been like building their catacombs on the equivalent of 5th avenue in NYC today.
Christians were definitely martyred by Romans, but it was less frequent than you’d think and mostly took place in the 3rd century. Rome was a liberal place with religious freedom, as long as you pledged allegiance to the Roman state anyway. This pledge often had to be made in the form of sacrifices to the Roman Gods—something Christians couldn’t do.
Most martyrs, like Saint Sebastian, were victims of circumstance or sporadic bouts of religious persecution. Diocletian was an emperor at the height of Christian popularity when the “cult” was considered to be a serious threat to the Roman way of life. Saint Sebastian rose fast in the military and was promoted to the Praetorian Guard, which directly protected the emperor.
Diocletian discovered his concealed faith and that he was converting others, especially Praetorians, to Christianity and his martyrdom followed. Martyrs were often people who held high office in the Roman government rather than common people. They were usually identified through refusal to participate in Pagan ceremonies or through rumors that spread in elite circles. The Patron of the Domitilla Catacombs was the granddaughter of Emperor Vespasian and was exiled. Her husband, Flavio Clemente, was put to death.
Hours, Ticket Prices, and Catacomb Options
The Catacombs of Domitilla
The Domitilla Catacombs are one of Rome’s oldest and largest catacombs, holding over 150,000 people and stretching 10.5 miles (17km). It is the only Catacomb with an underground basilica—a massive structure used for worship. The basilica makes a big impression on visitors when they first walk in, which is why it’s our preferred catacomb for guided tours and the one we most recommend to travelers.
There are many paleo-Christian frescoes, which are in excellent condition today. Visiting the catacombs is an amazing way to connect with our ancestors from close to 2000 years ago.
Address: Via delle Sette Chiese, 282
€5 (6 – 15 and students)
Hours: 9 am – Noon and 2 pm – 5 pm (Closed Tuesdays)
Seasonal Closure: The Catacombs are normally closed from Dec 15 to Jan 15th.
Not ready to book a tour yet? Find out if a tour of Rome’s Catacombs is really worth it.
The Catacombs of San Callisto (Callixtus)
San Callisto is not the oldest of the Rome catacombs, but it is without question the largest. Roughly half a million (500,000) Christians were buried there among many of Rome’s most famous martyrs and 16 early Popes. The catacomb is named after its creator, Deacon St. Callixtus, who was assigned by Pope Zephyrinus, the 15th Pope.
The catacombs of San Callixtus are known for the immense amount of symbolism inside. You can find many early Christian symbols like the monogram of Christ, Alpha and Omega, and the Anchor, among many others.
One of the main attractions here is the Papal Tombs. These are very impressive tombs that once held the remains of some of Rome’s earliest Popes including the 11th Pope St Anicetus. The main reason we do not visit these catacombs is due to the crowds—it is Rome’s most popular catacomb and draws in many crowds.
Address: Via Appia Antica, 110
€10 (Standard Admission)
€7 (Concession Tickets)
Hours: 9 am – Noon and 2 pm – 5 pm (Closed Wednesday)
The Catacombs of St. Callixtus are closed on the following days: New Year’s Day (1st January), From 20th January 2022 to 15th February 2022, Easter (17th April 2022), and Christmas (25th December).
The Catacombs of Saint Sebastian
The Catacombs of Saint Sebastian are one of Rome’s oldest catacombs and home to the remains of St. Sebastian, one of Rome’s greatest martyrs. Saint Sebastian was ordered to be executed by Diocletian and shot with as many arrows as a “sea urchin”. He miraculously survived and was nursed back to health.
He surprised Diocletian once he was in good health and gave a moving speech about the persecution of Christians. Unfortunately, it fell on deaf ears and Diocletian made sure he did not survive the next run at this life. He ordered him thrown into the common sewers but he was fished out by fellow worshippers and his remains were buried in his namesake catacombs.
Address: Via Appia Antica 136
€7 (7 – 16 years old and students)
Hours: 10 am – 5 pm Monday to Sunday
Seasonal Closures: December (annually), 25th December (Christmas Day), 1st January (New Years Day).
The Catacombs of Priscilla
The Catacombs of Priscilla, known as the “queen of the catacombs” due to the amount of martyrs buried within, are a vast complex of underground burial chambers in use from the 2nd to the 5th century A.D. They were named for the Roman noblewoman who granted the the church the use of her vast land for the purposes of burial. The entrances were blocked at some point to prevent robbery.
Unlike pagans and many others, Christians did not bury their dead with worldly possessions. Thieves did not realize this and would vandalize graves. Re-discovered in the 16th century, these are great catacombs to visit today, but we recommend going to the catacombs surrounding the Appia Antica. In our opinion, the area has a larger history and gives you more options to explore other nearby monuments.
Address: Via Salaria 430
€7 (7 – 16 years old and students)
Hours: 9 am – Noon and 2 pm – 5 pm (Closed Mondays)
Rome Catacombs Tour Options
You can definitely visit the catacombs on your own, but why all the hassle? You’ll need to take a bus out there and back, and you’ll miss out on the nearby attractions like the Old Appian Way and the Capuchin Bone Crypts.
We offer a variety of different catacomb tour options that will make your visit simple, enriching, and enjoyable! The most popular option is our Rome Catacombs Tour with Capuchin Crypts. In 3 hours, you’ll see the elaborate skeletal decor of the Capuchin Crypts, set foot on the ancient Appian Way, and explore the underground tombs of the Rome Catacombs.
If that’s not eery enough for you, head to the catacombs after hours in our VIP Rome Catacombs Night Tour with Capuchin Crypts. There’ll be very few other people around as you explore this creepy underground world as night falls.
You also have the option of seeing the Rome Catacombs with other top attractions. On our Ancient Rome Tour, you’ll explore both the Colosseum, with special access to the Arena Floor, and the Rome Catacombs. If the Vatican is where your interest lies, you’ll love our History of Christianity Tour with the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, and Catacombs.
Not ready to book a tour? Find out if a Rome Catacombs tour is worth it.
How To Get To the Rome Catacombs
There are a few ways you can get to the Domitilla Catacombs from Rome city center. By taxi, it will take about 15 minutes. Another option is to take the bus. From Roma Termini station, you’ll want to get the 714 bus and take it 12 stops to Navigatori, which should take about 15 or 20 minutes. Once you’re there, you’ll walk about 10 minutes down Via delle Sette Chiese and arrive at Domitilla Catacombs. The catacombs of Saint Sebastian and San Callisto are fairly close by.
Getting around Rome by bus can be a little confusing if you don’t know the city very well or can’t speak Italian. If you’re worried about using public transportation, we recommend taking a group tour led by an expert guide. This way, you can take private transportation directly to the Domitilla Catacombs without having to worry about logistics.
11 Things To See at the Rome Catacombs
Located about 15 minutes outside Rome are the hidden Catacombs of Domitilla. Early Romans created the Domitilla Catacombs because burial was not allowed inside of Rome, whereas the Paris Catacombs were created because there was no more room to bury anyone in the city.
Not a lover of death and bones? The Catacombs of Domitilla are also home to many incredible frescoes, dating back as early as A.D. 360 and you will not find any skeletal remains to this day. An estimated 150,000 bodies are buried in the catacombs.
The Basilica of the Martyrs Nereus and Achilleus
One of the main draws of these catacombs is the underground basilica. It is exactly what it sounds like, a massive basilica under the ground that was used by Christians for worship.
The Basilica was constructed at the end of the 4th century A.D. when Christianity was already legalized. It was not located underground to hide but instead to be closer to the tombs.
The tombs or graves are dug out of tufa stone which is a type of volcanic stone. The oldest tombs are the ones closest to the surface since they were the first ones dug. You’ll notice the tombs are shorter than you would likely fit into—this is because Romans were short and people have gotten taller over time.
Here are the different types of tombs:
- Loculi: these are single-person tombs cut into the walls. Sometimes multiple people were put in these, but they were originally meant for one person. Smaller ones exist for children.
- Arcosolio: This is a tomb for more than one person, often used for families.
- Cubicoli: Full rooms reserved for families where generations of people could be buried over time.
Tombs would be covered with marble slabs, many of which are missing as graves have been robbed over time.
Ancient Frescoes of Paleo-Christian Origin
There was a big advantage to the catacombs being underground—for preservation. At one point, many of them were sealed shut to protect the tombs from grave robbers, which meant there was almost no circulation of air or elements. Often graves were decorated with frescoes and many of them are the best-preserved frescoes from antiquity.
- The Last Supper
- Life of Bakers
- Grape Vines
- Jesus with Apostles
- Noah’s Ark
- Daniel with Lions
A lot of the frescoes portray the transportation of grain to Ostia, probably representing the profession of those buried there. There’s even a fresco dating back to the second century, depicting The Last Supper.
Via Appia Antica
The Appian Way or Via Appia Antica is one of the original seven roads leading into Rome. The road connected Rome to Brindisi, which is a seaside village in the southeast of Italy and a port that connected the city with the middle east.
The original road was built in 312 B.C. by Appius Claudius Caecus who named it after himself. The road was completed and used during the Samnite Wars. It was an impressive road that extended more than 350 miles or (560km).
The road was built in layers, starting with leveled dirt, followed by interlocking stones, mortar, gravel, and finally larger interlocking stones. The road was level, straight and flat. It also had mile markers throughout the entire route, which gave travelers an excellent idea of where they were on their journey.
Ancient Roman catacombs line the Appian Way and it is a great site to explore off the beaten path. When they were still in use, the catacombs lining the Way were common burial sites for both Christians and Pagans.
Capuchin Crypt in Rome
If bones are what you’re after, head to the Capuchin Crypts in the historic center of Rome. Dating back to 1645, the Capuchin Crypt is not technically a catacomb. However, it fits hand-in-hand with the spooky atmosphere of the Roman catacombs.
Why head here? Well, this place is the final resting place of around 4,000 monks, buried between 1500 to 1870. Adorned with the bones of these ancient monks, these rooms are more than a bit eerie.
For the most haunting Capuchin Crypts experience, we recommend visiting the area at night on our VIP Rome Catacombs Night Tour with Capuchin Crypts.
The underground crypt is divided into five chapels: Crypt of the Resurrection, Crypt of the Skulls, Crypt of the Pelvises, Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thigh Bones, and the Crypt of the Three Skeletons.
While underground burial sites in Rome typically require a hike to the outskirts of the city, the Capuchin Crypt is easy to add to a day of sightseeing alongside the Pantheon, Colosseum, Vatican, and Spanish Steps.
Park of the Aqueducts
The Parco degli Aquedotti or Park of the Aqueducts is part of the Appian Way Park and Rome’s largest green space. It is a very peaceful place that can be a bit hard to get to, but it’s definitely worth it.
It’s exactly what you think it is—a park with Ancient Roman aqueducts running through it. You can see the Aqua Felix and Aqua Claudia in plain view. The Claudian Aqueduct, or Aqua Claudia as it is referred to, rises as much as 100 feet in the air and stretches 43 miles.
It is one of four great Roman aqueducts and apparently was capable of bringing 50 million gallons of water into Rome every 24 hours! You really can’t miss the structure as it is free to visit!
Not ready to book a tour? Find out if a Rome Catacombs tour is worth it.
Where To Eat Nearby
Hostaria Antica Roma: €€€ | Experiential Ancient Roman Food—If you are looking for authentic ancient Roman eats, this is your spot. Yep, dine off a menu of food that the Romans themselves indulged in themselves about two thousand years ago. It’s pretty pricey, but a cool experience for all.
Giardino di Giulia e Fratelli: €€ | Typical Roman | Outdoor Seating | Great for Kids—I have ridden bikes out to this little garden restaurant on many of my days off. It’s a pretty cool little place with good food and a great garden. An excellent place if you have kids and you want to enjoy a long lunch. They can safely run around in the enclosure while you eat and have some wine!
Qui Nun Se More Mai: €€ | Typical Roman—Looking for authentic Roman food? You’ve found it—and I’m not talking ancient Roman, although you may feel like you’ve been transported back to the 60s. Enjoy great roman dishes, and consider something from the grill. They serve awesome cuts of meat, locally sourced from a farm just down the street.
If you want us to arrange the entertainment in Rome (and beyond!), contact our Trip Planning Team to coordinate an unforgettable Italian experience.