People often think of Rome and “Food, Colosseum, and Vatican” immediately pop into their heads. It is a very accurate picture to paint but the city has no limits of what you can see and do which is why we heavily recommend putting the Roman Catacombs at the top of your list! This article will walk you through how to do it!
Pro Tip: Bookmark this post in your browser so you can circle back to it while you are in Rome. Also, check out our tours of the Roman Catacombs if you want to see them without all the stress.
What This Article Covers
- Catacomb Tour Options
- Hours, Ticket Prices & RSVP
- Things to See in the Catacombs
- Where to Eat Nearby
- Getting to Rome’s Catacombs
Often, persons will say that the Catacombs were buried underground because the Christians had to hide the bodies from Romans due to religious persecution. Nothing could be further from the case.
Many of Rome’s catacombs were built on or around Appia Antica which was Rome’s principal road coming in and out of the city. If Christians were attempting to hide it would be as if they built their catacomb on 5th avenue in NYC.
There were definitely Christians that were martyred by Romans but it was less frequent than you’d think and mostly in the 3rd century. Rome was very liberal with religious freedom as long as you pledged allegiance to the Roman state. That pledge often came in the form of sacrifices to the Roman Gods – something Christians couldn’t do.
Most martyrs, like St. Sebastian, fell victim of circumstance or sporadic bouts of religious persecution. Diocletian was an emperor at the complete 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 found out about his concealed faith and that he was converting others, especially Praetorians, to Christianity – his martyrdom followed. You’d have to imagine that this would be very similar to a member of a suspected terrorist group being promoted to the secret service or some type of royal guard.
Often the martyrs will be persons of high office in the Roman government instead of common people. They would normally get “found out” when refusing to participate in Pagan ceremonies or simply rumors that would go around 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.
You can definitely visit the Catacombs on your own, but why all the hassle? You need to take a bus out there, a bus back and you will miss out on nearby attractions like the Old Appian Way and the Capuchin Bone Crypts.
We offer a variety of different catacomb tour options that will take the guesswork out and elevate your experience making it more memorable!
Hours, Ticket Prices & Catacomb Options
The Catacombs of Domitilla
The Domitilla Catacombs are one of Rome’s many catacombs but one of the few that visitors can visit. It is one of the oldest and largest catacombs in Rome. It was home to over 150,000 persons and stretched 10.5 miles (17km)
It is the only Catacomb that has an underground Basilica that was used for worship. The basilica is a massive and impressive structure that makes a big impression on visitors when they first walk in. It is much of the reason why it is our preferred catacombs for conducting guided tours and the one we recommend most to travelers.
It is also home to many paleo Christian frescoes which are in excellent condition today. It is an amazing way to directly connect with our ancestors from close to 2000 years ago.
Address: Via delle Sette Chiese, 282
5€ (6 – 15 & students)
Hours: 9 am – Noon & 2 pm – 5 pm (Closed Tuesdays)
The above hours are updated for COVID-19
Seasonal Closure: The Catacombs are normally closed from Dec 15 to Jan 15th completely.
The Catacombs of San Callisto (Callixtus)
San Callisto is not the oldest catacombs of Rome, but it is without question the largest. Roughly half a million (500,000) christians were buried there among many of Rome’s most famous marytrs and 16 early Popes.
The catacomb is named after its creator, Deacon St. Callixtus, who was assigned by Pope Zephyrinus who was the 15th Pope.
The catacombs of San Callixtus is known for the immense amount of symbolism inside. You can find many early christian symbols like the monogram of Christ, Alpha & 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 this catacombs is due to the crowds. It is Rome’s most popular catacomb which draws in many crowds.
Address: Via Appia Antica, 110
Hours: 9 am – Noon & 2 pm – 5 pm (Closed Wednesday)
All persons wishing to enter during Covid-19 must book online.
The Catacombs of Saint Sebastian
(Temporarily Closed for COVID-19)
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
5€ (6 – 15 & students)
Hours:Temporarily Closed for COVID-19
The Catacombs of Priscilla
The catacombs of Priscilla are known as the “queen of the catacombs” due to the vast quantity of christian topography and liturgy that was found contained inside as well as the amount of martyrs buried within.
It was under use from the 2nd to the 5th century AD and is a vast complex of underground burial chambers. It gets its name from the Roman noblewoman who granted the use of her vast land to the church for the purpose of burial. The entrances were blocked at some point to stop thievery.
Unlike pagans and many others, christians did not bury their dead with worldly possessions, but thieves did not realize that and would greatly vandalize graves. The catacombs were re-discovered in the 16th century. Today they are great catacombs to visit but we recommend going to the catacombs surrounding Appia Antica. In our opinion, the area has a larger history which allows you more options to explore other nearby monuments.
Address: Via Salaria 430
5€ (6 – 15 & students)
Hours: 9 am – Noon & 2 pm – 5 pm (Closed Mondays)
11 Things To See in and around the 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 360 A.D. 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 & 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 AD when Christianity was already legalized. It was not 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 ones dug first. You’ll notice the tombs are shorter than you would likely fit into. This is because Romans were short and people have grown 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 meant for a single 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 people could be buried over time.
Tombs would be covered with a marble slab, many of which are missing as the graves were robbed over time.
Ancient Fresco of Paleo-Christian Origin
The catacombs being underground gave them a big advantage in terms of preservation. At one point many were sealed shut to protect the tombs from grave robbers. That means almost no circulation of air nor elements. Often graves were decorated by 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
Many 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. If you’re wondering how many bodies are buried in the Catacombs of Domitilla, the answer may surprise you.
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 Rome with the middle east.
The original road was created in 312 BC 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 ran 350mi+ or 560km+.
The road is built in layers starting with leveled dirt, 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 you an excellent idea where you were in your journey.
It’s lined by ancient Roman catacombs and is a great site to explore off the beaten path. During their functional period, the catacombs that line the Appian 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 Park of the Aqueducts or Parco degli Aquedotti in Italian 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 very worth it.
It is 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!
Where to Eat Nearby
Hostaria Antica Roma – 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 themselves with two thousand years ago. It’s pretty pricey but a cool experience for all.
Via Appia Antica 176 | €€€ | Experiential Ancient Roman Food
Giardino di Giulia e Fratelli – I have ridden bikes out to this little garden restaurant on many of my days off. A pretty cool little place with good food and a great little garden. An excellent place if you have kids and you want to enjoy a long lunch. They can run around inside the enclosure while you eat and have some wine!
Via Appia Antica 176| €€ | Typical Roman | Outdoor Seating | Great for Kids
Qui Nun Se More Mai – Authentic Roman? You found it. I am not talking ancient Roman but you may feel like you were transported back to the 60s. Great roman dishes but consider something off the grill. Awesome cuts of meat fetched off a farm just down the street.
Via Appia Antica 198 | €€ | Typical Roman
How to Get to the Catacombs
There are a few options you can use to 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.
Getting around Rome by bus can be a little confusing if you don’t know the city 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 and not have to worry about logistics.
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