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Catacombs are systems of underground passages or rooms which were used for several centuries as burial places. The most famous catacombs lie on the outskirts of Rome as burial was forbidden within the city walls. Fascinating legends and tales reverberate within the walls of these catacombs – they were a place of refuge for persecuted Christians, the burial place of such famous figures as Saint Sebastian, and were believed to contain the relics of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.
The term catacomb (in Latin “ad catacumbas”), derives from the Greek designation catà cumbè which means “at the caves” or “in the valley.” Originally, this referred to a cemetery located on the Via Appia, today’s Catacomb of San Sebastiano, which was hewn into a stone quarry just south of the city. The reason for the great spread of the catacombs in Rome is also closely linked to the geological characteristics of the subsoil, composed of tuff and friable pozzolan. Come with us for a Rome catacombs tour!
History of the Catacombs
The catacombs of Rome are ancient underground tunnels, which formed labyrinthes, several kilometers long, where Christians, Jews, but also pagans buried their dead so that they could rest side by side. Christians did not follow the pagan tradition of cremating the bodies of their dead,and so, to solve the problem of lack of space and the high cost of the land, they decided to create these vast underground cemeteries, used for funerary and memorial services.
The fresco paintings on the walls are important examples of early Christian art. Such scenes as Daniel in the Lion’s Den and Moses Striking the Rock symbolize God’s salvation of men and nations. The paintings also show praying figures of the dead resurrected in Paradise, standing with their arms raised up in adoration.
Their origin dates back to the first century BC. Legend has it that these underground galleries developed during the periods of persecution and served as refuge and places for clandestine encounters of the first Roman Christians because Roman law held all burial places to be sacred.
However, because persecutions were carried out only in certain relatively short periods of the Roman Empire, the catacombs lost their utility when Christianity became the Empire’s established religion.
The most important Catacombs in Rome
According to a law that prohibited burials and cremations within the city (Hominem mortuum in urbe neve sepelito neve urito), the catacombs were all built outside the walls, on the edge of the consular streets. At the time, whoever owned the land was also the owner of the subsoil, so the private property of a single person was made available to the entire Christian community, to create a cemetery open to all the brothers of faith.
In the subsoil of Rome there are more than 40 Catacombs that expand for about 150 km and on several levels. Book a Rome Catacombs tour, among the most important there are:
- The Catacombs of San Sebastiano
- The Catacombs of San Callisto
- The Jewish Catacombs of Vigna Randanini
- The Catacombs of Domitilla
- The Catacombs of Priscilla
- The Catacombs of Sant’Agnese
- The Catacombs of Pretestato
- The Catacombs of Santi Marcellino and Pietro
- The Catacombs of Generosa
Walks Inside Rome – Guided tour of the Roman Catacombs
Walks Inside Rome is an agency of travel services and guided tours which has been operating in Rome since 1999. Our goal is to provide our clients with the highest quality tour guide services in art, history, food and fun in Italy’s most spectacular destinations.
We are open 7 days a week and we provide a variety of exciting, engaging and educational tours for first-time visitors and discerning travelers across Italy. Come and discover the Bel Paese in your own way through personalized tours led by our exceptional Italian guides.
Contact us to develop a tour program for Rome and walks in its surroundings, private or collective visits at your convenience. For any questions and any further information about our services, fill out the form on our website, send us an email, call us or chat with us on WhatsApp. We look forward to meeting you soon so we can start exploring Italy together!