Rome Underground: Catacombs, Crypts & Bones!
Over the past 10-ish years you could say I’ve spent a lot of time in Rome. And now I live in the city.
Many things will spring to mind when you think of the eternal city, but perhaps not crypts, bones and catacombs?
Last week I attended the Walks of Italy Crypts, Bones and Catacombs tour on my first official Rome blogger appointment. And it was a hard day at the office! 🙂
Not only was I taken on a journey underground, but a voyage back in time.
Walks of Italy was born around 2001 with the simple objective of showcasing the best Italy has to offer. They offer discrete tours across Rome, Vatican City, Venice, Florence, Pompeii, Amalfi Coast, Tuscany including Siena and Puglia.
They have a small group policy with no more than 12 persons and on some tours even less. So this will already indicate the intimate and personal nature of their style.
Their mission statement states that they aim to treat anyone who contacts them like a personal friend who happens to be visiting Italy for the first time. I believe this is their competitive edge and difference and it was highlighted as soon as I met our fantastic tour guide Simona at Piazza Barberini.
She was attentive to the group from the beginning and happy to answer any questions, be they related to the tour or not and at the end of the tour willingly provided tips on the city, recommended places to eat and advice on how to get back to your hotel or wherever one needed to be.
Our day went a little like this:
Our day started at the Catacomb of Santa Priscilla and dating back to 150 years before Christianity was even legalised, it remains one of Rome’s first underground Christian cemeteries.
Simona is an absolute expert in this field and was just full of interesting, fascinating facts.
There are 60 catacomb sites in Rome but only 5 are open to the public. This first site we visited is 5km long and we only saw 1 of 3 layers!
On entry you get this eerie feeling. Not only are you standing on a burial site and walking through dark and narrow tunnels, but you are walking under the current world.
As probably the most extensive catacomb, there are 7 popes and various saints buried here. But for me the most intriguing aspect was the extraordinary ancient frescoes which adorn the walls and in particular that of the Virgin Mary – the single oldest depiction in the world! Even with minimal restoration, the colors remain bright and beautiful.
While the Vatican obviously possesses the most significant and extensive collection of artefacts, we saw some here too. Shells, pieces of glass and oil lamps. Oh and at one stage we casually came across a femur bone – an abrupt reminder of where we were!
Cripta dei Cappucini
Back near Piazza Barberini came what turned out to be the absolute highlight of my day. I had heard of this Capuchin bone crypt chamber before but nothing can prepare you for what you see inside. From the outside it’s like you’re walking into any church but this is a cemetery literally built from the bones of 4000 (by count of skulls!) Franciscan monks.
Bones are nailed one by one to the wall and chandeliers of skulls and bones hang throughout.
What I loved here were the symbolic reference to life and time. For instance an hourglass with wings to represent the concept, ‘time flies’ and the many clocks to demonstrate that while life is short something beautiful awaits you.
Also moving is the inscription: “Quello che voi siete noi eravamo. Quello che noi siamo voi sarete” – a message from the monks: “That which you are, we were. That which we are, you shall become”.
Basilica di San Clemente
Final stop for the day was the Basilica of San Clemente. Not just a church but a 12th-century basilica built on top a 4th-century basilica.
Further below you find a secret temple, apartments and still to this day – a stream of running water.
Here I was walking on the street level of Rome of 2000 years ago! How amazing is that??
Given the Roman’s historical complex for showing Christ on the cross, you don’t see many crucifixes here!
But what you do see is the city of Rome like a layered cake. And in no way had I seen it like this before.
The summer months are not far away so if you’re in Rome and looking for some cool relief and a journey into the underground, I highly recommend this tour.
And with private car transport the whole way we travelled comfortably and in style!
Walking around the city since, I have a different and renewed appreciation. I didn’t think the awe I have for the visible and living history of Rome could grow. I was wrong.
For more information about this and other tours visit www.walksofitaly.com.
Signing off from Rome,
*Apologies for the heavy text and no pics, but photography is forbidden inside all three sites.
*Walks of Italy invited me to me to join this tour, however the views and opinions expressed are entirely my own.0