Beneath The Surface of Rome

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It’s difficult to think of anywhere else in the world that has similar attractions to the eternal city of Rome. From the ancient ruins of the Coliseum, the Forum and the Pantheon, to the Spanish steps and the Trevi fountain and the Vatican, there’s no shortage of sights to see. With other 2,500 years of history, walking around Rome is an experience like no other. But there is another, lesser known side to the city that is worth exploring, and that is the Rome crypts and catacombs.

After the gelato has been eaten and the wine drank, delve into the subterranean history of Rome with a trip below its surface. There are thought to be around 40 catacombs of Rome, some of which were only discovered in recent decades, and they are thought to have originally been used as long ago as the second century. Many of the catacombs are also connected by tunnels, and it is also believed that they acted as places of refuge for Christians during times of persecution. Scholars believe that underground burial came about with the rise of Christianity, as it is thought that cremation was the preferred method for the Etruscan people before this. Another consideration is thought to have been the shortage of land above ground. These vast tombs consist of stone sarcophagi and mostly contain the bodies of the families of wealthy merchants, saints, popes and many early Christian martyrs. Many of the tombs contain small altars and other examples of early Christian architecture, as well as many paintings and frescoes, highlighting just how important these crypts were to the early Christian church.

Perhaps one of the most famous is the Capuchin crypt’, several small chapels which lies beneath the Santa Maria Della Concezione Dei Cappuccini and which is estimated to contain the skeletal remains of 4,000 Capuchin Friars. These bones are in different positions, with some nailed to the wall and others hung from the ceiling. Although macabre, it is thought that the remains were kept to show how fleeting time is on the earth. Indeed, one of the inscriptions reads: “What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be.”

Those who really want to think differently, when it comes to things to do in Rome, and make a trip beneath the bustling streets of Rome are rewarded with a view of the ancient history of a city not often seen.  The Rome crypts and catacombs are time capsules, capturing a fascinating time in the history of this magnificent city.

Thomas Edwards has been an international traveller since the early ‘80s and has widely covered Europe, the USA and as far afield as Thailand, Hong Kong and China.  He has written as both a business, individual and family traveller and a language or two has given him the opportunity to engage with people to a greater degree.

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