7. November 2018

Visit the Catacombs in Rome: Guided tours, admission, tickets and history

In this article you will find important tips and information about the Catacombs of Rome. When speaking of the Catacombs of Rome, one usually thinks of the catacombs on Via Appia Antica in the south of Rome. But there are a lot more catacombs in Rome. Some of them were only discovered recently. There are five catacombs in Rome which are accessible for the public, others can only be visited with a reservation.

Catacombs Rome: Tips and information about the Catacombs of Rome

Catacombs Rome: History and origin of the Catacombs of Rome

In Ancient Rome it was forbidden to bury the dead within the city walls. This is how the necropolises developed along the consular roads that led out of Rome. While the pagan Romans burned their dead, it was important to the Christians to bury the body in anticipation of the resurrection. The dead were wrapped in linen cloth soaked in ash lye and placed in underground burial chambers. The Jews also laid their dead in underground burial chambers. This way underground burial cities were built in Rome since the 1st century AD and until the 4th century. Rituals were celebrated, craftsmen had their workshops and the first Christians sought protection from persecution here.

catacombs-Domitilla-Rome

From the 5th century on there were hardly any burials in the Roman catacombs anymore and the buried bodies of saints and martyrs were brought to churches in Rome and other cities. In the Middle Ages, the catacombs in Rome were forgotten and some units were only rediscovered in the 16th century which led to an increased trade of relics.

Catacombs Rome: Location of the Catacombs of Rome

Catacombs can be anywhere in Rome outside the city walls. A good example is the Castel Sant’Angelo, which was once built as the mausoleum of Hadrian. Behind the mausoleum lies the Vatican hill, where St. Peter the Apostle is said to have been buried, and where the world-famous St. Peter’s Basilica was built.

St. Peter's in Rome

Paul the Apostle is said to be buried under the Basilica St Paul behind the city walls on Via Ostiense. From there you can follow the pilgrimage of the seven churches, the Via delle Sette Chiese, to the catacombs on Via Appia Antica in Rome. On the way you will pass another unit of catacombs, the Catacombs of Commodilla.

Other important catacombs are located on the following streets:

  • via Aurelia, leading to Genoa via Pisa
  • via Portuense leading to Ostia
  • via Ardeatina, via Appia and via Latina leading to the south
  • via Labicana and via Tiburtina going to the east
  • via Nomentana, via Salaria and via Flaminia going to the north

The Christian catacombs in Rome are administered by the Pontificia Commissione di Archeologia Sacra.

Catacombs Rome: Tickets and admission to the Catacombs of Rome

Tickets to the Catacombs of Rome at a glance

There are five Roman catacombs accessible for the public. The same admission fees apply to all 5 catacombs.

Children (up to 6 years),
persons with disability and their company
Children (7 to 15 years),
school classes
adults
Free admission5 euros8 euros

The reduced admission for school classes is only valid upon presentation of a letter signed by the headmaster or director the school.

Useful information for your visit to the Catacombs of Rome

The Catacombs of Rome may only be entered with appropriate clothing, and your knees and shoulders must be covered during your visit to the Roman Catacombs. You will not be granted access to the Catacombs of Rome with shorts or spaghetti straps. You can not take any pets to the catacombs either. It is also forbidden to take pictures or videos inside the Catacombs of Rome! Do not smoke inside the Roman Catacombs.

Catacombs Rome: Opening hours of the Catacombs of Rome

The opening hours of the Roman Catacombs are as follows:

 Opening hours Closed onClosed in
Catacombs of San Callisto 9 am - noon and 2-5 pm
WednesdayFebruary
Catacombs of Domitilla 9 am - noon and 2-5 pmTuesdayMid-December to mid-January
Catacombs of San Sebastiano9 am - noon and 2-5 pmSundayMid-November to mid-December
catacombs of Sant'Agnese9 am - noon and 2-5 pmSunday morning and holidaysNovember
Catacombs of Priscilla9 am - noon and 2-5 pmMondayMid-Juli to mid-August

The Catacombs of Rome can only be visited in guided groups. The guided tours are usually offered in the five languages: Italian, English, French, German and Spanish. You have to wait by the catacombs for a guided tour in your language.

Catacombs Rome: Order tickets in advance on the Internet

To visit the Catacombs in Rome you can order tickets in advance on the Internet. Guided tours usually include the journey to and from the catacombs. You can find a selection of guided tours through the catacombs here: tour recommendation 1, recommendation for the Roman Catacombs 2 and another recommendation through the catacombs in Rome.

Map catacombs Appia

In the south of Rome, at the beginning of the Via Appia Antica, are three of the publicly accessible catacombs, the catacombs of San Callisto, Domitilla and San Sebastiano.

Catacombs Rome: Information about the Catacombs of San Callisto in Rome

The Catacombs of San Callisto are some of the biggest in Rome. They were built in the 2nd century AD. Bishop Calixtus was given the direction of the complex by Pope Zephyrinus. About 100 martyrs and 16 popes were buried in this immense catacomb unit.

catacombs san callisto

The Catacombs of San Callisto are popular amongst visitors and many guided tours are offered. You can reach these catacombs by taking the bus 118 from Piazza Venezia or the bus 218 from the Basilica of St. John.

Catacombs Rome: Information about the Catacombs of Domitilla in Rome

The name of these catacombs is based on an early christian martyr, Saint Domitilla. She was the wife of the consul Titus Flavius Clemens and thus a significant landowner. Bodies were buried here from the first century BC. The Catacombs of Domitilla are the oldest and biggest underground burial area in Rome. The underground tunnels add up to a total of 17 km. The tunnels are spread on 4 different floors. The catacombs were built of tufa, which explains the stability of the construction. Another factor that contributes to the stability is the constant climate. Inside the catacombs, humidity is very high at over 90%. The temperature is constantly low at 15° Celsius. Smallest changes to this climate would hurt the catacombs very much and in the worst case, cause them to collapse.

The graves inside the catacomb are adapted to the dead. You can see both very high bulbous graves, as well as very small ones which were obviously for children. This method saved a lot of space. Rich Romans had their graves decorated with marble, of which today a few are preserved. The less wealthy had to resort to simple clay sealants. There are still some of these graves visible today as well.

It is very worthwhile to combine the visit of the Catacombs of Rome with a guided tour or a visit to the Via Appia Antica. In these tours you can see more and save time. Here are a few suggestions: Tour Tip 1, Tour Tip 2 and my 3rd tour tip for the Catacombs of Rome.

Catacombs Rome: Information about the Catacombs of San Sebastiano in Rome

The Catacombs of San Sebastiano in Rome are the youngest of the three major complexes on the Via Appia Antica. At the same location used to be a quarry before. A basilica was built above the catacombs and St. Sebastian was buried here. The basilica is one of the seven pilgrimage churches in Rome. The pilgrims walk from the Basilica of St. Paul outside the walls through the “Via delle sette chiese” to the Basilica of Saint Sebastian. The pilgrimage route leads from here to the Basilica of St. John in Rome.

Basilica-San-Sebastiano-in-Rome

You can reach these catacombs by taking the bus 118 from Piazza Venezia.

Catacombs Rome: Information about the Catacombs of Sant’Agnese in Rome

The Basilica of Sant’Agnese fuori le mura in Rome dates back to the 7th century. Before that, there had already been a church built in the 4th century in memory of the martyr Agnes. The church built by Borromini on Piazza Navona is also dedicated to Agnes. Saint Agnes was buried here in an already existing burial ground and the complex was subsequently expanded. These catacombs of Rome are not very frequented and therefore the tours mostly take place in small groups. A visit to the church is also highly recommended.

Sant Agnese in Agone

The Catacombs of Sant’Agnes in Rome can easily be reached by metro B1. In front of the church are bus lines 66 and 82, which come from Termini central station.

Catacombs Rome: Information about the Catacombs of Priscilla in Rome

Priscilla was a land owner who gave her land property to the Christian community in the 2nd century. In three hundred years, around 40,000 people were buried here. The Catacombs of Priscilla in Rome are relatively difficult to reach. They are located on Via Salaria and the buses go through a little parallel street, Via Nemorense. The advantage is that these catacombs are rarely visited by tourists and you can therefore visit them in peace, in contrast to the strong visitor crowds at the Via Appia Antica.

catakombs-Priscilla-in-Rome

There are the following bus services to the Catacombs of Priscilla in Rome: Line 63 from Piazza Venezia and the city center, Line 83 from the Pyramid via Piazza Venezia and the city center, and Lines 92 and 310 from Termini Central Station. You can book the following tickets and tours: Tour 1, Tour 2 and Tour 3.

Catacombs Rome: Other burial grounds and catacombs in Rome

There are numerous other burial grounds in Rome. Impressive examples are the castel Sant’Angelo and the mausoleum of Cecilia Metella, or even the mausoleum of Augustus opposite the Ara Pacis which is being renovated at the moment. You can also visit necropolises inside the Vatican or in Ostia Antica. In Tarquinia outside of Rome you may visit even older burial grounds from Etruscan times.

local-busses-rome

In addition, there are numerous columbaria, funerary systems for urn graves. A columbarium is available for small guided groups with pre-order. It was rediscovered in the 19th century and is very well preserved. The nearest bus stop is Cameria wit the bus 218 coming from the Basilica of St. John or Numa Pompilio with the bus 118.

Map catacombs Rome north

There are six jewish catacombs in Rome. They are very well-preserved because they are closed and not exposed to any large visitor groups. Only one of the 6 complexes can be visited in small groups upon pre-reservation. These are the Catacombs of Vigna Randanini. They are located inside the national park Via Appia Antica close to the Catacombs of San Sebastiano. These tours and tickets could be of interest for you: Guided tour through the necropolis and St Peter’s Basilica, Underground Rome or a visit to the jewish catacombs.

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