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Travelling by minivan with a maximum of 13 people you will discover surprising underground sites and the best preserved, as well as the least crowded Catacombs of Rome. Our guides are ready to offer you a personal and interactive experience.
There is another Rome underneath the city we know and love, a silent and humble city under the majestic Renaissance and Baroque architecture. There are centuries of history buried in the subterranean layers beneath the churches and in the tunnels running through the Catacombs, that you will visit with us, on a captivating journey into the bowels of the earth. Our Underground Rome tour was recently selected as one of the best walking tours in the world by Independent Traveler.
There were difficult centuries for Rome, from being the capital of an immense empire to a small province under constant threat of wars and political crises. Even after Constantine moved the capital of the empire to Constantinople in 330 AD, Rome still numbered around 450,000 inhabitants at the beginning of the 5th century AD. And yet, there were no more than 25,000 inhabitants by the 8th century AD. This drastic decline in population with traditional political institutions falling into disuse, saw the rise of the new power of the papacy. Meanwhile vast areas of the city within the ancient walls were abandoned or turned into vegetable gardens, and entire structures were re-adapted, often as Christian churches.
San Clemente is a very beautiful 12th century AD basilica with wonderful and unique mosaics in which, among other things, the Crucified Christ is represented in a triumph of trees and doves. No less impressive is the Cappella di Santa Caterina (Chapel of St. Catherine), with some of the earliest surviving Renaissance frescoes from the early 15th century AD by Masaccio and Masolino. But that is only the beginning of your discovery: a small stairway takes us to the lower basilica from the 4th century AD, which is perfectly preserved with medieval frescoes that recount fascinating Christian legends, including the life of St. Clement himself. Another little staircase takes you to the third underground level where you are catapulted into the first century AD: some of the rooms of this layer were part of an apartment block of several floors, separated from another large building that was perhaps a state mint by a narrow street still visible today.
From the many decorations and relief sculptures that refer to the ritual killing of a bull and to the constellations, we know that one of these spaces was used by the followers of the cult of Mithras at the beginning of the 3rd century AD, whilst a Christian sect met only a few meters away. This is not such a surprise, as from the beginning of the 1st century AD both these religions were widely diffused in Rome and the empire. Their similarities are also noteworthy: both celebrated ritual banquets with water and wine, and both encouraged the faithful to engage in morally correct behaviour in order to reach salvation in a world beyond. Nearby are remains from 6th century AD burials complete with sarcophagi, early Christian symbols, and much more.
Not far from the Colosseum, the Basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo (Saints John and Paul) preserves intact a corner of the middle ages with a monastery and a bell tower built upon the imposing ruins of the temple dedicated to the emperor Claudius. Descending into the underground level below the Basilica we find ourselves magically experiencing the ambients and decorations of Roman houses dating back to the 2nd century AD. Their history began with a little uphill street and two houses, one of which had elegant pagan frescoes and a small garden with a pool. Their story evolved in the 4th century AD when space was transformed in a grand domus (the house of a rich Roman) incorporating the pre-existing buildings. The owners of this domus were in all likelihood the titular martyrs Giovanni and Paolo, as suggested by the decorations of the frescoes entailing touching Christian symbols. According to the historical evidences, in the 5th century AD, a small church was built over their tombs, where the faithful venerated their relics. With time the underlying part of the basilica was completely covered and forgotten: first excavations began in 1887 and the buried areas have only recently become accessible once again.
Explore the captivating subterranean caves of the best preserved early Christian Catacombs of Rome. Discover the only surviving underground Basilica dating back to the 4th century A.D. and named after martyrs Nereo and Achilleo, where they are buried. With a stretch of 17 kilometres and over 150,000 bodies is it noted as the largest Christian Catacombs in the Rome. Marvel at the beautifully preserved 2nd Century fresco of the Last Supper with the 12 Apostles, learn about the roots of traditions and rituals of Christianity. Enjoy the stories of piety from Christians of the early centuries, their life during persecution in the troubled period of transition from Pagan Rome to the Christian one. Our tour will bring you to fascination, witnessing the symbols of the Old and New Testament carved on the walls of the Basilica, through the tombs and galleries of the Santa Domitilla's Catacombs. With our certified historian guide you will have a well planned path through Rome's underground levels and its hidden history.
Join us on one of our most popular group tours of Rome over the last ten years, a unique and fascinating insight into a rarely seen side of the Eternal City.
The history of Christian Rome is tightly connected with the pagan ancient world – take our immersive tour of the ancient city including the Colosseum to experience this fascinating history for yourself.
Near the entrance to the Basilica of San Clemente. You will receive full details, including a map and photo, on booking.
This Rome walking tour includes a number of 10-15 minute walks between sites and some steep staircases. Wear comfortable shoes and bring plenty of water.
D. & B. S.
Sep 21, 2018
Sep 10, 2018
Our guides are fluent in English and have a contagious passion for Rome's inspiring cultural heritage. Experts in their fields, they will immerse you in the hidden histories and intriguing lives of history's great protagonists. So much to see, so easy to miss out: with the help of our guides, visit the most absorbing sites and uncover the stories that have changed the world. Don't miss this fascinating journey!