Explore eerie underground sites, buried churches and stunning catacombs beneath Rome
starting time 13:30
duration 3.5 hours
group size Max. 15
To understand the Eternal City, we have to dig downwards. Hidden deep beneath the streets and squares of Rome is another city, a neglected underground world of eerie pagan temples and Christian catacombs, buried churches and atmospheric crypts. Our Underground Rome itinerary is a fascinating journey into this haunting subterranean world, where we uncover the lost faces of a city obliterated by time. Journey back to the origins of Christianity in the labyrinthine Roman catacombs of Domitilla and explore an ancient temple of the mysterious bull-slaughtering cult of Mithraism; descend into a perfectly preserved Early-Christian church hidden beneath San Clemente and wander through a subterranean ancient Roman house decorated with fabulous paintings, gardens and fountains. This is a Rome few visitors get to see – experience it for yourself!
There is another Rome underneath the city we know and love, a silent and humble city beneath the majestic monuments to Renaissance and Baroque architecture. There are centuries of history buried in the subterranean layers beneath the city’s churches and in the tunnels running through the Roman Catacombs – visit them with us on a captivating journey into the bowels of the earth. Travelling by minivan with a maximum of 15 people, you will discover surprising underground sites and the best preserved (as well as the least crowded) Catacombs in Rome. Join our specialist guide and find out why Through Eternity's Underground Rome tour has been selected as one of the best walking tours in the world by Independent Traveler!
San Clemente is a very beautiful 12th-century basilica with wonderful mosaics: one of the most unique represents the Crucified Christ surrounded by beautiful trees and doves. No less impressive is the Cappella di Santa Caterina (Chapel of St. Catherine), where you can see some of the earliest surviving Renaissance frescoes in Rome by Masaccio and Masolino dating from the early 1400s.
But that is only the beginning of the riches you will discover: a small stairway takes us to a perfectly preserved lower basilica dating from the 4th century AD, where amazing medieval frescoes recount fascinating Christian legends - including the life of St. Clement himself. When the time came, for various practical reasons, to provide a new structure for their congregation, those in charge of the work came up with a novel idea. Rather than move to a new site or destroy the beautiful but outdated basilica, they would simply build on top of it, thus preserving its treasures even whilst concealing it from the light of day. Now fully excavated, we can only be thankful for their foresight, an amazing example of conservationism from 900 years ago.
Another little staircase takes you to a third underground level catapulting us back into the very first century AD: some of the rooms of this layer were part of an apartment block that extended over several floors, separated from another large building (perhaps the state mint) by a narrow street still visible today. The many decorations and relief sculptures that refer to the ritual killing of a bull and to the celestial constellations testify to the fact that one of these spaces was used by the followers of the cult of Mithras at the start of the 3rd century – while a Christian sect met only a few meters away.
This is not as surprising as you might think: from the beginning of the 1st century both these religions were widely followed in Rome and throughout 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 behavior in order to reach salvation in a world beyond. Near the mithraeum are 6th century funereal remains 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 a corner of the middle ages beautifully intact, with a monastery and a bell tower built over the imposing ruins of a temple dedicated to the emperor Claudius. Descending into the underground level below the Basilica, we find ourselves magically experiencing the atmosphere of Roman houses dating back to the 2nd century AD, decorated with beautiful antique frescoes.
The earliest complex consisted of a little uphill street and two houses, boasting elegant pagan frescoes and a small garden with a pool. Their story evolved in the 4th century when the 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 evidence, a small church was built over their tombs in the 5th century where the faithful venerated their relics. With the passage of time the underlying part of the basilica was completely covered and forgotten: the first excavations began in 1887, and the buried areas have only recently become accessible once again.
The Catacombs of Santa Domitilla can lay a strong claim to being the best preserved early Christian catacombs of Rome. As well as exploring these captivating subterranean caves, we’ll discover the only surviving underground Basilica in Rome dating back to the 4th century A.D, named after the martyrs Nereo and Achilleo who are buried here.
Stretching over 17 kilometers and containing over 150,000 bodies, it is certainly the largest Christian catacombs in Rome. Marvelling at a beautifully preserved 2nd-century fresco depicting the Last Supper featuring Christ surrounded by the 12 Apostles, we’ll learn about the roots of Christianity’s most enduring rites and rituals. 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 city.
Join us on what has become one of our most popular group tours of Rome over the last ten years, and treat yourself to a unique and fascinating insight into a rarely seen side of the Eternal City.
We provide skip-the-line entry tickets for the Catacombs and the other underground sites visited on this tour. All tickets are included in the price.
The history of Christian Rome is tightly connected with the pagan ancient world – we recommend pairing this Underground Rome itinerary with our Ultimate Colosseum tour in order to understand how ancient Rome became the capital of Christendom in these dramatic centuries of change.
If you’d like to read more about the Basilica of Saint Clement, check out this fascinating entry from our blog. Or click here to learn more about the fascinating story of the Catacombs of Santa Domitilla in Rome!
meeting pointNear the entrance to the Basilica of San Clemente. You will receive full details, including a map and photo, on booking.
5.0 (106 reviews)
Enrica was the perfect tour guide to see the Catacombs. Passionate, knowledgeable, friendly are just a few of the words to describe her. She always had a story to tell which helped bring to life many of the ancient ruins we saw. She is very energetic and her historical expertise as an archaeologist shines through! Highly recommend - our family thoroughly enjoyed the experience