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Rome Private Tours

Underground Rome Private Tour with Catacombs: Discover the Invisible City by Car

Uncover Underground Rome and its Catacombs on our exclusive private tour

TOUR DETAILS

all inclusive price

DURATION

3.5 hours

OVERVIEW

On our Private Underground Rome Tour by car, your expert historian guide will lead you on a journey through the Catacombs and other amazing underground sites.

 

In Rome you actually walk on history.

Did you ever imagine that a treasure lies under your feet? Take the great opportunity to discover Ancient Rome and Early Christianity hidden beneath modern Rome with a personal guide, comfortably moving from site to site with a private car.  

The Catacombs of Santa Domitilla, dating back to the 3rd century AD, are one of the largest and most ancient Christian underground cemeteries, with about 17 kilometers of tortuous tunnels on two levels, over 150.000 graves and an unexpected Underground Basilica.

The famous Saint Clement’s Basilica, right in the heart of Ancient Rome, next to the Colosseum, is a courtyard of wonders with astonishing medieval mosaics. Taking little staircases, you will descend into the 3 underground levels, including a church from the 4th century AD and, even deeper down, roman buildings from the 2nd century AD with a pagan temple dedicated to Mithras.

The Roman Houses of Saint John and Paul (NOT ON Tuesdays and Wednesdays) are truly a treat for the visitors. You go down some steps, and as if it were yesterday, you are back in the 2nd century A.D., watching with them the frescoes on the walls of their house.  

Instead of the Roman Houses (ON Tuesdays and Wednesdays), we will be visiting the Crypta Balbi, the right place to discover the dramatic changes suffered by Rome through the centuries, as an abandoned theater gets partially adapted to a restroom, then workshop and later as foundation for a monastery. All with hundreds of incredible artifacts, clear evidence of Rome’s history.

Our last stop by car, time permitting, will the beautiful church of Santi Cosma and Damiano, right in the Roman Forum, built mostly on the top of the Temple of Romulus, new pages of history written on top of the previous ones.

 

Why is there so much to see underground in Rome and in italy?

You are probably going to visit the Colosseum and other famous sites. But what if we told you that there’s an entirely different and fascinating city to discover, buried right under the streets where you are going to walk?

Our Underground Rome tour is exactly about descending 10 feet below the street level and exploring well preserved buildings from the ancient and early Christian time, today accessible.

There is a truth at the base of all Archaeological discoveries: you have to dig to unearth evidences of the past. Why? The answers are right there. Through the centuries Rome’s street level has constantly been getting higher and higher, due to two main reasons. First is the Tiber river itself to which Rome owes its foundation, that running across the city, has been often floodeing its banks through the centuries, sometimes with devastating effects, covering ruined buildings with tons of mud. On top of that, fires, earthquakes, or just simple renovation works led the Romans to opt for the easiest and cheapest way to reconstruct: just build the new buildings on top of previous ones. Similar reasons apply for many other Archeaological cities all around Italy.

This way hundreds of structures ended up buried under meters and meters of dirt and rubble, but at the same time they were preserved for us. Can you imagine the amazement of the archaeologists when they found entire buildings, almost intact, under tons of dirt? Ready to experience the same thrill?

Our expert guide will retrace with you the main steps leading up to the discovery and re-opening to the public of such a treasure like San Clement's Basilica.

Join our guided visit to travel back in time and see structures and paintings dating back to the earliest centuries A.D. and Early Christianity, below the Middle Ages and Renaissance buildings, literally sitting one of top of the other.

Discover the amusement of turning pages of history as you descend from one level to the other, jumping from one time-period to another.

With the engaging commentary of our Archeologist guide, you will have the opportunity to experience the daylife of the Romans through different centuries catching a glimpse of what their life must have been and how it changed sometimes drastically. From the organisation of the Imperial Rome with a multi-ethnic population of over 1.000.000 of inhabitants, to the difficult times of the decline, with the first barbaric invasions after centuries of unrivaled power; from the Middle Ages, when Rome was nothing more than a small village, ravaged by the plague, and wars with drastically reduced population, to the new splendor of the Renaissance and the recovery of its glorious past.

You will also witness the changes in Architecture, art and the old artifacts through the centuries, as well as the different techniques used to create them. Your qualified guide will help you reading the old inscriptions, highlighting the changes in the language slowly evolving from Latin to Italian.

 

Catacombs of Santa Domitilla

The Catacombs of Santa Domitilla is one of the largest and most interesting Christian underground cemeteries of the city of Rome. Built and used over the centuries, the oldest section of this huge complex dates back to the 2nd century AD, making it one of the most ancient of the sixty catacombs of Rome (although only five are currently open to the public). Little is known about who Domitilla actually was: according to the tradition and a few documents mentioning her name, she lived in the 1st century AD and was probably a rich lady from the aristocracy, possibly from the very same family of emperor Domitian, who ruled from 81 to 96 AD. According to the tradition, she was married to Flavio Clemente, the emperor’s cousin, but when Domitian found out they were Christian, she ended up exiled on an island (Ponza or Ventotene) while her husband was executed in AD 95.

According to many inscriptions found on the site, the land where the catacomb was built used to belong to Domitilla, who donated it to the christian community.

On our tour, you will have descend into the unique Underground Basilica built in the 4th century in memory of the two martyrs Nereo and Achilleo, two soldiers who were put to death by emperor Diocletian because of their faith, and whose remains were buried in this very catacomb. Then you will explore the tunnels of the Catacombs and see thousands and thousands of ancient burials, from the poorest ones, the loculi, simple graves carved in the rock, to the richest ones for wealthier people, who could afford to buy themselves a family chapel decorated with paintings.

Our guided visit will take you to appreciate the most ancient expressions of the Christian art in Rome, like the famous 4th fresco painting depicting Santa Petronilla: you will also learn the fascinating legend according to which Petronilla was none other than Saint Peter’s daughter.

 

Saint Clement’s Basilica and its 3 underground levels

After almost 2000 years, Saint Clement’s identity is still controversial: he has been identified either with the fourth pope of the history or with that same Flavio Clemente who was married to Domitilla and died as a martyr during Domitian’s reign. Whoever he was, the Christians honored his memory with an incredible building: although from the outside the church looks pretty anonymous, once you walk in, it will take your breath away.

Let yourself be surprised by the beauty of the magnificent golden mosaics from the 12th century, depicting a highly symbolic crucifixion of Jesus, where the cross itself becomes the tree of life that embraces all the faithfuls with its vines.

In Saint Catherine’s Chapel, you will admire the beautiful 15th century paintings, work of Masolino and Masaccio, depicting all the story of this famous saint, with all the fatal events that eventually led up to her tragic death.

Then our expert guide will take you down a little staircase and you will find yourself into a completely different world. You will explore the much more ancient church, dating back to the 4th century, buried right under the floor of the medieval Basilica. Accidentally discovered in the 1800s by one of the irish dominican friars who lived in the convent nextdoor, this building turned out to be the original Saint Clement’s Basilica, that had been abandoned after the devastating invasion of the Normans back in 1084. The church was in such bad conditions after this event, that the new pope Paschal II decided to fill it with tons of dirt and rubble and just build a new church on top of it.

But there is even more to it: you’ll keep going down and you will find two more buildings. One was probably a private house frome the 2nd century AD, which housed a pagan temple, dedicated to the eastern god Mithras. The other building, even more ancient, was possibly a mint dating back to the 1st century AD.

The Roman Houses of Saint John and Paul (NOT on Tuesdays and Wednesdays)

Found in 1887 by Father Germano di San Stanislao right under the medieval church dedicated to Saint John and Paul, the Roman Houses were an amazing discovery, even beyond the discoverer’s wildest expectations.

This amazingly preserved complex consists of two roman houses respectively from the 2nd and 3rd century AD, which were eventually unified to create an enormous villa.  The most fascinating aspect of this extraordinary site, is that its magnificent paintings show the transition from paganism to the Christian religion; you will see stunning frescoes with pagan deities right next to the very first Christian pictures, possibly depicting the martyrdom of Saint John and Paul, who, according to the legend, lived and died in that very house.

 

The Crypta Balbi Museum (ONLY on Tuesdays and Wednesdays)

Situated right next to the place where Julius Caesar was killed, this museum is built right on top of the ruins of the theater built by Balbus, friend of emperor Augustus, between 19 and 13 BC. It was the smallest of the three theaters of Rome, but according to the sources, it was also the most richly decorated.

On this tour, you will have the opportunity to visit the ruins but also to see this fascinating museum: each floor is dedicated to a different time-period of the history of Rome, with many interesting artefacts on display: glass, porcelaine, pottery, all sorts of little objects that can give us a taste of the everyday life of the people who lived back then.


If time permits, your private driver will then take you to the beautiful Basilica of Santi Cosma and Damiano, right next to the Roman Forum. Recently restored, this little church is a true gem. Built in the 6th century AD reusing the ruins of some ancient buildings of the Forum, such as the Temple of Romulus, the church still has an amazing original mosaic and an extremely rare byzantine painting, alongside with other masterpieces. In the cloister you can also admire a beautiful Nativity from the 1700s, before proceeding to the crypt, at the same street level of the temple of Romulus.

Join us on what has over the years proved one of our most popular Rome private tours, a unique and fascinating insight into a rarely seen side of the Eternal City.

Classic sights included in our itinerary:

  • Catacombs of Santa Domitilla
  • The Basilica of San Clement
  • The Roman Houses beneath San Giovanni e Paolo
  • Guide and driver will pick you up at your hotel

Overlooked sights included in our itinerary:

  • Medieval frescoes at San Clemente
  • Roman Frescoes at the Roman Houses
  • The Church of Cosma and Damiano in the Roman Forum

You will meet your guide at the lobby of your hotel. Please provide details upon booking.

This is a Rome private tour by car. Anyway the underground sites visited include some steep staircases. We recommend comfortable shoes and a bottle of water.

PHOTO GALLERY

Our strengths

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!

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