Catacombs are interesting burial places in Italy and some of the best are in Rome. Mazes of underground tunnels were used to bury thousands of bodies and some of them are open to the public for tours. Here are the best places to visit catacombs in Rome.
Rome - Via Appia Antica
Rome's Via Appia Antica, Old Appian Way, outside the walls of Rome was used as a burial place for early Christians as well as pagans. Burials were forbidden inside the walls of Rome as early as the fifth century BC. Miles of tunnels were cut into the tufa to be used as burial chambers. The Roman catacombs contain thousands of burial niches as well as some good examples of early Christian art.
To get to the catacombs and Via Appia Antica, take bus 218 from San Giovanni Metro Stop or the Archeo bus that stops at several sites. The catacombs are visited on a guided tour lasting 20 minutes to an hour, given in several different languages. The three catacombs easiest to visit have different closing periods so you should always find at least one of them open. Hours are generally 8:30-12:00 and 2:30-5:00. You can buy tickets for the tours at the entrance to each catacomb.
If you'd like a more extensive guided tour, Select Italy's Appia Antica tour includes a visit to one of the catacombs and other sites on via Appia Antica as well as transportation from your hotel.
Find the location of these catacombs and other Via Appia Antica monuments on this Appian Way Map.
- Catacombs of St. Callixtus, Catacombe di San Callisto: St. Callixtus, the biggest and most popular, has a network of galleries about 19 km long and 20 meters deep. You'll also find the most tours and tour buses here. Highlights of the catacombs include the crypt of nine popes and early Christian frescoes, paintings, and sculptures. St. Callixtus is closed on Wednesdays and in February.
- Catacombs of St. Domitilla, Catacombe di San Domitilla: St. Domitilla has the oldest catacombs. Entrance is through a fourth century church. Tour groups at St. Domitilla tend to be smaller. One of the highlights is a second century fresco of the Last Supper. St. Domitilla is closed on Tuesdays and in January.
- Catacombs of St. Sebastian, Catacombe di San Sebastiano: St. Sebastian has about 11 km of tunnels but the tour is restricted to a very small area. Highlights of the catacombs include early Christian mosaics and graffiti. St. Sebastian is closed Sundays and November 13-December 11.
Rome - Via Salaria
Saint Priscilla's Catacombs, Catacombe di Priscilla, are among Rome's oldest catacombs, dating back to the late second century AD. The catacombs are at Via Salaria 430 - Via Salaria is another of Rome's ancient roads leaving Rome at the Salaria gate, Porta Salaria, and heading east to the Adriatic Sea. The catacombs are closed on Mondays and in January. Walks of Italy's guided tour, Crypts & Bones & Catacombs, visits Saint Priscilla's Catacombs.
Rome - Historic Center
Rome also has interesting catacombs beneath some churches and streets. One of the most impressive is the Capuchin Crypt beneath the Capuchin Church of the Immaculate Conception, built in 1645. The crypt contains bones of over 4,000 monks, many arranged in patterns or even forming objects such as a clock. Here are a few pictures from the Capuchin Crypt with more information. You'll find the church and crypt on Via Veneto near Barbarini Square.
Rome - Villa Torlonia
Impressive Jewish catacombs dating back at least as far as 200 AD (but possibly older) are under the Villa Torlonia Park. They're currently not open to the public except by special arrangement but the city of Rome hopes to open them in 2010. You can take a virtual tour with these Jewish Catacomb Pictures on Europe Travel. Here's more about Villa Torlonia and the park.