The Best Underground Sites of the Eternal City

With soaring temperatures this summer there is no place cooler to hide than in the secret world beneath the streets of Rome. Explore the catacombs and crypts of the city’s most significant monuments, and unearth some of Rome’s best-kept treasures.

 

Basilica di San Clemente

Via Labicana, 95
Open Mon-Sat, 9am-12.30pm; 3pm-6pm; Sun 12.15pm-6pm
Entry fee: €10, reduced €5

Basilica San Clemente

Often overlooked by the nearby Colosseum, San Clemente is a hidden gem that is definitely worth a visit. This three-tiered complex consists of an 11th century Basilica that was built on top of the pre-existing 4th century ”domus ecclesiae” (a secretive meeting room for early Christian worshippers) of martyr San Clemente. Go deeper under the Church and you’ll find a vault from the 3rd century AD. This Mitharic sanctuary consists of stone benches, surrounding an altar that was used during Mitharic rituals, a mystery cult of Persian origin. 

Colosseum Underground

Piazza del Colosseo, 1
Open daily, 8.30am-6pm
Entry fee: Private tour companies start at €89 per person. See whatalifetours.com

Colosseum underground

Underneath the world’s largest amphitheatre lie the tunnels and chambers which hosted the mechanisms that made the spectacular battles of the Colosseum possible. The recently discovered hypogeum, from the Greek word for “underground”, is a labyrinth of rings that emulate the oval shape of the arena. Behind the scenes, a vertical winch called a capstan was pushed by slaves to elevate lions, crocodiles and bears into the arena. Walk in the footsteps of gladiators, with a tour group that explores the underworld of the Colosseum. VIP Underground Tours will also visit the Arena Floor, Third Tier, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.

Domitilla Catacombs

Via delle Sette Chiese, 282
Open Mon, Wed-Sun 9am-12pm, 2pm-5pm
Entry fee: €8, reduced €5

Catacombe domitilla

Rome has an array of underground tombs, built as cemeteries for the Christian and Catholic communities between the 2nd – 9th centuries AD. The Domitilla Catacombs are the oldest burial networks in the city and the only site to house real ancient bones. The maze of underground caves and vaults spread over three levels, extending 30 meters into the ground and reaching a total length of 17 km. Access to the passageways is through a 4th century subterranean basilica, which leads to a fascinating 2nd century fresco of The Last Supper.

read more about the catacombs of Romewww.romeing.it/guide-to-the-catacombs-of-rome

Palazzo Valentini

via Foro Traiano, 85
Open daily, 9.30am-6.30pm
Entry fee: €12, €8 reduced

Palazzo Valentini

Recent excavations under Palazzo Valentini led to the discovery of the original ancient Roman palace, 7 meters below street level. Enjoy a different underground experience, with a three-dimensional experience of the palazzo: this tour features digital projections of what Palazzo Valentini looked like at its peak.

Hadrian’s Crypt (Mouth of Truth)

Piazza Bocca della Verità, 18
Opening times for the Crypt, Mon-Sat, 10am-2pm, 3pm-5.30pm; Sun 12pm – 5.30pm
Opening times the church, Daily, 9.30am-5.50pm

Mouth of Truth

Escape the long line of visitors queuing up to put their hand in The Mouth of Truth by exploring Pope Hadrian’s Crypt. The basilica shaped crypt is located underneath Santa Maria in the Cosmedin Church, in Piazza Bocca della Verita. It was constructed in the 8th century to store the relics taken from the catacombs by Pope Adrian I. This small underground site is definitely worth a visit. There is no entry fee but a donation is suggested.

The Crypt of the Capuchin Friars

Via Vittorio Veneto, 27
Open daily, 9am-7pm
Entry fee: € 8.50, reduced €5

Crypt of the Capuchin Friars

“What you are we were; what we are you will be” is the spooky reminder of the inevitability of life that greets visitors upon entering the Crypt. By far the eeriest site in Rome, this Crypt is made up of the bones of 4,000 Capuchin monks. After visiting the convent and museum, walk towards the dimly lit hallway, where a multitude of messages are conveyed. This spooky corner of the city is the ultimate underground experience.

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Written By

Eleanor is undertaking her degree in History of Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art and works between London and Rome. She has a particular interest in the contemporary art world, as she has worked for galleries in both cities. She enjoys writing, traveling and painting.

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