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How to Choose the Right Roman Catacombs for Your Visit

Go beyond—or, more accurately, below—Rome's ancient sights to discover the Catacombs of Rome.

Hi, I'm Rebecca!

Rebecca’s first visit to Italy was a coup de foudre and her affection for Il Bel Paese has only grown over almost 30 years of living here, during which time she has mastered the art of navigating the sampietrini cobblestones in heels but has yet to come away from a plate of bucatini all’amatriciana with an unsullied blouse. She covers Italy travel, culture, and cuisine for a number of print and online publications.

With a history that stretches over 3,000 years, it’s no surprise that Rome is known as the Eternal City. Though remains of the Italian capital’s glorious past—think the Colosseum and the Pantheon—are scattered across the city, the catacombs hidden beneath many of its oldest churches also offer a fascinating glimpse as far back as ancient Rome. A handful of these historic catacombs are open to the public and their sprawling underground tunnels can be visited as part of a catacombs tour. Each complex offers its own set of marvels, from ancient artworks to vast underground burial chambers that have housed Christian martyrs and early popes. Here are the top Roman catacombs, as well as a few tips to help you choose which to visit.

Catacombs of St. Callixtus (Catacombs of San Callisto)

The largest and most visited catacombs in Rome.

Covering more than 12 miles (20 kilometers), the Catacombs of St. Callixtus along the Appian Way (Via Appia Antica) are the largest in Rome. The complex once housed the remains of martyrs, popes, and an estimated half a million Christians. You’ll only tour a fraction of its tunnels and burial chambers—which date from the beginning in the 3rd century—but the itinerary takes in highlights like the Crypt of the Nine Popes, Crypt of St. Cecilia, and carvings of early Christian symbols. The catacombs can only be visited on a guided tour, included in the admission fee, and are not accessible to wheelchair users or visitors with limited mobility.

Gates to the catacomb entrance of San Callisto.
Catacomb entrance of San Callisto.Photo Credit: Takashi Images / Shutterstock

Catacombs of St. Sebastian (Catacombs of San Sebastiano)

These catacombs are easily combined with St. Callixtus.

After visiting the Catacombs of St. Callixtus, stop at the nearby Catacombs of St. Sebastian, where the term “catacomb” was coined and the remains of St. Sebastian are entombed. Highlights include fragments of ancient frescoes, stucco work, and well-preserved mausoleums. Take in fragments of ancient frescoes, stucco work, and well-preserved mausoleums included on the mandatory guided tour (included in the entrance fee); there is no wheelchair or disabled access to the four underground levels.

Capuchin Crypt

The famed bone chapel located on the chic Via Veneto in downtown Rome.

Though not strictly a catacomb, the Capuchin Crypt is one of the most remarkable underground sights in Rome and often included in catacomb tours. You don’t need to join a guided tour to admire its six chapels adorned with the skeletal remains of around 4,000 monks buried here from the 1500s to the 1800s, but be forewarned that this crypt may not be suitable for children or impressionable visitors. Tickets include admission to the Church of Santa Maria della Concezione, museum, and crypt; wheelchair access is limited.

Embalmed mummies line the walls at Capuchin Crypt.
The many residents of the Capuchin Crypts.Photo Credit: Gandolfo Cannatella / Shutterstock

Catacombs of Priscilla

Home to the oldest known image of the Virgin Mary.

Once a Roman quarry, this catacomb network beneath the convent of the Benedictine Sisters of Priscilla holds the tombs of two popes and a number of saints, but the headliner here is a small painting of what is believed to be the first rendering of the Virgin Mary. To see this and other highlights—including a section of the 8 miles (13 kilometers) of loculi-lined tunnels, Cubiculum of the Veiled Woman, and Greek Chapel—you must visit with a guided tour, included in the ticket price; no disabled access.

Catacombs of St. Domitilla

Rome’s oldest catacombs and home to early Christian art.

Art history aficionados will especially appreciate this complex of tunnels and chambers decorated with exceptional 2nd-century Christian frescoes. To admire an ancient rendering of The Last Supper, the subterranean Basilica of the SS. Nereus and Achilleus, and four levels of tunnels where roughly 15,000 Christians were buried, you must join a guided tour, included in the admission ticket. The complex is not accessible to wheelchair users or those with limited mobility.

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