The Catacombs have always been a very fascinating topic, especially in Rome, where we count more than 60 catacombs!
Let’s learn what the catacombs are, which are the best catacombs to visit in Rome and how to visit them. We also offer a semi-private guided tour including one of these catacombs and the Appian way, which you can find here.
What are the Catacombs of Rome?
The name Catacombs comes from the ancient Latin ad catacumbas, which literally means “in the hollow”.
The first catacomb to be called like that was the Catacomb of San Sebastiano. Before becoming a cemetery, there was a quarry of pozzolana ash, which created a sort of cave, a hollow.
Later on the Romans (pagans) built some sanctuaries (still incredibly preserved and visible today!) in the hollow. Successively it became a Christian cemetery.
Since then, every underground cemetery was referred to as “catacomb”.
Which are the best Catacombs to visit in Rome?
With over 60 catacombs in Rome, choosing where to go can be challenging. All the catacombs are located outside of the ancient Roman city walls (the Aurelian walls).
This means you won’t find catacombs in the very city center today, but you’ll have to move in less central areas of the city.
These are the best catacombs of Rome that we suggest visiting. (Please note we’ll be adding more catacombs on this list over time!)
Catacombs of San Sebastiano
The Catacombs of San Sebastiano are the first catacombs of Rome. This is where the word “catacomb” originated from, and then used to refer to all the underground cemeteries.
The Catacomb of San Sebastiano are located on the Appian Way, in the east suburb of Rome. It features 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) of galleries and more than 100000 burials.
Many tombs of Saints were here, for example San Sebastian. Later on the Popes decided to move the relics of the saints inside their respective churches, to preserve them from the tomb raiders, which in the past have been stealing the grave goods and jewels from the catacombs.
Above the Catacombs of San Sebastiano a basilica church was built, which is also referred to as: in memoria apostolorum. This name comes from the fact that in the 3rd century the relics of St Peter and St Paul were temporarily transferred here to protect them from the persecutions. Now St Paul is buried in the church of St Paul outside the Walls. While St Peter is buried in St Peter’s basilica.
To visit the Catacombs of San Sebastiano you need to buy a ticket directly at the venue or online. The visit to the Catacombs lasts about 40 minutes.
To make the trip to the catacombs even more worth it, you can combine these Catacombs with a tour on the soon-to-be Unesco World Heritage site, the Appian Way. That’s the very first road the Romans built and you can walk on it! All this is included in our Oldest Catacombs in the World and the Best of the Appian Way tour!
Catacombs of Domitilla
The Catacombs of Domitilla are located on the Via Ardeatina, near the Appian Way. These are one of the longest network of corridors among the Catacombs of Rome.
These catacombs feature more than 17 kilometers of galleries, across 4 different levels underground. With an estimate of over 15000 bodies.
During the guided visit you will be able to explore the second level (counting from overground).
The highlights of this catacomb is the underground basilica dedicated to Achille and Nereo, (two of the first Christian martyrs), and the fascinating frescoes that include a lot of the Christian symbolism, still visible in such vibrant colors.
To visit this catacomb you need to pay an entry ticket. That includes the guided tour by the internal guide to the site, which you can purchase directly on site.
Catacombs of San Callisto
The catacombs of San Callisto are the biggest catacombs of Rome. Over half a million Christians were buried here, including 16 popes and several martyrs!
These catacombs feature a network of galleries of about 20 kilometers located across many floors.
The most important highlight is the Crypt of the Popes. Which is also the most sacred place of the Catacombs of San Callisto.
Another highlight is the crypt of Saint Cecilia. This is where the body of the patron saint of music was located, before Pope Pasquale I moved it to the church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere.
We visit this church and Cecilia’s crypt in Trastevere during our best-selling tour “Hidden Gems of Trastevere, Tiber Island & Jewish district“.
The Catacombs of San Callisto are located on the Appian Way. This is one of the catacombs which is included in our Oldest Catacombs in the World and the Best of the Appian Way tour!