Day 3 Rome: Crypts and Catacombs

Fascinating day…  No photos were allowed in the bone crypts or in the catacombs so we only have a few selfies taken outside of the catacombs.

Our tour visited three sites: Catacombs, Basilica di San Clemente, and the Capuchin Crypt

Catacombs: Dark, claustrophobic, fascinating. I can’t imagine what it was like when they were actively being used. Gravediggers had high status and the air was so thick with the stench of rotting corpses that the very act of decomposition used most of the oxygen in the crypts, only giving patrons 30-60 minutes of breathable air. 30-60 minutes to bury or visit your dead in near pitch darkness. I don’t even want to imagine. Yet, even in such conditions frescoes, some which still remain vivid, can be seen on several walls. Important early examples of Christian art.

Basilica de San Clemente: Beautiful, fascinating church that illustrates the “lasagne” archaeology of Rome. To date, 4 layers have been uncovered from 4 different centuries culminating in 2000 years of history.

Four different sites: 2 churches built on top of each other from the 4th and 12th century, a pagan temple from the 2nd century, and 1st century ruins of an apartment building and mansion built atop ruins from the Roman fire of 64 A.D. (courtesy of Nero). We also passed through an ancient Roman road in which the width was no wider than shoulder length.

This church is of particular importance as mosaics from the 4th century provide some of the earliest examples of written Italian. Example: “Fili de le pute, traite!” Translated, “Come on you sons of bitches, pull!”

The pagan temple is also fascinating as it houses the cult of Mithras — a god from Persia considered to be one of the ancient mystery religions. A male-only cult, Mithras was worshiped in secret and was believed to be popular with the military and ex-slaves. One can view an original alter of this cult in this walk through ancient history. 

Capuchin Crypt: Super creepy. I understand it was supposed to be a celebration of life, but being surrounded by the bones of so many dead people freaked me out. Not to mention the fact that human remains were displayed as art. There were bone chandeliers hanging from the ceilings and all sorts of pictures (one being an hourglass and clock) all formed from human bones. Skeletons of dead friars in full garb stood watch in corners, and in one crypt, stood a wall decorated with human pelvis bones. CREEPY! I think had I spaced the visits better, I would not have been so freaked. Too many overt reminders of death…

Even still, an absolutely fascinating highly enjoyable day.