In Rome there are more than 60 Christian Catacombs built along the main Roman consular roads, but only five are open to the public. The main ones are those of St. Callixtus, in via Appia Antica.
Originated about the middle of the II century, the Catacombs of St. Callixtus occupy an area of 15 hectares and account for almost 20 km of underground tunnels, which descend to great depths (20m) and spread out on four and sometimes five levels, flanked by niches carved on two and three levels on one another. In this Catacombs were buried more than 500,000 Christians, including dozens of martyrs and 16 popes. In fact, in the first three Century Christians did note have their own cemeteries and were not well seen by the Roman public office (sometimes they were even persecuted); so they buried their relatives in the plots of land that received through various grants and donations in the area in which nowadays arise the Catabombs. With the passage of time, these burial areas grew larger and were enriched by sculptures and monuments, although sometimes they were unfortunately destroyed in the centuries to come.
In the open area there are two small basilicas with three apses, known as the "Trichorae", the eastern one probably a time hosting the rest of pope Zephyrinus and the young martyr St. Tarcisius. The tour then continues in the underground cemetery, which includes the ancient Crypts of Lucina, of the Popes and of St. Cecilia (II C.): other areas are more recent (III-IV C.).
The Popes area is the most important and venerated crypt, not surprisingly called "the little Vatican": in fact, it was the official burial place of nine popes and other dignitaries of early Church. In the walls you can observe the original inscription in Greek (it was Christians official language) of the name of five popes (Pontianus, Antherus, Fabian, Lucius and Eutichian), in front of which there are the rest of Pope Sixtus II, victim of the persecution by Emperor Valerian.
In the adjoining crypt it is possible to visit the empty tomb of the saint patron of music, the young roman lady Cecilia. Although she was entombed in the third Century, her relics were transferred into the basilica dedicated to her in Transtevere in 821.
The catacombs of St. Callixtus are open all year round except on Christmas, New Year’s Day and at Easter.
Visiting hours: 9.00 - 12.00 14.00 - 17.00
The price of admission is € 8.- full price; € 5.- reduced fee.
The visit is guided for free by guides who speak various languages and last about 30/40 minutes.