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Catacombs in Rome?

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We will have a young teen with us when we are in Rome. Is it worth it to visit the catacombs when we are in Italy? Which one? About how much time would we allocate to this activity? THANK YOU!

Sandy G

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    First of all, I have to ask... did I marry you in drunken fit of folly and just don't remember it? If so, my real wife's going to be P.O.ed.

    Secondly, here's what I wrote in our trip report several years ago...

    "The Catacombs
    A short bus-ride away from the old city walls of Rome are the ancient subterranean tombs where paleo-Christians kept alive the flame of faith that would later come to dominate the city, the empire, the continent…and beyond. We took a tour of these spooky chambers, given by a gregarious Irish priest with a twinkle in his eye (straight out of central casting!).

    The devout find these tours to be moving beyond words, and one can easily see why. But from a purely historic standpoint, it is worth noting that this is simply an underground graveyard. The early Christians of Rome
    met and held their rituals here because they were in a subversive cult (in the eyes of those in charge) and didn’t want to get caught. And they weren’t the only ones; iconography of Mithraism and other eastern “mystery cults”
    can be found down there as well. Where many will be inspired by visiting the site where holders of the “true faith” were cruelly persecuted for their beliefs…others will see a place where rebellious urban youth hung out to practice odd ceremonies in the middle of the night. One wonders whether
    they perceived any significant distinction between Christ, Mithra, Zarathustra, or any one of a dozen other messengers of God popular at the time."

    (the full trip report can be found here: http://www.onelittleworld.com/rome_venice_1.html)

    Curiously, I seem to have left out the name of the specific catacombs we actually visited. I would have a really hard time recalling it today. Sorry. But time-wise, I think you're looking at about a half day total.

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    Here's what I had to say about my visit a couple of years back. I don't sound all that overwhelmed by the experience! Half a day sounds about right :

    Up brightish and earlyish today as has become my disturbing wont, and out to see the catacombs of St. Callixtus, which lie outside of the city on the Via Antica Appia, also known as the Appian Way, a metro and (surprisingly easy) busride away. Perhaps exposure to Wellington life has cured my bus fears? Anyway, it was pretty cool to walk down the Appian Way. I think I was expecting some broad, imposing highway paved with huge Roman slabs or something like that - it's actually pretty small and narrow, cobbled like everywhere else, and refreshingly pastoral after the city.

    I muscled my way into the first English tour going after I got there (you don't book a time, just wait for them to announce a tour in English, French, Italian etc.), which was led by an affable Australian priest. (The young Americans next to me were speculating whether he had a Scottish accent - wtf?) The catacombs date back to the 3rd century, and these particular ones hold some half a million tombs, but no remains - when they were rediscovered in the 19th century, 90% of the tombs had been despoiled, and the remaining bones were taken to an ossuary which is somewhere on-site, but not in the tomb complex that tourists go to. We headed to the levels 12 metres below ground, apparently they go down as far as 30-something metres below. The catacombs housed the tombs of the first 9 popes (although not sure if that included St Peter?) but they were moved I think in the 9th century, when the barbarian invasions of Rome started to pose too much threat to them. It's hard to milk much atmosphere out of a place like this as part of a horde of huddled tourists, but the tour was quite informative and it was nice to see them, even if it is just mostly dark passageways with hollowed-out tombs in the walls and the odd old fresco or carved mortuary stone.

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    Getting out to an Appian Way catacomb, seeing it, and getting back will take a few hours. There are also catacombs closer into town. The thought of going underground is probably appealing to a teen, but you'll have to use a little imagination once underground. Our friends' tennager was loooking foward to seeing bodies! (They are none....) Here are some links on the catacombs in Rome, brief descriptions, and maps.

    http://tinyurl.com/rome-catacombs; http://tinyurl.com/san-callisto; http://tinyurl.com/st-sebastian; http://tinyurl.com/domitilla; http://tinyurl.com/st-agnes-catacombs; http://tinyurl.com/priscilla-catacombs

    A teenager might enjoy the Cripta dei Cappuccini, better known as the bone church (and it's in town and inepensive)
    http://tinyurl.com/bone-church

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