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Rome Underground Sites to Visit - Any Suggestions?

Rome Underground Sites to Visit - Any Suggestions?

Old Oct 10th, 2014, 11:51 AM
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Rome Underground Sites to Visit - Any Suggestions?

Hello - My husband and I are taking our kids (ages 7,11,13) to Rome over New Years. Does anyone have any favorite underground sites we should visit? I want the kids to see the layers of Rome dating back in time (houses, infastructure, catacombs, etc.). I know there are several spots to do this but would love to know your favorites. Also do you suggest a guide (expensive but worth it??) or should we download an iPhone app and try go it alone? Help?! Thank you.
Pak0five is offline  
Old Oct 10th, 2014, 12:56 PM
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We spent last Christmas and New Years in Rome. Check out my trip report on various underground sites.
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Old Oct 10th, 2014, 01:02 PM
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Under the church of Saints Giovanni and Paolo on the Celian Hill are the remains of some Roman houses with many painted walls, etc. A few years ago, I was able to spend an hour wandering around the site by myself; not sure if this is still true.

The website is in Italian, but I gleaned that reservation is a good idea (+39 0670 45 45 44, Case Romane), and that it's open from 10-1 and 3-6 every day by Tuesday and Wednesday.

If you're in Forum/Palatine Hill area-- the back of the Palatine has a reconstruction of what they think the huts from Romulus's day looked like. It is (or was) sometimes possible to visit the excavated Livia and Augustus in the same area, which have wonderful paintings as well.
colonna is offline  
Old Oct 10th, 2014, 01:28 PM
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I think your children will be fascinated by Rome - both above and below ground. A little while ago I put together an itinerary of underground sites. You might find some of the information useful
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Old Oct 10th, 2014, 01:56 PM
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Yes, we did use a fantastic guide and I will be happy to send you her contact info if you like. She charges by the hour up to (i think) 6 people so your family will be fine. New Years Eve in rome is quite special - your family will have a blast.
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Old Oct 10th, 2014, 02:09 PM
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Sounds like an exciting trip for you and your family.

CAENIS, wow, what a great blog. I am sure it will be most helpful to the OP and to anyone visiting Rome. Helpful restaurant suggestions too...
latedaytraveler is offline  
Old Oct 10th, 2014, 04:57 PM
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Wow, great info Caenis. Bookmarked it. Pak, you have some more info here - http://www.rometravels.com/subterranean_rome.html
worldinabag is offline  
Old Oct 10th, 2014, 05:09 PM
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The Church of San Clemente allows you to walk down thought the layers of various churches down to the Temple of Mithras at the bottom (God of the Roman Army). We just went on our own with a guide book but did encounter a private tour guide (he seemed to have only about 7 or 8 "guests") who was truly both erudite and amusing. Not sure where he came from.

For more info read When in Rome, a mystery set in a similar church by Ngaio Marsh that gives an interesting flavor (for adults not kids).
nytraveler is offline  
Old Oct 11th, 2014, 02:33 AM
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I think that you're no longer allowed to visit the underground parts of San Clemente on your own. On the second level there is a basilica, with a medieval fresco on the wall that has the worlds oldest known comic strip. It illustrates a legend of an episode in the life of Saint Clement with the dialog over the heads of the characters. There are two other interesting things about the fresco. First, Saint Clement is speaking in Latin, while the "bad guy" speaks an early version of Italian, one of the earliest examples of written Italian. Second, considering it's on the wall of a church, the bad guy uses very salty language, calling his servants "sons of whores".

I once wrote a detailed description of each of the five catacombs in Rome, for TripAdvisor. It may help you decide which to see:


There are a few corrections to make to it. First, I've since learned that the Catacomb of Priscilla does sometimes allow private guides to conduct tours there; I don't know anything about arranging a private tour. Second, you can get the B1 metro at Termini station; no need to change trains at Bologna metro station.
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Old Oct 11th, 2014, 03:01 AM
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I think that at the Case Romane under the church of SS. Giovanni e Paolo, a tour would be a very good idea if you can get one. It's a very complex site, and hard to figure out on your own. First there were shops at the site, then some apartment buildings that housed lower middle class people. Then someone bought a block of apartments and tore them down to construct a luxurious house with a private patio. (Sounds like nowadays?) Then this house was restructured again into multiple dwellings. (I'm reciting this from memory, so forgive me if I got anything wrong.) You can see remains of all these phases, which happened over a span of centuries, but you would probably need a guide to point it all out.

Saints Giovanni and Paolo were brothers, Christian Roman soldiers, who lived in the apartments, and who were murdered there. It seems as though their murder had little or nothing to do with their religion, but they were proclaimed martyrs, and the church to commemorate them was built over their dwelling.

The church itself, which is built above the ruins, is worth a look. It has two Romanesque lions outside the door. Inside, the medieval aspect is well preserved. The 13th century mosaic floor is in a style called cosmatesco, after the family of artisans who created this type of floor. Across from the church you can see the foundations of the ancient temple to the deified Emperor Claudius. The medieval bell tower was built on part of the foundations of the temple.

The road on which the church stands is an ancient Roman road (with modern paving) and has some medieval arches. It's a rather picturesque street, and usually there's no one else there, unless there's a wedding in the church, which is a popular place to get married. At the end of the street, with your back to the church, there's an ancient Roman arch, which was a gate in the 4th century BC Servian wall. There are only limited stretches of this wall still in existence.
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Old Oct 11th, 2014, 03:52 AM
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Another place your kids might enjoy is the Domus Romane under Palazzo Valentini, near Piazza Venezia. This is the excavation of the home of a well-to-do Roman family, and part of the adjacent street, and a bit of another house. There is an excellent sound and light show that illustrates how the house might have looked when it was occupied. (I usually don't care for sound and light shows, but this is really well done.) You walk on glass flooring that allows you to see the excavations below. (At first, walking on the glass made me a little queasy.) They have at least one tour a day in English.


In an addendum to the posts above about the Case Romane, I've found that there is an English version of the website:


They say they have guided visits only on Saturdays and Sundays, in English upon request.

Here is the website for the Basilica of San Clemente:


Finally, you can also visit a Roman house under the Basilica of Santa Cecilia, in Trastevere. It's believed to be the home of Saint Cecilia, patron saint of musicicians.

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Old Oct 11th, 2014, 07:00 AM
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If you will be in Trastevere, you might consider visiting St. Cecilia in Trastevere, which is built over the ruins of a 2nd century BC domus. The domus was later incorporated into an insula with bath and in the 3rd century was apparently the home of Cecilia, a Roman patrician woman who converted to Christianity. She became a martyr and legend has it that the Romans tried to suffocate her in the bath and when she did not die, they hacked at her head. She succumbed 3 days later to the wounds. In the church, there is an exquisite statue by Stefano Maderno depicting the saint (incorrupt) as she appeared when her tomb was opened around 1600.

For a small charge, you can tour underneath the church and see the remains of the domus and insula. By the 5th century, it is believed a domus church operated here. In the ninth century a church was built over the spot, using some of the earlier foundations. At the subterranean level, there is also a crypt that is lavishly done in cosmatesque mosaic style.

The main church was later redone in Baroque style, but you can get a glimpse of decorations from the late 13th century if you go to an upper level choir in the back of the church. There you will find some exquisite frescoes by Pietro Cavallini that were only partially covered during later remodeling of the church. These frescoes are a break from the medieval and show a move to renaissance style.

To enter the subterranean level or the choir, you need to go through the gift shop. You can pick up a book about the church to help you explored the ruins. (I think it was 5 euro.)
mama_mia is online now  
Old Oct 11th, 2014, 07:01 AM
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Oops, sorry. Just noticed bvlenci also referenced St. Cecilia.
mama_mia is online now  
Old Oct 11th, 2014, 11:48 AM
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If San Clemente is now visitable only with a set tour I would definitely sign up for it. (I googled and didn't see this noted - but that doesn;t mean the web info has been updated).
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Old Oct 11th, 2014, 03:17 PM
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The "scavi" under St Peters is well worth the visit. DH and I did it years ago and it is a vivid memory. You have to book in advance on the Vatican website. We had a priest as our guide who took us down through the layers of excavation to some bones which have been carbon dated to the time of St Peter.

Look on the Vatican website as I think they have other underground areas open these days.
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Old Oct 12th, 2014, 05:43 AM
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How long will you be gone? What days will you be there?

We will be in Rome Oct 31 and Nov 12-15 and the underground sites were just about the only plans we had. So can update you better when we get back.

Two years ago took a transatlantic trip 18+ days, some fabulous places and the highlight of my trip was the scavi under St. Peters Basilica. Utterly fascinating no matter what your faith. Must book now as only do 6 or 8 per trip which lasts about 1.5 hrs. Recommend highly.

Although not underground, the one place I'm looking forward to is the Farnese Palace. It is called the jewel of the Renascience in Rome but only has tours in English on Wed at 5pm. Have been looking forward to this for years but never in Rome on a Wed.

Will send info ASAP after trip if you'd like on the undergrounds as we found them?
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Old Oct 13th, 2014, 04:17 PM
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jan47ete - Yes! Please. That would be great. Enjoy your trip and can't wait to hear what you did.
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Old Oct 14th, 2014, 10:53 AM
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Thank you all for this invaluable information. I am sifting through it, relishing every detail. We are sure to have a great underground experience - thanks to all of you!
Pak0five is offline  
Old Oct 20th, 2014, 07:22 PM
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In my opinion 7 is a bit young for the Vatican Scavi tour.
limmy is offline  
Old Nov 18th, 2014, 12:57 PM
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Just back on Sunday, and practically spent half the time in Rome underground.

San Clemente: walk into a 12th century church, descend to a 4th c church and then head even further down to the temple of Mithras. Intriguing to just keep going down and down and down

Le Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentine: absolutely no one should leave Rome with coming here. We've spent years traveling throught Europe to Greek, roman and Etruscan sites and had just spent the last 21 days doing the same, and this place was incredible. It has multi-media presentations, so you walk and see the excavations and then they highlight and elaborate that section. So what you see gets enhanced and even what it might have looked like. Fascinating.

English tours at 130, 200 and 230. In Provencia building right next to Bigboy Toys (lots of flashing lights).

Casa Romane: it is technically under the church of San Giovanni e Paoli but to get to it go to the church and you will see 6 arches and the entrance is to the right of about the 3rd arch. Great frescos.

If you check these out and want more info as some are just a tad tough to find, will provide.
jan47ete is offline  
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