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Hidden Rome


Off the Beaten Path

Hidden Rome

Time machine, underground world and urban archaeology

3,5 hours
Sites Visited

San Clemente church, Catacomb of Priscilla and Crypta Balbi Museum

What to expect

Rome is always called the eternal city. Take this tour and realize why!!

While wandering along the narrow alleys of the historical center, be aware you walk over a 2770 years old city testifying an uninterrupted sequence of historical events. Then you will see that visiting the underground Rome will help you to better understand the modern city and you can easily explain the origin of our meandering urban plan and why you get constantly lost! Old Rome highly conditions the nowadays arrangement. For the same reason on an aerial view it is so easy to find out how the layout of the modern buildings clearly recall the plan of ancient building underneath.

Our journey begins at the catacombs of Priscilla. The phenomenon of the early christian burial sites starts at the time of the persecutions when Christians were not allowed to publicly worship their idols as well as honoring the cult of their beloved ones. For this reason they reused some galleries previously excavated by the Romans to quarry the tender tufa as a building material and readapted them to a funerary use.

Rome has 60 out of 100 Catacombs in Italy! Among them, the one we chose for you takes the name by a lady called Priscilla whose family decided to use their own land to give the Christians the opportunity to bury and honor the dead. In the winding maze of galleries once lit by the use of lamps only, you can see the oldest in existence image of mother Mary and the leading theme of salvation and final resurrection obtained for us by Jesus Christ with frequent iconography connected to the raising of Lazarus, Jonah emerging from the mouth of a sea-monster, the Sacrifice of Isaac and the Three Children in the fiery furnace in Babylon.

The surviving paintings inside the Catacombs clearly show how the Christians are still searching for their own figurative language and so they heavily draw from the pagan tradition.. it is engaging to see mother Mary like a "matrona" or some Christian figures wearing and posing like the pagan statues!

Second part of our trip will take us to the church of San Clemente where today's level belongs to the Middle Ages but as you enter the door to the sacristy, like a time machine, you can experience three subterranean levels.. another church of the IVth century AD, a Mitrhaeum, a temple connected to the cult of the homonymous god of Persian origin and built over a house of the I century AD and with a natural spring of water belonging to the age of the emperor Nero. Among the relics of this religious complex there’s also the tomb of the saint Cyril who developed the Cyrillic alphabet, an intriguing story we are looking forward to share with you!

Our trip finally takes us to a very bold project, the crypta Balbi Museum. An archaeologist in the early 80’s wanted to realize a challenging experiment.. He chose a block and managed to dig it from its foundation almost to the virgin soil. The intention was to uncover the past of Rome from the modern times till the early empire. What came out is an overwhelming journey across the history of Rome and a very interesting experiment of urban archeology!