Below Rome: 5 must-see underground sites in the city
If you already met us, you know we love nothing more than talking about Rome and the wonders that lie beneath the Eternal City!
This is because many travelers come in convinced they only have enough days to see the most famous landmarks, but we always urge them to find the time for hidden gems, or for a more unusual form of sightseeing. One that includes being in the dark (in more ways than one!) and exploring.
Nothing explains Rome better than going deep into the belly of the Eternal City: catacombs, crypts and subterranean diggings explain the story unfolding around the Seven Hills better than many documentaries or books. They can tell you of catastrophes, indicate the beginning of a new religion or point to the last days of an ancient one, they can signal changes in society and inform about the shape of the city!
We’ve been discussing Saint Clement/San Clemente and the Domus Aurea on this site, and those are among some of the recommended attractions in this particular regard. However, we’d like to suggest a few other sites you may want to consider visiting during your time here. Read all about them below!
Stadio di Domiziano
The shape of Piazza Navona is a dead giveaway that the square was really an ancient stadium, but this fact only become clear once you get below it, by visiting the private archaeological site on Via di Tor Sanguigna 3. The “Stadio di Domiziano” (Stadium of Domitian) is partly excavated directlt below the houses on the square, so it doesn’t cover the whole area (buildings would fall down). On occasion, this site hosts contemporary art exhibitions, which create an interesting contrast.
Catacombe di Domitilla
The Domitilla Catacombs are the biggest and oldest in Rome, and they’re the only site of its kind to contain an underground church. A must visit even for those tourists looking to see actual human remains, long gone in other similar structures.
Domus Romane a Palazzo Valentini
Palazzo Valentini, built adjacent to the Fora, had been an important government office when an archaeological site was discovered in what had been used for decades as a storage space for old desks and cabinets. After a long excavation process, the area underneath the offices can be now visited (a pre-booking is mandatory) and is among central Rome’s best kept secrets.
Cripta dei Cappuccini (Capuchin Crypt)
What’s underground does not necessarily date back to Ancient Rome. Way before laws on public graveyards were written, monks found alternative ways to dispose of the bodies of their brothers – and this is one of the creepiest, most famous methods!
Bunker di Mussolini (Mussolini’s bunker)
It’s no secret that Benito Mussolini rented the magnificent Villa Torlonia, now a public park with a number of museums right on the Via Nomentana. Many don’t know, though, that in spite of his front as a brave leader, the dictator feared for his life and his loved ones’ during WWII, so he had this bomb shelter built in in his mansion’s… very backyard. Proof that underground dwellings are frequent even in modern times, this vault (as well as a number of other similar structures nearby) is usually open during the weekends and visit requires a pre-booking.