This is a guided tour of the Catacombs of Callixtus, lasting thirty to forty minutes, occasionally slightly longer in low-season. You’ll be part of a group, accompanied at all times by a knowledgeable English speaking guide.
The Catacombs are open all year round aside from Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Easter Sunday.
Almost certainly the greatest and most important in (well, under) Rome, the catacombs of St Callixtus were once the official cemetery of the Church of Rome and are home to dozens of martyrs, sixteen Popes and innumerable Christians.
The areas that may be explored are home to two small basilicas with three apses, the ‘Trichorae’; the cemetery is composed of various areas with the oldest being the crypts of Lucina and the areas of the Popes and of St. Cecilia. You’ll be immersing yourselves into the early days of Christianity and accompanied by extremely knowledgeable tour guides.
The complex dates to around the middle of the second century and is on an impressive scale - galleries stretch for a total of around 12 miles, spread over four levels and stretching down over twenty metres in depth. The holiest of crypts is in the ‘area of the Popes’, nicknamed ‘the little Vatican’; here the walls bear testimony to the final resting place of many an early Pope, with inscriptions in Greek and tombstones bearing the title ‘Bishop’ alongside the name of the Pope.
You’ll also see the Crypt of St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music, a series of small chambers known as the ‘cubicles of the Sacraments’, noted for their important frescoes. These are thought to date from the beginning of the third century and show symbolic representations of the sacraments of Baptism and of the Eucharist.
Other areas visited include the Crypt of St. Eusebius, the cubicle of the deacon Severus with the first reference to the Bishop of Rome being nominated ‘Pope’, and the Crypt of St. Gaius, dating to the third century and of such dimensions that it was once used for gatherings.
Please note that as you’ll be underground for at least 30 minutes, probably longer, you’d be well advises to take an extra layer of clothing with you. It goes without saying that you’ll be in relatively confined spaces - there are also a handful of quite steep stairways. Also note that photography is not permitted.
Tours last for around 30 to 40 minutes and are all accompanied by an expert guide. If you’re there at a particularly busy time you may well be grouped together before your descent to be given some explanations before entering; if this wasn’t done then there’d be some long stops down below, not ideal for all visitors. The catacombs are usually open all year round, with the exceptions of Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Easter Sunday. Opening hours are 9.00 to 12.00 and them from 14.00 to 17.00 hours.
Children under the age of six pay nothing, reduced tickets are available to anyone aged between seven and fifteen. Full priced tickets are for everyone else - there are no reductions for senior citizens. Note that school groups do not need to pay but that we’re unable to make such bookings.
Lasting around three hours and setting off from the centre of Rome in mid-afternoon, this guided tour takes in some of the major sights of Christian Rome, terminating with a trip down into the atmospheric catacombs of early Christian Rome.
The tour is by deluxe coach, but you'll step off from time to time for a closer look at some of the attractions involved. The tour runs on Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays in high season, Friday and Saturday only in low-season.
Heading out from Piazza San Bernardo, crossing Piazza della Repubblica, you'll take the Via Nazionale for a visit to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (St Mary the Major). One of the four papal basilicas of Rome, legend has it that the church's location was chosen by the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the church is the largest in Rome dedicated to her.
Next it's on to the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano (St John Lateran), the 'Cathedral of Rome and of the world'. The ecclesiastical seat of the Bishop of Rome, aka the Pope, it is the oldest and first ranking - above even St Peters - of the papal basilicas, the ecumenical mother church.
The group then moves on to the Scala Sancta, the 'Holy Stairs'; tradition has it that these were bought from Jerusalem to Rome in AD326 and were the steps that Christ ascended during his Passion, en route to trial. The 28 white marble steps are now encased and protected by wooden treads.
Rejoining the coach the tour heads off to the Via Appia - the Appian Way - to reach the catacombs of San Callisto. The catacombs are ancient burial sites, carved out of the soft rock underlying surrounding areas of Rome. They are not only sacred burial grounds, but are also immensely important in the history of early Christian art, home as they are to splendid early frescoes and sculptures.
The catacombs of San Callisto are among the greatest and most important of Rome, covering an incredible 90 acres in a network of galleries roughly 9 miles long. Do please remember that this is partly a walking tour, roughly 45 minutes of which will be spent underground.
The tour heads off at 2.00 PM but you'll need to be at the meeting point for 1.20 PM to give time for organising the group.