There is a Rome under the streets.. A city 2,700 years old has been built in layers over layers. Tombs, garaveyards, catacombs, crypts, are susteining the modern city above.
Let's go under.. The Basilica of St Clemente is a kind of time machine, being 12th Century the most recent building, you reach Roman apartments of 1st Century b.C.
Rome is a city populated since the Iron Age, some 1,000 years before Christ.
This means a lot of history, and a lot of material hidde, buried, or lost under the ground floor. Think only the physical space occupied by millions of dead.. Modern graveyards cover medieval cemeteries, which covered Medieval mass graves of the victims of plague; some layers below we find the famous Christian catacombs, built over Roman columbaria , the “dove nests” were urns were kept.
In a recent excavation for fixing electrical cables in the centre of Rome, the workers have found two skeletons, dated 8th Century, of a woman and a child, still holding a shell, the symbol of the pilgrimage.
With this tour, we go down. We visit some of the most dramatic underground of Rome.
Leaving your hotel, a driver lead us to the South-East area of the city, were there is the largest concentration of catacombs. Even if there are different names and entrances of the catacombs, St Sebastian, St Callixtus, Saint Domitilla, the whole underground of this part of Rome is an immense net of galleries of different level. It has been calculated that there are at least 500,000 tombs, loculi, dug by the Christian from the 1st and 4th Century.
The visit of the catacombs lasts about an hour. The catacombs, like the Roman basilicas are Vatican territory.
We continue reaching the city centre and we visit the Basilica di San Clemente. While the catacombs describe a fixed moment of the history of Rome, this small basilica is a shrine of art and history. With architecture starting from 1st Century A.D. to the 12th Century.
Entering the church, we recognize the Byzantine style of the beautiful mosaics, representing a Crucifixion. Then, passing by the ticket desk run by Irish Monks, we descend the 8th level. We are met by a colourful series of frescos, with episodes of the the life of Saint Clemente. The upper level of the crypt is decorated with religious scenes, while the lower level is a jolly description of the life of the Italian commoners and peasants who built the basilica. In one of those frescos, is the first example of Italian language – an architect insulting his servants.
We pass by an altar dedicated to the Slavic saints Cyril and Methodius, who started from here to evangelize the Eastern Europe in the 8th Century.
We descend the third underground floor: it is a Roman insula of 1st Century A. D. , a block of apartments, perfectly preserved, with the original floor and walls. We walk through this maze of ancient rooms, following the sound of an underground creek.
In the centre of the Roma house, a temple dedicated to the Middle Eastern God Mithra, worshipped by the Roman soldiers. This temple has been saved by destruction in Christian time, because it was filled with earth and disappeared for many centuries.
We leave san Clemente, and continue to the last site. It is and underground building , and it is few metres away from the famous Trevi Fountain.
It is the Vicus Caprarius, the City of Water. They are the huge Roman distribution tanks collecting the water flowing through the Virgo Aqueduct, the same 2,500 years old aqueduct which feeds the modern Fountain. Those big buildings kept water for the need of the Romans of the area; along the centuries other building were added to the central core of the City of Water. The place have been discovered in 2000 during the excavations of an underground parking.