Rome: Catacombs For Kids
Rome: Catacombs For Kids
Everyone has heard of the catacombs, but these early Christian tombs are only the beginning of Rome’s subterranean world.
Crypts, catacombs and excavated relics beneath buildings may sound dank, dark and creepy to you, but they fascinate kids. These spooky places appeal to their love of things hidden and mysterious, and the more bizarre these sites may seem to modern sensibilities, the greater their kid-appeal.
My daughter began collecting information on these underground places before we ever reached Rome, so by the time we arrived in the Eternal City she already had a list of places we had to visit. She spent her first evening locating them on the map we’d picked up at the train station when we arrived, so wherever we went she always knew when there was a crypt or a catacomb nearby, and could steer our routes in their direction.
Exploring the catacombs
Most famous of course are the catacombs, although we had never realized that there were so many of them. The two best known are not far apart on the Appian Way. The Catacomb of St. Callisto (Catacombe di San Callisto) dates from the 2nd century A.D. The largest of Rome’s catacombs, it was the burial place of several early popes, and has colorful graffiti of symbols of Christianity, fun for kids to look for and identify.
Via Appia Antica 110, Tel. +011 06 51301580. Open April-October Thursday-Tuesday 8:30-noon and 2:30-5:30 p.m. (closed at 5 p.m. November-March, closed February. Bus 118 stops nearby.
The Catacombs of St. Sebastian (Catacombe di San Sebastiano) are just down the road in a basilica built by Constantine. This is where the bodies of Sts. Peter and Paul were hidden until St. Peter was relocated to the Vatican and St. Paul to San Paolo Fuori le Mura. My daughter found this wandering of saintly relics quite fascinating and began a list of the various temporary homes of saints’ remains she visited.
Inside the catacomb, opposite a statue of San Sebastiano, is a marble slab imprinted with the feet of Christ. Like St. Sebastian’s, the walls are covered in images of doves and fish put there by early Christians.
Via Appia Antica 136, Tel. +011 06 785 0350. Open Mon.-Sat. 8:30-noon and 2:30-5:30 p.m.; closed mid-November to mid-December.
Less crowded than either of these are the Catacombs of Priscilla, which connect to the remains of a once-grand Roman villa. The wider and higher passageways here are more suitable for younger children who might be too spooked by the narrow confines of the others.
Via Salaria 430, Tel. +011 06 862 06272. Open Tue.-Sun. 8:30-noon and 2:30-5 p.m.; closed January.