An underground cemetery to explore
The Catacombs of St Callistus, Rome's ancient Christian cemetery in the 3rd century, cover an area of over 15 hectares underground through Via Appia Antica, Via Ardeatina and Via delle Sette Chiese. Its tunnels, over four levels, total a length of 20 kilometres and a depth of 20 metres.
Sixteen pontiffs, numerous martyrs and half a million Christians were buried here. The name comes from the deacon Callistus, to whom Pope Zeffirinus had entrusted the care of the cemetery, which in the 5th century became a place of pilgrimage to pay homage to the saints buried there following the 'itinera' established by Pope Damasus.
The Crypt of St Cecilia is among the most fascinating corners of the catacombs, with frescoes and mosaics. Here, in the 9th century, the saint's body was found still intact and a statue by Stefano Maderno depicts her in the position in which she was found.
Not to be missed is the Crypt of the Popes, also known as the Little Vatican, where nine popes and various church dignitaries were buried and the original inscriptions in Greek are preserved.
Passing through gigantic tunnels and narrow corridors, you reach the Cubiculae of the Sacraments, richly frescoed family tombs.