A not-to-be-missed full-day combined itinerary that follows in the steps of Christianity, from its founding to its definitive consecration. On this Catacombs and Vatican Tour, you’ll visit the places where the first Christians came together to pray and where they buried their dead — from when they were ostracized by the dominating pagan population — but you will also see highlights of Vatican City with its magnificent display of wealth and beauty. The contrast is, at first appearance, so striking that one may wonder if this was the outcome that the first martyrs had imagined when they died defending their beliefs. Could the first popes even imagine the splendor and the exhibition of glory that their successors achieved in the following centuries? And how can we, contemporary men and women, understand the course of events leading to such a result. This is why we created the combined Vatican and Catacombs itinerary, which starts off by exploring the underground web of intricate tunnels where the first Christians gathered to celebrate their religious services, and ends in the very heart of Christendom, the point of reference for over a billion Catholics, the Basilica of St Peter’s. It is the world’s largest church, and certainly the greatest one for its parade of invaluable artworks and triumphant representations of the divine.
To gain a fuller experience of these sites one should pay attention, not just to the ripe fruits hanging from the tree, but also to the very roots of the plants that thrust deep into the ground. From light to darkness, and from dark to light, means to acknowledge the double-faced complexity of the culture that produced the art that we so admire. Because one should pick the fruit in the brightest hour of a day, but never forget that the fruits’ life comes from the sun in the sky, as well as from the roots beneath the ground.
This combined tour is designed to provide our guests with a deeper and more meaningful experience, while saving money. The two parts — catacombs and Vatican City — of this unique small group tour of Rome, are two halves of a perfectly symmetrical whole. On the one hand, you have an endless labyrinth of dark underground chambers and tunnels; and on the other, you have an endless labyrinth of luminous rooms and corridors, filled with the world’s most precious marvels. On the one hand you have a three level deep ancient Basilica, extending in the bowels of earth, built with rock and plain materials; and on the other, you have the Basilica of St. Peter’s, with its stucco and gold decorations, marbles, paintings and statues made by the greatest artists of all times, from classical era sculptors to Michelangelo to Bernini.
It is not by chance that the Basilica of St. Peter’s was built on the burial site – the modest terrain that was not much valued in ancient Rome – of the first pope, the first of the apostles, the man who betrayed Jesus but then devoted his life to him. The roots of all the beauty and magnificent glory that are displayed at the Vatican are to be found in underground Rome, many feet below the surface.
In the morning we visit the three stunning sites that form our Catacombs Tour. Together with your guide, you will walk through the intricate labyrinth of the catacombs, where the first followers of Jesus buried their dead. You will discover the tombs of the first Christians, early popes and martyrs and you will see amazing frescoes painted on walls that are nearly 2,000 years old.
The next important stop of our tour of underground Rome will be an incredibly beautiful hidden gem in the heart of Rome, the Basilica of St. Clement, a 12th basilica situated just five minutes from the Colosseum. The Basilica of St. Clement is a church of incomparable beauty that is unjustly overlooked by the distracted tourist, maybe for the very same reason that makes it unique—nobody can even imagine what’s to be found when you first walk in. Visitors can walk down three levels beneath the main building. The more you descend into the bowels of the earth, the more you travel back in time, all the way to the 1st century BC, when Roman and Pagan culture, still at its acme, was already threatened by a new and ascendant religion. No “monument” better than the Basilica of St. Clement exemplifies the connection between Christian culture to the one that preceded it, and that, for long time, ran concurrently with it.
Our tour will only finish after visiting another little gem—a church that is as beautiful as visitors to Rome overlook it. This church, built on the temple dedicated to the goddess Roma, the very deity who personified the city of Rome, contains the mortal remains of a woman saint, whose skeleton, perfectly dressed in an embroidered white gown, lies in a glass case, with an opened book in her hand, almost as if reading with her wide open eyes. Its name is the Church of Santa Francesca Romana, a church of rare beauty, and it is so close to the Colosseum that nobody even notices it. It is like a most delicate flower growing at the foot of a great oak.
Please notice that the car trip to and from the catacombs is included in the price, and so are the entry fees to visit all the sites! Our price is all-inclusive so that you don’t have to worry about anything.
This combined tour includes a visit to the Vatican for good reason: no tour of the Catacombs in Rome would be complete without visiting the sites that best represent the continuation of the underground experience of the first Christians. There was a time when Christians were persecuted and were forced to hide, and many faced death with the greatest courage rather than recant their beliefs. But at the beginning of the 4th century, with Constantine’s victory over Maxentius and the Constantine’s conversion to Christ, Christianity became the de facto state religion. The first official basilica to be built in Rome is St. John in Lateran, very close to the underground Basilica of St. Clement that we visit in the morning. St. John in Lateran was, and still is the official seat of the pope (if you want to visit our Papal Basilica please follow this link) and its construction began soon after the battle of Milvian Bridge, probably in the year 313 AD.
Very early on, the Vatican hill started to become a point of reference for Christians since, according to tradition, it was the burial site of St. Peter. Emperor Constantine himself sponsored the construction of the first Basilica of St. Peter [link] in 319 AD and had it completed in 349 AD on the site of his tomb. Since then, the Vatican hill has become one of the world’s most famous pilgrimage sites. Over the centuries, the popes and the cardinal started to enlarge the basilica, erecting new buildings around it and promoting a cultural agenda that, through art, aimed at supporting their efforts to illustrate the doctrine that ecclesiastic councils were coming to define. The result of this continuous effort to celebrate and spread the Christian faith through art has made the Vatican the site [place, repository] for one of the greatest concentrations of art and beauty in the whole world.
But, regardless of our beliefs, when we visit the Vatican we should never forget where all had started. It started many feet underground. And when we visit the catacombs in Rome we should never forget where all this lead to, and what it was to become. It triggers the imagination to wonder whether Clement or Callixtus, two of the first popes and saints, could foresee such a brilliant and luminous future for the Church, or whether they had imagined that the overflowing glory now displayed in St. Peter’s Basilica could only have belonged to heaven. Join our Catacombs and Vatican Tour for a more thorough experience of Rome’s underground. After a visit to the Catacombs, we will visit the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica in a small group tour of max 12 people. The tour is led by one of our expert English-speaking tour guides. Join our Combined Tour today and see the Catacombs and the Vatican!
Price: €155 per person. All entry-fees are included in the price.
Meeting points will be provided after the booking.
Due to the nature of the terrain in the underground areas, this tour is not suitable for the mobility impaired. The sites are not wheel chair accessible.
Transportation to the Catacombs and back to Rome city center included.
Food and drink not included.