Half-Day Tour: Catacombs of Rome with Main Basilicas

from €79.00 EUR 
Duration: 3 Hours
 Organized by: Gray Line I Love Rome

Leave your hotel and start your journey to explore 2 important basilicas first. First one is the St. John Lateran Basilica, where the Holy Stairs (a pilgrimage site) can be found, the oldest one of Rome’s four basilicas.

Next one is St. Mary Major Basilica where you can see stunning collections of handmade and historical objects. You will be amazed by the Crypt of the Nativity and the mosaics.

The next stop for you would be the Chapel of Domine Quo Vadis after you pass through Appian Way. There, you will see the remarkable underground Catacombs of Rome and underground cemeteries as old as 19 centuries. Have a look at the work of arts from history and learn how those subterranean paths enlighten the very early time of Christianity.

About Appian Way

This is the most famous, the longest, the straightest of the old Roman roads and also the best preserved, it starts, more or iess, from the Baths of Caracaila and in an almost straight line, a good ninety kilometres, joins Terracina, Capua (in Campania), then goes through Benevento until it gets to Brindisi. It was the outlet of ancient Rome for traffic going East. It was called the “regina viarum”. “queen of the roads”.

Begun in 312 BC by Appius Claudius, a censor who gave it his name, it was extended to Brindisi around 190 BC. It fell into disuse at the end of the Empire, was “rediscovered” during the Renaissance but was only restored in our century. It was built using extremely high standards of engineering (it is only in this century that this technology was rediscovered).

The Appian Way consists of four different and paved strata four metres and ten centimetres wide, sidewalks on either side, and at the time of the ancient Romans was lined with trees. Many patrician tombs line it as it was customary then to bury the dead outside the city walls.

To whoever travels along it today the Appian Way gives rise to powerful pictures -of wagons, people, armies, travelling merchants – and because of ttie many ancient tombs, the sacredness of death. The tomb of Cecilia Metella is certainly the most famous. This young patrician girl’s tomb is in the style of an Etruscan tumulus and anticipates the great mausoleums of Augustus and Hadrian. On a square stone base rises a cylindrical construction that encloses the small funeral chamber Tlie tomb, today decorated by Medieval crenelations, was surmounted by a pensile grove of cypresses.

There are many important monuments along the Appian Way and in its surroundings: from the Baths of Caracalia to the Catacombs of St. Callisto and the several patrician tombs. The enormous, well-preserved Baths of Caracalia, today used for summer operatic performances, could accommodate some one thousand six hundred bathers and were built towards 212 AD by the Emperor Caracalia. It has gymnasiums, baths, music rooms and underground rooms. Except for a few traces of the old mosaic pavement, all the decorations have disappeared. Two famous ancient works were excavated here: the Farnese Hercules and the Farnese Taurus.

The Basilicas of Rome

The word basilica comes from a Greek word meaning royal house, portico, or House of the King. Essentially, a basilica was a great hall with ‘aisles’ divided by rows of columns from the central ‘nave’, which in Christian times usually had a higher ceiling than the rest of the building. At the end of the large centre hall was a rounded area, the apse, where the presiding person sat. In Roman times the basilica was used for both public and private business.

The building of the first Christian basilica is attributed to the Emperor Constantine, ca. 313. Up to this time the celebration of the Eucharist and meetings of Christians usually took place in private houses. He donated the site of the present basilica of St John Lateran to the Pope and began to construct a basilica. Constantine also began the building of the first Basilica of St Peter in Rome, the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, among many others. Since that time more than 350 historic churches have been built within Rome’s centro storico, the historic centre of the city.

Basilica of St. John Lateran

At the end of the Via Merulana is the first of the Roman basilicas, founded by Constantine I ca. 314-318, and dedicated to Christ the Redeemer. It was built on land that was originally owned by the family of Plautius Lateranus, a patrician put to death by Nero. Later additions to the title include St John the Baptist and St John the Apostle. The basilica is the cathedral of the diocese of Rome and an inscription describes it as ‘Mother and Head of all Churches in Rome and in the World’. Until 1870, St. John Lateran was the place where the Popes were crowned and it was the site of five General Councils of the Church, the first held in 1123. Pope Boniface VIII announced the celebration of the first Holy Year in St John Lateran in 1300.

The present building dates from the seventeenth century when Pope Innocent X commissioned Borromini to rebuild the basilica: a number of previous buildings had been fully or partly destroyed over the centuries by the Vandals, by an earthquake and by numerous fires. The facade dates from the eighteenth century and it is surmounted by giant statues of Christ, John the Baptist, John the Apostle, and Doctors of the Church.

In the interior of the church there are huge early eighteenth century Baroque statues of the Apostles in the niches of the pillars. The papal altar contains many relics, among which are said to be the heads of St Peter and St Paul and the wooden altar used by St Peter. There are many fragments and copies of mosaics belonging to buildings that were destroyed or damaged. A door in the left aisle gives entry to the cloisters


Contrary to popular belief the catacombs were not secret burial places for Christians. All burial sites were sacred to the Romans. Cemeteries were protected by law but people had to be buried outside the city limits. Jews and Christians were buried, whereas non-Jews and non-Christians burned their dead. In the beginning Christians buried their dead above ground in plots provided by Christian landowners. As numbers increased, the Christians dug into the soft tufa rock, constructed galleries or corridors, and buried their dead in ‘loculi’ or niches along the galleries. When the Christian religion became the religion of the state in the early fourth century the catacombs were no longer used as burial places but the dead were honoured by various religious celebrations.

The Goths vandalised the tombs in search of treasure and in the eighth and ninth centuries the remaining bones were removed to avoid plundering and commerce in bones. Many of the catacombs were in fact forgotten until rediscovered in 1849. The catacombs are normally open from 08.30-12.00 and in the afternoons from 15.30 until dusk. The weekly closing day varies with each catacomb.

  • Explore St. John Lateran Basilica as well as St. Mary Major Basilica,
  • Visit Rome’s Holy Stairs, an important pilgrimage city,
  • Be amazed by the underground Catacombs of Rome,
  • Listen to your guide and learn what happened in the history of this city.
What's Included
  • 3-hour live guided tour,
  • Professional tour guide (local),
  • Entry tickets,
  • Visit to 2 main basilicas,
  • Hotel Pickup (from centrally located hotels),
  • Headsets.
Cancellation Policy

Free cancellation up to 1 day before tour starts.

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