The dark side of Rome
Chiesa Di Santa Maria Della Concezione is grimly decorated with human bones. (Paolo Cordelli/LPI)
Rome has some eccentric hot spots – from macabre rooms lined with bones through to the massive burial grounds along Appian Way. Here are some of Rome’s darkest corners.
Chiesa Di Santa Maria Della Concezione
At Chiesa Di Santa Maria Della Concezione, a relatively uninspiring 17th Century church, lies the fantastically ghoulish remains of 4,000 Capuchin monks arranged in obsessive patterns. Spooky chapels contain blackly elaborate bone chandeliers, banks of skulls and cloaked skeletons, some of which hold crosses and pray behind a sign that reads: "What you are now we used to be, what we are now you will be." There is even a child-sized skeleton (scales of justice in one hand, scythe of death in the other) for the ultimate pick-me-up.
Catacombe Di Priscilla
The Catacombe Di Priscilla has some of ancient Rome's most fascinating funerary frescoes. Subterranean treasures include an 1,800-year-old image of the Madonna and Child (considered to be the world's oldest known picture of Mary), and the fascinating Cappella Greca funerary chapel, with its beautiful 3rd-Century biblical scenes and stucco decoration.
Catacombe Di San Callisto
Founded in the 2nd Century, Catacombe Di San Callisto is the mother of Roman catacombs (20km of tunnels, with more to come). Walking through is like a creepy journey past shadowy sepulchres, papal tombs (16 pontiffs were buried here) and the crypt of Santa Cecilia. The catacombs in fact became the first official Roman Catholic cemetery in the early 3rd Century. When Cecilia's tomb was opened in 1599, centuries after her death, the martyr's body was found perfectly preserved, inspiring Stefano Maderno's sculpture in Basilica di Santa Cecilia in Trastevere.
Basilica E Catacombe Di San Sebastiano
Basilica E Catacombe Di San Sebastiano is where the birthplace of the term "catacomb" has sprung (the underground burial site was located "near the quarry", kata kymbas in Greek). The Catacombs of St Sebastian boast three perfectly preserved pagan mausoleums with original 2nd Century frescoes, mosaics and stucco. Above ground, pop into the much-tweaked 4th-Century basilica to view one of the arrows used to kill St Sebastian, as well as a marble slab with miraculous imprints of Jesus' footprints.
Catacombe Di Santa Domitilla
A faded, untouched fresco of Sts Peter and Paul dating back more than 1,600 years is the highlight at Catacombe Di Santa Domitilla, which were established on the burial ground of Flavia Domitilla (niece of the emperor Domitian). Among the pagan and Christian wall paintings are around 2,000 unopened tombs and the subterranean 4th-Century Chiesa di SS Nereuse Achilleus, dedicated to two martyred Roman soldiers.
Cimitero Acattolico Per Gli Stranieri
Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote: "It might make one in love with death to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place." And so he was buried, along with fellow romantic poet John Keats, in Rome's shamelessly romantic Protestant cemetery. Wander its mossy paths and stumble across a cast of famous residents, including Italian Communist Party founder, Antonio Gramsci.
Cimitero Di Campo Verano
It may seem a little morbid, but in fact San Lorenzo's cemetery at Cimitero Di Campo Verano is a strangely moving place, peppered with brooding mausoleums, yearning epigraphs and mournful marble angels.