We started just outside Rome and visited the Catacombs of San Callisto. In the first 300 years or so of Christianity people were not allowed to be buried within the city walls. The pagan religions had no problem with cremation so for them, no big deal. The Christians wanted burial though, expecting a second coming any time now, therefore waiting for resurrection. And by the way, Christianity goes against the current Roman rule and religion so you are persecuted if found out… So, being buried outside and underground was really the only good option. The land where the catacombs are, ultimately ended up belonging, and still belongs to, the Vatican. This site, if I heard the guide correctly, has about 20 km of tunnels and is four layers deep. There were about 500,000 buried here, including 9 popes. Rome sits on top of volcanic tufa rock. It is soft and easy to mine until the air hits it, then becomes hard. Perfect for an underground cemetery… We spent most of our tour in the second layer. There were individual and family tombs. Sadly, about 40% were small, for children and babies. It’s hard to say how tall each layer was. The tombs were abandoned around 800 AD when barbarians started to pillage the tombs. In the following 1000 years earthquakes filled in some of the ground. Where we were was about 10 feet tall (anywhere from 5 to 8 tombs high) but you could see the tops of some arches (entrances to family tombs) at foot level, so there had to be another 5 feet below us for that level. So doing the rough math and making some assumptions based on how far we walked down just to get to the second level, these catacombs had to have been 80- 100 feet deep. You can see the early “secret “ Christian symbols here. The fish, a Shepard carrying a sheep, and an anchor (the ring on top, not for tying a rope to but… for God, the never ending or beginning circle; the stock and shank, the cross…; and the crown, arm, and fluke at the bottom, not for digging into the sea bed… the wings of the holy spirit.)
Next was St. Clemente Basilica and the levels beneath including a Mithraism Temple. This was a church built on top of a church, built on top of a church and other, older, city remains. The top church was built around 1100 AD. The lower church was built in the 300’s (The beginnings of legalized Christianity). There were two pulpits. The tour guide explained this to be so teaching debates, or questions and answers, could be used to teach early and uneducated, Christians. The alter has an anchor on the front. Below that church was an old pagan church to Mithras. Also down here though were old apartments, a coin minting shop, and still running water from an old aqueduct. 2000+ year old, very well preserved, ruins.
Finally, on to Basilica of St. John and St. Paul (Constantine time frame John and Paul, not Jesus’). Again you see the layering of old to new. On the bottom you had market shops and the small lofts for living above. Then someone came along and built a house or two behind the stores. Then someone else came and combined it all and kept building up to make a huge house, then church. Then finally, a church built on top of it all.
We see the same type of archeological “problems” here in Naples too. When you have thousands of years of civilization you can see the effects of volcanoes, earthquakes, and floods. Stuff gets buried and forgotten about. People build on top. It all happens again and again. Not to say that Rome was buried three times but as things crumpled or were destroyed in a battle, or some combination of all of the above, layers developed and are still uncovered today. Just another interesting side of Rome and a day well spent…