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Biblical Archaeology Review 49:3, Fall 2023

Site-Seeing: Rome’s Queen Catacomb

By Megan Sauter

A short walk through Rome confirms the richness of its history. From the Pantheon to the Colosseum, the city boasts magnificent architecture and art. Yet it might surprise that some of the city’s most significant art lies beneath its surface.

Rome has more than 40 catacombs scattered around its ancient perimeter, often along major roads, that date from the second through fifth centuries CE. These underground burial sites consist of halls and chambers with burial niches. They also contain funerary inscriptions and art that provide insight into the city’s ancient pagan, Jewish, and Christian inhabitants.

For the intrepid traveler who wishes to see some of the earliest Christian art—from not only Rome, but also the entire world—a visit to the Catacomb of Priscilla is essential. Sometimes called the Queen Catacomb because of the many martyrs and popes buried there, the Catacomb of Priscilla has miles of subterranean tunnels spread across two main levels. Walking through the catacomb in the dim light gives the feeling of being in a labyrinth. Fortunately, you’re never unescorted, so you won’t get lost!

The catacomb sits along the Via Salaria in the Trieste neighborhood of Rome, about a 20-minute drive from the city center. Access is by guided tour only, and reservations tend to fill up quickly, especially during the spring and summer. I’d recommend booking your tour at least a week beforehand. If your schedule is not flexible, you would want to book it even earlier, to secure your desired tour time. Just a note that the Catacomb of Priscilla is closed on Mondays, so be sure to plan accordingly.

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