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Beneath the frenetic surface of Rome hides another silent, calm city – an especially cool one during the most sweltering months.
Underground Rome is becoming almost more popular than the one above, thanks to the powerful fascination post-Dan Brown. Much of Rome lies beneath the surface, and after all, as children also know, Rome wasn’t built in a day and many places are a testament to the city’s stratified evolution.
In the Eternal City, the San Clemente basilica is nicknamed “lasagne”, because of its three different layers. Located a few hundred meters from the Colosseum between the Celio and Esquilino hills, the current structure dates back to the Middle Ages. But there are in fact two further levels: a 4th Century church and a set of ruins of ancient Roman buildings from the first Century – including the one that houses the Mithraeum, an altar dedicated to the cult of God Mithras. This location allows you to retrace two thousand years of Rome’s history in a single visit.
A short distance away, there is another hidden treasure: the monumental Domus Aurea – the palace that Nero built after the great fire that devastated the city. During the weekends, you can visit the archaeological area, and even travel back in time with the help of virtual reality headsets that recreate a simulation of its past glory – its abundance of marble, gold and precious stones.
Under Palazzo Valentini, you can undertake a multimedia journey through the Domus Romane, the ruins of patrician houses of imperial age which belonged to powerful families of the time, embellished with mosaics, decorated walls and polychrome floors.
For the lovers of more noir and esoteric atmospheres (but not for the claustrophobic ones), it’s possible to visit kilometres of catacombs – the complex Jewish and Christian underground burial areas. Among the most beautiful (and most extensive) catacombs of Rome are those of San Callisto, on the Appian Way, where dozens of martyrs, 16 pontiffs and many Christians were buried. Through imposing galleries full of crypts, we reach the cubicles of the Sacraments with 3rd century frescoes. Another beautiful spot is The Cubicle of the Velata inside the Catacombs of Priscilla, which develop under Via Salaria (right in front of Villa Ada) in a labyrinth of 13 kilometres of tunnels. To finish the tour of burials and crypts, a memorable (but brief) visit awaits you at the Capuchin Crypt, inside S. Maria della Concezione in Via Veneto. This macabre series of underground chapels decorated with the bones of four thousand friars is a unique experience.
Finally, another historical curiosity is hidden under Villa Torlonia, Benito Mussolini’s private residence between 1929 and 1943. It is the bunker built at a depth of six and a half meters below the Casino Nobile, with tunnels protected by a 4-meter-thick reinforced concrete roof, which remained unfinished when the dictator was dismissed and arrested on 25 July 1943.