Today we started in the morning with an optional tour called Catacombs and Moses. It was actually done the other way around. After 2 busy days in Rome we left the hotel between 10:30 and 11:00 A.M. and headed out of Rome to the south and Pompeii, Naples and the overnight ferry to Sicily. First Rome.
This morning we started out from the hotel at approximately 8:00 and headed for a church called San Pietro in Vincoli or in English St. Peter in Chains. It's labelled as St Pietro and is located near the Colosseum on the map below.
This church has 2 claims to fame. One is that it houses the chains that bound St Peter in Palestine. The chains are there but they are not too exciting. The other claim to fame is one of the worlds best known sculptures: Michelangelo's Moses. Apparently, Michelangelo was to have created 44 "magnificent figures" for the tomb of Pope Julius II that's located here. That didn't happen but they did end up with a sculpture that was intended to be "minor" but is apparently is now considered one of his best. I'm no sculpture critic but it looks pretty good to me. See for yourself in the 2 images below.
After spending less than 30 minutes here we headed out to the Catacombs. The one we went to was called the Catacombs of St Domitilla or Catacombe di San Domitilla in Italian. These are all located in the general area of the Appian Way along part of which we travelled. On our way to this location we got to experience a typical Rome traffic jam with all the gesturing and head waving and lip movement none of which that could be repeated here, even if I did know for sure what they were saying. It didn't take too much imagination to guess what the words probably were from the hands flailing around. The lip movements were quite unnecessary as the hand gestures told the tale.
Once we arrived at the catacombs we found that photos of any kind were not allowed so I'll do the best I can to briefly describe what I saw. In general, the Catacombs are tunnels dug out of a soft volcanic rock called tufa stone. There are many, many kilometres of these tunnels. In the sides of the these tunnels are what are generally called burial niches. These are, for the lack of a better word, shelves dug out of the sides of the tunnels where bodies were buried, often several to a niche. The niches were then sealed up. What tourists see of this is a very small sample of what is there. Tourists only see the upper levels and most of the remains that were in these levels have been moved to lower levels out of respect. Some of these go down over 20 meters or about 65 ft.
You may wonder why these exist at all. Probably the main reason was the religious prosecution of the Christians. The Christians were buried here as they couldn't be buried elsewhere. Also, burials had not been allowed inside the city walls of Rome since sometime around the 5th century B.C.. I'm not quite sure of the reasons for this but it seems to me that it had at least something to do with geography and geology as well as the religious persecution. It really is fascinating, in an odd sort of way, to walk through these realizing that somebody created this and they were last used something over 2000 years ago.
We spent about 90 minutes here and then headed back to the hotel to pick up those who didn't take the optional tour and then head out for Pompeii. On our way back we passed the Baths of Caracal la where that now famous first 3 Tenors concert was held in 1990. The baths had been used for opera performances for some time until it was discovered they were being badly damaged by all the activity. You can still visit it, but it's no longer used for any kind of performances.
We arrived back at the hotel between 10:30 and 11:00, loaded those who had not gone with us and headed south.
Created: January 12th, 2004.
Final Edit: February 17, 2004 2:11 PM