5 Fascinating Catacombs Of History
History is dark due to many horrible things that happened but the way in which people celebrated death does offer us some incredible landmarks. Humans have always had a fascination when it comes to death. This is why so burial spots were filled with culture and history, in one way or another.
Catacombs are the best possible example of celebrating both life and death. They are awe-inspiring sites. The famous ones attract thousands of visitors every single year. Below, you can learn about the most interesting ones, those you absolutely need to visit if you are interested in history, culture or you are just curious.
So, What Exactly is A Catacomb?
To keep things simple, the catacomb is an underground cemetery. It is usually made out of large gallery sections and several corridor-like passages. Throughout history, people who maintained and built catacombs typically stored tombs inside recesses placed along hallway sides. As centuries passed, people added to the catacombs. This led to them growing very large.
Catacombs were not always used just for burials. Funeral feasts were also held inside catacombs as someone was buried. There were Christians who regularly performed Eucharists in such catacombs.
Also, because most catacombs are very large and they are difficult to navigate (you can easily get lost in them), people have been using them all throughout history to hide, usually from some sort of persecution. Even militaries have been using some of them for different purposes.
So, what are the most famous catacombs you can visit? We cannot mention all of them since there are so many incredible ones you would surely enjoy, these are sure to attract you in one way or another.
Catacombs Of Rome – Rome, Italy
Every single historian in the world knows the catacombs in Rome. This is in part because of their huge size. We are talking about hundreds of miles right under Rome’s streets.
As a visitor, you can explore some of the sections of the Catacombs of Rome. But, there are several sections you cannot visit. Some experts even believe some parts of the catacombs were not even mapped or haven’t been visited by living humans in a very long time.
The Catacombs of Rome are so large in part because of having been used by several cultures. The Jewish community of Rome was responsible for the first catacombs, which were built during the first century. Then, Christians expanded them. Right now, the Rome Catacombs Christian sections are owned by the Catholic Church. If you want to explore, you need the Vatican’s permission. Just do not expect it since it is very rare. This is mainly because some of the key sections were not even fully explored.
The Legends Of The Catacombs Of Rome
Since the catacombs are so large, it is definitely no surprise that several legends are linked to it. The most prevalent one is that the Holy Grail is somewhere in the catacombs. According to an archaeologist, this might be under the San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura Basilica. But, the Vatican did not grant anyone the needed permission to explore that particular area. Is this per chance? You decide!
Catacombs Of Paris – Paris, France
The Paris Catacombs are simply filled with history. They are not as ancient as those in Rome though. Work on them started only around the late eighteenth century. Basically, we are talking about one of the newest impressive catacombs built.
The reason behind building the catacombs was very practical. The authorities of the time realized there are some big public health problems connected to the cemeteries. As a result, they converted nearby quarries into the first catacombs to rebury those dead there. And the practice continued. As a result, the Catacombs of Paris have a population of around 6 million people, which is the largest in the entire world.
Visitors quickly started to be interested in the Paris Catacombs after they were built. The officials made the area known as “Paris Municipal Ossuary”. This was in the year 1786. By the time 1809 came, tourists and locals were allowed to make appointments so they could visit the catacombs.
Nowadays, visiting the Paris Catacombs does not require any special permission. This is why around half a million people visit the catacombs every year. There is even a virtual tour available if you cannot travel (very useful these days).
Catacombs Of Kom Ash Shuggafa – Alexandria, Egypt
It should be no surprise to see catacombs in a region that was historically so interested in death as Egypt. Also known as Catacombs Of Kom al Shoqafa, these catacombs were built during the second century. But, we only learned about them in 1900 as a donkey fell into them as the ground collapsed.
The Catacombs have a depth of around 35 meters and are made out of 3 tiers with tombs. Originally, the theory is they served as a simple family crypt. But, in time, hundreds of bodies ended up there.
The Catacombs Of Kom Ash Shuggafa have to be on this list since they have a huge cultural and historical significance. The architecture is unique, what you could have expected in Egypt during the second century. Also, many decorations feature an incredible blend of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman iconography.
Capuchin Monastery Catacombs – Palermo, Italy
Obviously, some catacombs are a whole lot darker than others. And the Capuchin Monastery Catacombs are very, very creepy.
Originally, the catacombs were built to house dead monks by the Capuchins. But, restrictions were eased and wealthy locals also started to be buried in the catacombs. And the creepy nature is obvious if you look at how the bodies were preserved. Some are incredibly well preserved after hundreds of years. One, that of a 2 years old girl is known as “Sleeping Beauty”. She died in 1920 of pneumonia.
Odessa Catacombs – Odessa, Ukraine
The Catacombs of Rome are not that long when you look at the Odessa Catacombs, which are made out of over 1,200 miles of incredible tunnels. At the same time, the catacombs in Odessa stand out instantly since they were not used for the burial of people.
Due to coquina, in the eighteenth century, Odessa grew really fast. Coquina was used as the sedimentary rock of choice to build most of the buildings of the city then. People who wanted a home or a large building just for themselves started to do it themselves as they constructed coquina quarries. The practice was very common and eventually, the city became connected. Strict regulations were not in place though so we are talking about catacombs that are incredibly difficult to navigate.
No Burial Grounds – So, What Can You See?
It is easy to think that you do not have anything to see since nobody was buried in the Odessa Catacombs. But, things are quite different than that. If you love history, the catacombs should be on your list of to-visit sites. This is due to several historical events that happened there. For instance, during WWII there was an operation that was handled by 2 Soviet secret police agency units as they were trying to sabotage the Nazis who occupied Odessa at the time. This backfired as the 2 units ended up fighting each other.
You do have what to see but you need to be really careful and never go alone. We are talking about 1,200 miles of tunnels. If you get lost, it will be hard to find your way out.
While these are the catacombs we think about when considering the most famous ones, those you absolutely need to visit, several others do exist. You might love another one more. Let us know which one.
Featured Image: Djtox