Ancient Roman sites are all over the city of Rome but many of them are hidden below ground. Crypts beneath churches often hold remains of temples or early Christian churches and sometimes even have remains of Roman houses or baths. Two of the best churches for underground sites are the Basilica of San Clemente and Basilica of Saints Giovanni and Paolo, both in the Colosseum area. When visiting sites in churches, visitors are requested to wear modest attire and turn off cell phones.
Other underground sites are found below more modern buildings and new discoveries often appear during construction, such as for the metro line. Underground sites are sometimes well-preserved and offer a different perspective from what you see above ground.
5 top places to see underground Roman sites:
Basilica of San Clemente
The 12th century Basilica of San Clemente has a treasure trove of ancient sites beneath it. Two excavated levels reveal a 4th century Basilica with remains of frescoes and mosaics on one level and 1st century Roman buildings on the lower level. A highlight of the excavations is an altar and room from the ancient temple dedicated to Mithras, a Persian God who probably migrated back to Italy with soldiers or slaves, whose followers usually met underground. Take a walk around the 12 century Basilica to see the beautiful mosaics and art works. There’s also a nice courtyard where concerts are sometimes held in summer.
To get the most out of your visit, take the Roman Guy’s guided tour of catacombs and San Clemente underground. Although we had visited this site several times before, our knowledgeable guide really made the history come alive and gave us a better understanding of what we were seeing. For a 5% discount on this tour, use promo code ITALYMARTHA.
Basilica of San Clemente Underground Visiting Information:
Location: Via di San Giovanni in Laterano, (Piazza S. Clemente)
Currently open daily 9:00-12:30 and 15:00-18.00 on Mondays through Saturdays and 12:15-18:00 on Sundays and holidays.
Check updated hours and ticket prices
Case Romane del Celio
One of my favorite places to see ancient Roman houses is Case Romane del Celio, the excavations below the Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo. Wander through rooms with frescoes in what is believed to be the house where the martyrs John and Paul lived. Originally Roman shops and storerooms, the building was transformed into an upper class house in the 3rd century, when the frescoes were painted. The frescoes are surprisingly well-preserved and the site isn’t usually crowded so you can take your time wandering around and admiring the frescoes. There’s also a good display of archaeological finds from the excavation that took place in 2002.
See photos and read more about Case Romane del Celio
Case Romane del Celio Visiting Information:
Location: Via Clivo di Scauro, Piazza Ss. Giovanni e Paolo
Currently open Thursday through Monday, 10:00-13:00 and 15:00-18:00
Check updated hours and ticket price
Domus Aurea – Nero’s Golden House
Nero’s Golden House, the Domus Aurea, is one of Rome’s most talked about ancient ruins and Nero, its owner, is probably one of the most talked about emperors. Nero built his extravagant pleasure palace after the big Rome fire destroyed a large part of the city in the year 64. The palace was really a massive complex that included his mansion, baths, buildings, parks, and a lake (where the Colosseum was built after Nero’s death). After his death, his successors ordered the palace to be filled in with rubble.
Some rooms of the Domus Aurea mansion have been excavated and are open to the public on guided tours only. Visitors are given hard hats to wear and the tour includes an innovative multimedia virtual reality experience.
Domus Aurea Visiting Information:
Location: Viale della Domus Aurea, 1 (Colosseum area)
Open only on guided tours given Saturdays and Sundays by reservation
See tour hours or make a reservation
Roman Houses Under Palazzo Valentini
Excavations beneath the 16th century Palazzo Valentini, now the seat of the province of Rome, revealed remains of two 4th century Roman villas, baths, and part of a road. A glass walkway covers the archaeological site and a multi-media presentation brings the ancient site to life. Remains of mosaic floors and wall frescoes can be seen in some of the rooms. The houses come to life with the multi-media show that adds virtual walls, decorations, furnishings, and other details in a fascinating presentation. Palazzo Valentini Roman houses can only be seen on a guided tour. It’s best to book ahead, especially if you want to be sure of a tour in English.
Roman Houses Under Palazzo Valentini Visiting Information:
Location: via Foro Traiano 85, in front of Trajan’s Column
Current hours are Wednesdays through Mondays, 9:30 – 18:30
Check updated hours, tour times, and how to reserve
Stadium of Domiziano – Piazza Navona Underground
Long before Piazza Navona became a public square it was the site of the Stadium of Domiziano, constructed in 85-86 BC. Once the site of races and athletic games in ancient Rome, the stadium has an oblong shape (similar to Piazza Navona) and held 30,000 spectators. Now 4.5 meters below street level, it was excavated in 1936 when some houses were torn down. Visitors go underground and follow an audio guide (included in ticket price) through the remains of the stadium. Panels along the route illustrate the history of sport from ancient Greece to Rome and the history of the stadium and more modern piazza. Artifacts are on display and there’s a 3D video.
Stadium of Domiziano Visiting Information
Location: Via di Tor Sanguigna 3 (just north of Piazza Navona)
Open daily 10:00 – 19:00
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