5 Underground Sites in Rome

Visit Ancient Roman Sites Below the City

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 excellent Walks of Italy tour, Crypts, Bones & Catacombs: An Underground Tour of Rome that includes San Clemente, Capuchin Crypt, and catacombs.

Basilica of San Clemente Underground Visiting Information:
Location: Via di San Giovanni in Laterano, (Piazza S. Clemente)
Currently open 10:00-12:30 and 15:00-17.30 on Mondays through Saturdays and 12:00-17:30 on Sundays and holidays.
Check updated hours and ticket prices

basilica san clemente rome
Basilica di San Clemente in Rome, image source: the Roman Guy

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 or take a guided tour of San Clemente underground and Celian Roman Houses.

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

case romane celio
Room in Case Romane Celio by James Martin

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.

Buy Domus Aurea tour tickets.

Domus Aurea Visiting Information:
Location: Viale della Domus Aurea, 1 (Colosseum area)
Open only on guided tours given Fridays – Sundays by reservation, 9:00-18:15
See tour hours or make a reservation

nero's golden house
Room in Nero's Golden House by James Martin

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.

See photos and read more about Palazzo Valentini Roman Houses.

Roman Houses Under Palazzo Valentini Visiting Information:
Location: via Foro Traiano 85, in front of Trajan’s Column
Current hours are Wednesdays through Mondays, 10:00 – 19:00 (last tour starts at 18:00)
Check updated hours, tour times, and how to reserve

roman mosaic floor
Mosaic floor from a Roman house under Palazzo Valentini. Image Source: Select Italy

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
Check prices, updated times, information, and special events

piazza navona photo
Piazza Navona

Plan Your Visit to Rome

Where to Stay:
JK Place, near the Spanish Steps and Pantheon, is a top boutique hotel.
Singer Palace Hotel, on Via del Corso, has a rooftop restaurant.
Hotel Residenza in Farnese is a comfortable hotel on Piazza Farnese, near Campo de Fiori.
St. Regis Grand Hotel has been recently remodeled and is a luxurious choice.
See and compare more Rome hotels.

Buy these Rome museum and site tickets before you go
Rome Map and Guide

Rome Guides (from my Amazon affiliate, at no extra cost to you):
Rick Steves Pocket Rome
Insight Guides City Guide Rome
DK Eyewitness Books: Ancient Rome (good for children)

This post may contain affiliate links to sites I believe are of benefit to travelers. There is no cost to you but the small amount of revenue helps defer the cost of bringing you this free information.

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5 Underground Sites in Rome originally appeared on MarthasItaly.com , updated: May 16, 2023.