The Catacombs are underground cemeteries. The most famous are Christian ones, even though there are examples related to other religions, in fact the Etruscans and the Jews used to bury their dead in underground chambers. The Christians recreated this practice abandoning the use of pagan cremation. The Catacombs were usually dug into the tuff rock, typically easy to work with, developing into even on several floors. They were always built outside the city, as an urban burial was forbidden by Roman law for religious reasons and hygiene. The land on which they were built was privately owned.
They consist of low, narrow and long tunnels, called “ambulatory”, which extend from seven to thirty feet below the surface, with a height and a width of about 2.5 m. The different levels are connected via steep steps. In the walls of the ambulatory are excavated tombs, called “niches” which have a height of 40-60 cm and a length varying from 120 to 150 cm, had the function to receive the bodies of the dead wrapped in sheets of linen or places in stone sarcophagi. The ambulatories may be interspersed, as well with most commonly niches , even with “cubicles” (small rooms to house the tombs of a family or association) or “crypts” (usually containing the tomb of a martyr).
You can also find tombs crowned by an arch, called “arcosolium” and intended for nobles, martyrs and popes. The graves were closed with mortar and a marble slab or, otherwise, with terracotta tiles. On the plate (or on the tiles) was engraved the name, age and date of death of the deceased, often to such information, a religious or symbolic inscription was added. The light and air, within the Catacombs, filters through the vertical square shafts , called “lucernari”.
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|You may also like: Colosseum – Quintili Villa – Thermae of Caracalla|
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