Vatican opens ancient underground cemetery to the public

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By Dan Sears

A new section of an important historic burial site beneath Vatican City is open to the public for the first time. 

The Necropolis of Via Triumphalis offers visitors a look at how the ancient Romans buried their dead. Starting earlier this month, the Vatican’s museums network began offering guided tours, leaving from the Santa Rosa gate at Piazza Risorgimento, Hyperallergic reported.

From there, guests are led down into the depths, on a tour entitled “Life and Death in the Rome of the Caesars.” 

The necropolis, or the “city of the dead” as it is often called, dates to the fourth century AD. It contains an array of remains from both “slaves” and “freedmen,” as well as “artisans of the city of Rome.”

Access to their graves has provided great insight into how the ancient Romans lived, explained Vatican Museums’ expert Leonardo Di Blasi, according to Euro News. Amid the graves and altars there are lifestyle clues such as funerary objects and renderings of how life once was, as well as other depictions of culture at the time.

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Tomb stones are displayed inside the ancient necropolis.

Necropolis of the Via Triumphalis additional access
The new portion of the necropolis became open to the public earlier this month.

“We begin to learn about people we did not know, particularly about rituals that seem more related to family, neighborhood, town, or personal traditions than to official religion,” Di Blasi added of the findings, which were discovered with the help of the archaeological site, which measures in at over 10,000 square feet. 

Part of the burial ground was first unearthed in 1956 as a result of Vatican-related excavations, while more was accidentally uncovered in 2003 during the construction of a parking lot. 

Since 2014, the public had been able to view portions of the ancient cemetery, but the addition of a new entrance and organized tour is an enormous step for access.

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