Rome’s most ancient Jewish catacombs will be open to visitors on the first Sunday of each month, for at least May and June, as part of a tourism and pilgrimage project linked to this year’s Roman Catholic Jubilee year — 20 itineraries in Rome relating to sacred or spiritual themes, Le Vie del Giubileo, or Jubilee Cultural Routes.
The catacombs and other Jewish or Jewish-interest sites, including the former Jewish ghetto, the ruins of an ancient synagogue at Ostia Antica, and the Arch of Titus, which has a sculpted relief showing Roman soldiers bearing the Menorah looted from the Temple in Jerusalem, are included in an itinerary devoted to the presence in the city of religions other than Roman Catholicism.
“These catacombs […] provide an exceptional evidence of the presence in Rome of a true and vital Jewish community already started during the II century B.C. and always more numerous most of all during the Empire,” the Jubilee Cultural Routes web site states.
The opening of the catacombs at Vigna Randanini on a fixed schedule is fruit of a collaboration between the Italian Culture Ministry and the Rome Archaeological Superintendency, with the backing of the Rome Jewish Community.
Discovered in 1859, the catacombs date from the 2nd to the 4th centuries CE and extend nearly 10 meters below the surface, between the Appia Antica and Appia Pignatelli, south of the Rome city center.
They are richly decorated with depictions of Jewish symbols such as the menorah and lulav, as well as other motifs, including human figures, birds and animals.
Visitors can see inscriptions in Hebrew, Greek and Latin, which give clues about an individual’s family connections, status or line of work. […]
The walls of family “cubicles” or tombs are covered in dancing maidens, birds, grapevines and floral tributes, and there are also pockets of kokhim, a type of Jewish burial chambers.