Rome’s Jewish catacombs will open to the public for the first time on Sunday as part of a campaign to highlight diverse cultural sites throughout Italy.
While Rome’s many Christian underground burial grounds are a tourist highlight, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, Jewish catacombs have only up to now been open only to small groups and private tours, the Catholic Register reported.
The Jewish burial site at Vigna Randanini, which was built between the second and fourth centuries, lies outside Rome’s old city walls and is made up of a network of underground tunnels. The tombs contain inscriptions in Hebrew, Greek and Latin about the lives of the deceased.
Giorgia Calo, cultural councillor for the Jewish Community of Rome, praised the move, highlighting that Jews “have always been a part of the history of the capital.”
The catacombs are included in a series of sites that Italy’s cultural ministry is promoting in honor of Pope Francis’ Jubilee Year of Mercy. Other Jewish-themed locations include the remains of an ancient port city synagogue and the Arch of Titus, which portrays the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.
“We have tried to create a suitable itinerary to help people understand how much the Jewish people have been part of Rome,” Calo said.
The Vigna Randanini catacombs will be open through June 5.
Watch a tour of the catacombs here (skip to 0:23):
Josefin Dolsten is a news fellow at the Forward. She writes about politics and culture, and edits the Sisterhood blog. She received an MA in Jewish Studies and Comparative Religion from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a BA in Government from Cornell University. Contact her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter at @josefindolsten.