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Vatican Opens Ancient Roman Necropolis to the Public

Vatican Opens Ancient Roman Necropolis
The Vatican opened the ancient Roman necropolis to the public on November 17th. Credit: Vatican Museums

A new entrance has been opened in the walls of the Vatican. It leads to a place called the Via Triumphalis Necropolis, which is an old Roman city for the dead.

Deep within Vatican City, you can find this ancient Roman burial ground. People often call it a “city for the dead.” Inside, there are marble boxes for the dead next to open graves. The place is filled with beautiful Roman mosaics and frescoes.

In Roman times, it was against the law to burn or bury dead bodies within the city. This was so as to keep the city safe and clean. Hence, there were cemeteries outside city limits along roadsides.

Up to now, only certain scholars and experts were permitted into the necropolis. However, starting on November 17th, the site is open to all, and there is a new entrance called the Saint Rose Gate. This is being opened up to the public for an exhibition called Life and Death in the Rome of the Caesars.

Remains of slaves, freedmen, and artisans in ancient Roman necropolis

Covering about a thousand square meters, this archaeological area is on a part of the old Via Triumphalis. The road used to be outside city walls.

The necropolis was first uncovered in 1956, when the Vatican Autoparco was being built. Later, in 2003, when a parking lot was being constructed, even more was discovered. Experts were led to the Santa Rosa section, which has now been connected to the site discovered earlier.

The tombs here are from the first to the fourth century AD. Most of them contain the remains of “slaves, freedmen, and artisans from the city of Rome,” says Leonardo Di Blasi, an expert at the Vatican Museums.

Some were identified as imperial property, with their master often being Emperor Nero.

Insights into the lives of the deceased

Di Blasi explained that things we never knew about people continue being revealed to this day. It’s not just about official religions; it’s also about families, neighborhoods, towns, and personal traditions.

Di Blasi talks about a person called Alcimo, whose job was the “custos de scena teatro pompeiano.” This means he was the one who took care of the scene in Pompeii’s main theater and managed the set design. On his gravestone, there are pictures of tools a carpenter would use for fixing theater scenes.

There is yet another gravestone with a portrait of “Nunnius.” He was responsible for anything related to the “saltuarius,” meaning his duty was wood maintenance.

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