Rome, the capital of Italy, is very famous due to its special architecture. It has an abundance of magnificent and impressive buildings, along with colorful and spectacular fountains. Many are unaware of it, but even under the surface an equally impressive wonder is hidden: a branching system of tunnels and caves that were used for burials, known as “catacombs”.

Five of the 60 catacombs that are under the soil of Rome, are identified as Jewish, and distinct Jewish symbols were discovered inside them, such as the illustrations of the menorah, the Four Species and holy arks, along with the inscription “Synagogue”. Today, visitors to the Italian capital cannot witness the fascinating find, as the catacombs are closed to the public. However, new research and comprehensive documentation recently conducted by the deputy director of Archeology at the Antiquities Authority, Dr. Yuval Baruch, will allow a glimpse into the intriguing caves in a new and special exhibition that will be presented in the City of David.

A very important source of information

The catacombs in Rome are a vast maze of long, narrow tunnels, carved deep underground. They are located in several areas in the hills surrounding the city that was fortified from the time of the emperor Aurelianus (271-275 AD). Burials in them probably began in the second century AD and stopped in the fifth century.

At its peak, the Jewish community in Rome after the destruction of the Second Temple numbered several tens of thousands of people, and was organized according to traditional Roman laws. Although the study of the Jewish catacombs in Rome does not provide a complete answer regarding the identity of the those buried there and the complexity of the Jewish community, it is undoubtedly a very important source of information. A thorough study of the catacombs could provide answers to some of the intriguing questions regarding the development of the Jewish community in Rome, its complexity and character.

A taste of the archaeological wonder

Action to preserve the Jewish catacombs was taken on several occasions throughout the last century, and research on them has also been renewed. In 2017, one of these preservation operations involved Dr. Baruch and his team, who coordinated the system documentation operations at Villa Torlonia.

Recently, the results of the documentation were translated for a new and spectacular exhibition, which will be displayed for just three days at the entrance to the City of David National Park. The innovative exhibition simulates the catacombs, allowing viewers to experience a taste of the archaeological wonder, to the point that they feel as if they are physically under the ground of Rome.

The exhibition will open to the public on September 5, at the entrance to the City of David National Park, as a prelude to the 24th City of David Research Conference that will be held that evening. The title of the conference is “Secrets of Jerusalem in Rome”, and the focus will be on Dr. Yuval Baruch’s research – new aspects in the study of Jewish catacombs. The exhibition will be open until September 7.