Rome is a fascinating and historic city and the capital of Italy, but it also has its darker side.
Here we explore three spooky and fascinating sites in Rome, where we can visit with the dead and or simply feel the atmosphere of many years gone by.
1. Basilica di San Clemente
The current church is relatively “modern,” as it dates back to 1120. However, it turns out the basilica was built upon another, ancient church, dating back to 392 AD. It was during excavations in the 1860s that what has been dubbed the “first basilica” was discovered. Nowadays, a fascinating collection of early Medieval art can be seen here.
However, that isn’t all, as below that layer of the Basilica di San Clemente lay the remains of a 1st-century Roman villa which was reportedly used as an early site of clandestine Christian worship. That layer of the multi-church site has a Mithraic temple and a running stream.
Rumors abound that a priest discovered this Roman layer of the church when he was believed to be losing his sanity. He kept hearing running water when no one else could and ended up using a sledgehammer on the floor of the basilica to uncover the Roman villa and its stream below. It seems his hearing was merely better than that of others!
2. The Catacombs of San Sebastian
The Catacombs of San Sebastian are also known as being one of the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome. The site lies along the Via Appia and this is where the martyred remains of San Sebastian were placed in 350 AD. A basilica was then built over the grounds in the early 4th century to worship the saint.
The subterranean burial area beneath the basilica was named “ad catacumbas” which translates as “near the hollows” or mines. This was the first reference to the word “catacombs” in history, which has since been used as the name of underground Christian burial chambers.
A set of marble footprints can be seen here, which have been attributed to Jesus Christ, allegedly made during the time he walked to Rome along the Via Appia.
3. Ospedale delle Bambole (Doll Hospital)
This next fascinating site to visit is not related to dead humans, but is certainly creepy indeed. Many people find ancient dolls to be spooky and eerie and there have been several modern-day films featuring deadly dolls. These include such greats as “Child’s Play” and the “Cult of Chucky.”
Close to the Piazza del Popolo in a cobblestoned alley, a window full of eerie porcelain heads, bodies and limbs lies in disrepair. Above this window is a series of menacing small owl figurines. While this place looks like something straight out of a horror film, it is, in fact, the “Restauri Artistici Squadtriti,” or Dolls’ Hospital (“ospedale delle bambole”).
The tiny workshop is full of porcelain patients and the smell of solvents and glue. On the counters and walls of the Dolls’ Hospital are many figurines and broken dolls, as well as antique vases, plates and other mysterious objects, waiting for the workshop to give them a new life.
Squatriti, the repairman, is very adept at repairing the broken toys, along with many an ancient Roman platter that has been excavated in Rome. Many stories can be heard while visiting this fascinating place.
Take some time out to visit the darker and eerie side of Rome this year, especially at Halloween!