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Vatican City from above
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An ancient Roman necropolis has just opened to the public in Vatican City

The ‘city of the dead’ was discovered in 1956, but has only been open to a select few – until now

Liv Kelly
Written by
Liv Kelly

Europe is jam-packed full of glorious cities. There’s the City of Light (Paris), the City of a Hundred Spires (Prague), and the City of the Violet Crown (Athens). But, the city of the dead? Though that does have an – albeit morbid – ring to it, this ‘city’ is much lesser-known. 

That’s because it hasn’t been open to the public, until now. The Via Triumphalis Necropolis, an ancient Roman burial ground, lies underneath the Vatican City. Though it was discovered way back in 1956, and more of it became accessible in 2003, only specialists and scholars have been allowed in so far. 

But that all changed on November 17. Thanks to the opening of a new entrance at Saint Rose Gate, visitors can now explore an all-new exhibition entitled ‘Life and Death in the Rome of the Caesars.’

Within the necropolis walls are open burial graves, marble sarcophagi (that’s a Roman coffin), and stunning mosaics and frescoes (painted murals), all of which are really, really old. 

The tombs, which house slaves, freedmen and artisans of Rome, are thought to date from the first to the fourth century AD. The necropolis has proved incredibly insightful to scholars, who can now better understand the traditions and rituals of people living in that era, according to expert Leonardo Di Blasi who spoke to Euronews

One discovery has been that of a custodian of Pompeii theatre, whose figure is surrounded by carpenter's tools – assumed to have been used by him to maintain theatre scenes. Other figures have been identified as the imperial property of Emperor Nero, an infamously cruel Roman leader. 

It sounds like the necropolis has filled in a lot of blanks about life in this period, and it all sounds pretty fascinating. Why not pay this ghostly city a visit during your next gander through the Italian capital? You can read more about how to book tickets here

Rome is also full of some fantastic, slightly less eerie museums and galleries, as well as a long list of brilliant things to do. Check out our Rome travel hub for useful guides on how to spend 48 hours in the city or the best time of year to pay it a visit

Did you see that a new sleeper train from Rome to the Dolomites is launching soon?

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