Explore Real "Underground" Rome: 5 Ruins You Can't Miss

Nero's Domus Aurea (Golden House) | © Flickr/Carole Raddato
Nero's Domus Aurea (Golden House) | © Flickr/Carole Raddato
Photo of Livia Hengel
9 February 2017

Although many remnants of ancient Rome stand proudly on display around the city, many more ruins lay dormant underground, unbeknownst to visitors. The street level in ancient Rome was significantly lower than what it is today (in some places up to 10 meters, or 30 feet) meaning most of the original houses, baths and temples became buried over the years as new structures were continuously built on top. Check out these fascinating ruins that have remained intact over the centuries and offer a glimpse into the lives of the Ancient Romans.

Le Domus Romane of Palazzo Valentini

Palazzo Valentini is a testament to the power of innovation and technology to transmit history and make cultural heritage more relevant and concrete to visitors. The archeological ruins below 16th century Palazzo Valentini constitute ancient imperial-era domus romane, Roman houses, belonging to important families, meaning they have particularly beautiful mosaics, stucco and flooring. But the ruins truly come alive thanks to a sophisticated multimedia light show, depicting furnishings and decorations to give a better idea of how the Roman nobility lived 2,000 years ago.

Tickets: €13.50 full, €8 reduced

Palazzo Valentini, Piazza Foro Traiano 85, Rome, Italy, +39 06 2276 1280

Basilica di San Clemente

Close to the Colosseum lies a basilica that contains centuries of history beneath its surface. The 12th century Basilica of San Clemente on the current ground level was built at the height of the Middle Ages and is one of the most ornamental churches in Rome, with noteworthy Byzantine mosaics at the apse of the church. However, the real treasure lies underground, as the Basilica contains two more historic levels. On the second level there is a 4th century church with frescoes depicting scenes from the New Testament. Further below still, on the third level, lies a 1st century Roman building that includes a Temple of Mithras, a Persian sun god that was part of a pre-Christian cult religion.

Tickets: €10 full, €5 reduced

Basilica di San Clemente: Via Labicana 95, Rome, Italy, +39 06 774 0021

Domus Aurea

Emperor Nero‘s Domus Aurea, Golden House, was the grandest villa built in Roman civilization. Located on Palatine Hill, it had gold leaf detailing, elaborate stucco ceilings, semi-precious stones and many frescoes; later, the frescoes would inspire Renaissance artists such as Raphael who reproduced the techniques within the Vatican Museums. Today, much of the vast Domus Aurea still remains underground, primarily beneath the Baths of Trajan, but a portion of the excavated rooms can be visited on weekends since restoration work is still ongoing. Each tour gives insight into Emperor Nero’s life as well as the excavation and restoration process involved in revitalizing Rome’s many ruins.

Tickets: €10 full

Long awaited much anticipated visit to Domus Aurea.

A photo posted by Aaron Wheeler (@aaron.wheeler) on

Vatican Necropolis

Nearly everyone who comes to Rome pays a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica but few below venture down below to the burial grounds hidden from view. It was Pope Pius XI who discovered the vast necropolis when he commissioned an investigation to locate the resting place of Peter the Apostle. The Basilica is believe to have been built on the burial site of Saint Peter and a tour of the necropolis takes visitors to his suspected grave, now demarcated with a shrine. It is believed that up to 1,000 are buried within the 22 excavated rooms. You can also take a virtual tour of the necropolis online.

Tickets: €13 full
Vatican Necropolis: Via Paolo VI, Rome, Italy, +39 06 69 885 318 (by the entrance of the Paul VI Audience Hall)

Crypta Balbi

One of four National Museums in Rome, Crypta Balbi is housed in a Renaissance palace built upon the 13th century BC Theater of Balbus. The Theater had a crypt where viewers would gather during intermission time between plays, lending the museum its name, though you can also see remains of an Imperial Roman road and feel transported back in time. The main floor of the museum instead paints a great picture of how the city evolved over the centuries through illustrated maps and artifacts.

Tickets: €7 full, reduced €3.50 (includes admission to the four National Museums)

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