Saturday, April 30, 2016

Rome opens Jewish catacombs to public 

Inscription at the Jewish catacombs of Rome (Wikimedia commons)

The city of Rome will open up the Jewish catacombs to the public on Sunday, a first in over a decade.

The ancient burial site at Vigna Randanini will be available for viewing to the general public until May 5.

The complex, found beneath a former vineyard in 1859, consists of a maze of tunnels that cover nearly 18,500 square meters at a depth of five to 16 meters beneath the surface.

It is said to date back to the period between the second and third centuries and could have been in use up until the fifth century.

Unlike the Christian catacombs, of which there are 40 and which attract thousands of visitors per year, the Jewish catacombs were off-limits, with only private parties permitted to view them in pre-arranged visits.

Visitors to the catacombs, which lie outside the walls that encircles ancient Rome, will be able to see inscriptions in Hebrew, Latin and Greek that indicate family connections, status and line of work, according to The Catholic Register.

“While the catacombs have been sacked over the centuries, visitors can still see many colorful frescoes and tablets with depictions of the traditional Jewish candelabra,” read the report.

“The walls of family ‘cubicles’ or tombs are covered in dancing maidens, birds, grapevines and floral tributes, and there are also pockets of kokhim, a type of Jewish burial chambers,” it added.

The initiative is one of several by the Italian culture minister, Dario Franceschini, to mark Pope Francis’ Jubilee Year of Mercy.

The cultural councilor for the Jewish Community of Rome, Giorgia Calo, welcomed the move, saying that Jews “have always been a part of the history of the capital.”

Speaking to The Catholic Register, Calo said: “We have tried to create a suitable itinerary to help people understand how much the Jewish people have been part of Rome.”


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