Italy TravelRestoring Rome’s Largest Catacombs

Restoring Rome’s Largest Catacombs
Published on Sunday, June 18, 2017 by

Restoration teams have given new life to Rome’s largest catacombs using laser technology, and plan to reopen sections of them to the public later this year. The restored part of the Domitilla Catacombs contains 26,250 tombs across four stories and 7.4 miles; the catacombs in their entirety span 11 miles and contain 150,000 bodies, and date from the second to fifth centuries.

Restorations took decades and were completed using laser techniques to scrub away layers of calcium deposits, smoke from oil lamps, and algae that had built up over the tombs. Underneath, thanks to the careful and innovative restoration methods, 1,600-year-old frescoes depicting Christian and pagan symbols were undamaged.

“When we started work, you couldn’t see anything – it was totally black. Different wavelengths and chromatic selection enabled us to burn away the black disfiguration without touching the colors beneath,” Barbara Mazzei, who led the project for the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology, told The Telegraph.

One of the most impressive frescoes is the “room of the bakers,” which shows bread as a significant symbol for Romans of all faiths. Other frescoes depict religious figures such as saints, apostles, and Noah and the ark, as well as pagan symbols such as grape vines and cupids on children’s tombs.

“These tombs represent the roots of our deepest identity, the roots of Rome and of Christianity,” Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the pontifical commission, said at a press conference.

The catacombs are located near the Appian Way, and until now, only a small part of them was open to the public. A small museum with statues and sarcophagi will open this month while the restorations continue.

— Kathy McCabe

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