Rome Travel Guide

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Lessons from the Crypt - One of Rome's Secret Underground Spots

Rome is full of mystery, especially in its underground, often hidden, places.  One of our favorites is the Capuchin crypt, a few steps up via Veneto from Piazza Barberini.  


Many years ago we stumbled on this crypt, maintained by the Capuchin monks who were given the friary, in addition to other land, when they were moved in 1631 out of their space near the Trevi Fountain, the construction of which was supposed to start then, but didn't start until more than a century later.  These monks seem to go for what becomes high priced real estate.  

Many monks' bones were moved to the new location at that time, where they were  - mostly in the 1700s - put into decorative ornamentation underscoring various Christian principles, especially those related to death.  In several languages, one reads on one plaque: "What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be." This is a memento mori, a Latin reminder of death.  In some form or other it appears on many tombs.

In the old days, one found this crypt almost by accident, went through the series of rooms decorated with over 3000 monks' bones, and was asked for a small contribution on the way out.

Last year the crypt became part of Rome's tourism trade.  The Province of Rome and the Ministry of the Interior, along with other governmental agencies, helped the church refurbish the crypt, complete with an extensive museum - and a material charge.

We really don't want to give away any more than we have.  In fact, in Rome the Second Time, we didn't even give this much away, when we suggested this stop alongside the Fascists' monumental corporate buildings on via Veneto.  As we note, it used to be Rome the Second Time, but it's probably moved up the scale. 

The complex now even sports a hotel and small conference center:  as of the first of this year, you can stay at "I Cappuccini" Guest House - the former monastery - if you don't mind being next door to all those bones.

The crypt is under the church Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini and the monks are the "frati minori cappuccini."  It's at via Veneto, 27.  The crypt is to the right of the church. 

We recommend you go quickly through the museum rooms, though there are some interesting ones - the background of the church-owned painting, Saint Francis in Meditation (with a skull, of course) by Caravaggio, and the paean to the charlatan (imo) known as Padre Pio.  But the real deal is after all this, and you want to have energy and eyesight left to soak it all in.

Open 9 a.m. - 7 p.m. each day, but no entrance after 6:30 p.m.  Euro 6 full price; euro 4 reduced (2013 prices).

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