Rome has an undeniably morbid quality about it, what with all the church tombs, catacombs, and gladiator lore that are a part of its urban fabric. It’s like an instant haunted house.
Despite this — or perhaps, because of it — Rome doesn’t pay much mind to Halloween. When you can walk into nearly any of Rome’s hundreds of churches and find marble skulls, morbid depictions of death, and actual body parts and skeletons, dressed in burial finery, on display, then you don’t have much need for a holiday that celebrates such things. Nevertheless, the city is a great place to visit at Halloween or for those with goth tendencies.
Spooky Places to Visit in Rome — At Halloween or Anytime
This one is fun. If you are looking for a haunted house, the Palazzo Zuccari would make a good one. This incredible façade is located on Via Gregoriana, about a block away from the top of the Spanish Steps.
The Palazzo Zuccari isn’t known to be haunted, thought it very well could be. Today it houses the Bibliotheca Hertziana – Max Planck Institute for Art History, a German research institute which requires a PhD to enter. Gotta admit, that admission policy sounds pretty scary (intimidating) to me…
Crypt of the Capuchin Monks
This is an absolute must-see if you want to be creeped out. The six-room crypt, located in the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini (accessible via a separate entrance), is decorated with the bones — pelvises, femurs, ulnae, skulls, etc. — of more than 3,700 Capuchin monks who died between the years of 1528 to 1870. A grim placard in front of the Crypt of the Three Skeletons reads:
“What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be…”
There is an admission fee for access to the crypt and visitors must be dressed in church-appropriate clothing. No photography is allowed in the crypt.
Santa Maria del Popolo
An inconspicuous door off of the usually crowded Piazza del Popolo leads into the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, which houses some great free art, including works by Caravaggio and Pinturricchio.
What’s spooky in this church is the 17th C. tomb of Polish architect G.B. Gisleni. The tomb is topped with a life-like skeleton in a shroud. There are also various decorative skull-and-bones motifs throughout the church. And Dan Brown fans will possibly recognize this church as the location where Langdon and Vittoria find the first tortured cardinal.
Catacombs of Rome
The first catacombs in the world, the Catacombs of San Sebastiano, lie just outside of Rome along the Via Appia. In fact, all of the city’s catacombs lie outside the walls, as was the law at the time they were established.
The Catacombs of San Sebastiano, San Callisto, and San Domitilla are the largest and best known of Rome’s ancient underground cemeteries, but they aren’t the only ones. And while the remains of the thousands of bodies that were once interred here have been moved, the damp subterranean chambers, lined with burial niches and decorated with altars and the occasional colorful fresco, are still incredibly eerie. As you can imagine, many ghost stories have originated from these ancient Christian burial grounds.
For more information on all of the catacombs in Italy, visit Catacombe d’Italia.