Visiting Rome During Halloween

Halloween in Rome Italy

Scene from a tomb in Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome

Though I’ve always seen Rome as a city for lovers, I can’t deny that it has a certain morbid quality about it, what with all the church tombs, catacombs, and gladiator lore that are a part of its urban fabric. That’s what makes visiting Rome around Halloween a good bet – it’s like an instant haunted house!

Budget Travel pointed out so much in its article from a few years ago – The Eternal–Or Infernal?–City. Writer Barbie Nadeau lists some really great ideas for spooky places to visit in the city, including the Catacombs of San Callisto (though I prefer the Catacombs of St. Domitilla), the Protestant Cemetery (recently profiled here), and the excellent Crypt of the Capuchin Monks (in Santa Maria della Concezione, Via Veneto), which is a chapel built entirely of human bones.

Nadeau’s suggestions cover most of the bases, but I still have a few more scary sites to add to the list. So, if you find yourself in Rome over Halloween or just like visiting eerie places, add these to your list, too:

Mamertine Prison. This ancient prison at the Capitoline Hill-end of the Forum Romanum was built around the 4th C. BC and said to have been where Saints Peter and Paul were incarcerated before their executions. Because of this association, Mamertine has long been a Christian shrine. But other war criminal were also kept in the prison until they were publicly executed. There’s a tablet by the entrance that lists how some prisoners met their fate, quite a few of which were beheaded.

San Silvestro in Capite. Speaking of beheadings, this church is said to house the reliquary of the severed head of John the Baptist. The head – or perhaps the death mask – is on display in the church. It’s not particularly scary, but the thought of a 2,000 year-old-head in a glass box creeps me out.

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 a handful of some great free art, including works by Caravaggio and Pinturricchio. What’s spooky in this church is 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.

Museum of Purgatory. Located in the Chiesa del Sacra Cuore (Sacred Heart Church) on the left bank of the Tiber, the Museum of Purgatory contains “evidence” of souls that have been caught between earth and the afterlife. Jessica at Italylogue had a really good post on the Purgatory Museum a while back, so I’ll let her “lead the tour.”

Vatican Necropolis. I Scavi, or the excavations/necropolis under St. Peter’s Basilica, seem like an obvious scare-inducer to me. Though, I suppose Catholics would argue that this space is more sacred than spooky. Nevertheless, if you like cold, dark places filled with tombs, you may want to tack this on to your obligatory St. Peter’s and Vatican tour. Be aware, however, that you have to make a reservation to visit the necropolis.

The above are a few of my favorites, but there are certainly more. If you have any you’d like to add to this list, please drop me a line. Happy Halloween!

Photo by Nic Nac

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