Project Description

Underground Rome: The Sepulcher of the Scipios

Between the Via Appia and the Via Latina, we find the Sepulcher of the Scipios (and the Columbarium of Pomponius Hylas).  This was prime real-estate for a family tomb, especially because the famous Via Appia had just been inaugurated as a major “highway.”  The Scipios didn’t mind the expense and it only brought their prestigious family more prestige.  While the famous war-hero Scipio Africanus is probably buried at his country estate in Liternum, the Sepulcher hosts several generations of his relatives and descendants.   For the most part, the tombs and their inscriptions have been looted… yet those that survive help to document both the political involvement of the Scipio family and changes in culture and language towards the the end of the Republic.

The Scipios failed to imagine that the neighborhood would go to Hades in a hand-basket after several hundred years! First, a group of liberti (ex-slaves) invested in property–right next-door.  (The nerve!)  They used it for their columbarium (seen in the picture)–a high density solution to cut costs of expensive burials. Shortly after that, in the second century A.D., Rome was bursting at the seams with one million or more inhabitants.  Multi-story concrete and brick apartment buildings sprouted everywhere and both the Via Appia and the Via Latina became heavily developed residential areas.  Building contractors had no pity on the Scipio family’s forgotten plot…  And ancient apartment building now squats on top of it!  And then, as the late Empire feared enemy invasions, the Aurelian Walls encircled apartment buildings and tombs alike…

The Sepulcher of the Scipios is a short visit and pairs up nicely with the Columbarium of Pomponius Hylas.  While it also complements other underground attractions (like San Clemente, Vicus Caprarius, and / or the Nymphaeum of Annibaldi), visitors are welcomed to pair it up with any other tours they think appropriate.  Not being central, visitors may want to use a taxi.  Otherwise, if this visit is paired up with the Via Appia, the nearby hill-towns of Frascati, or other attractions outside of the historic center, using a private driver may make more sense.  Please ask for more information!

Visiting the site requires a special permission and a timed (private) entrance.  Visits are limited to an hour.  Besides a 4 euro / per person ticket, there is a one-time euro 35 reservation surcharge.  For more information, please see “the costs” section of this webpage.

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