|Lazio (Ladzio), a land of forests, castles, and ancient abbeys, is rarely experienced by tourists, except when they hurry along the crowded and rarely attractive major arteries to Rome. Besides Rome, the Villa d’Este is apt to be the only part of the region visited. (The Roman name for Lazio, Latium, is sometimes used in English.) |
This isolation has been a great boon to Lazio, for it has been able to go its own way, for the most part without the click of cameras or the exclamations of the adoring to make the region self conscious. Actually, Lazio is one of the most beautiful parts of Italy, with a rare mystical quality all its own, born of monasticism and pine forests, mountain grottoes worn deep in the porous tufa rock, lakes and spas, and quiet towns. As to its superlatives, Lazio has more lakes than any other region of Italystill, shadowy volcanic lakes in the midst of thick forests.
Lazio’s boundaries extend north to Viterbo and the bor ders of Umbria and Tuscany, south beyond Anzio and Gaeta to the border of Campania, and east to the mountainous Abruzzo.
Its castles and abbeys are often rugged and isolated on mountaintops covered with pine and maccbia, the pervasive Mediterranean shrub. Its gastronomy has the same simple, fresh, and hearty character: rice or pasta with beans, pasta all’amatriciana (with pancetta and the local pecorino cheese) or all’arrabbiatta (in a tomato sauce made angry with hot peppers), lamb or pork roasted outdoors, chicken done in hundreds of ways, roasted artichokes, oxtail stew, tripe, and Rome’s famous saltimbocca (slices of veal, cured ham, and sage leaves in a tangy sauce).
Shaded with cypress trees, the graceful symbol of death, numerous elaborate tombs of wealthy ancient Romans bor der the Appian Way (Via Appia), the consular road built by the censor Appius Claudius and opened in 312 B.C. to link Rome with the south. In the early years of Christianity, the bodies of several saints were buried in the tombs, and soon others wanted to be interred alongside them. They became places of worship for Christians, but there is no evidence that they were also hiding places. . Catacombs are systems of underground galleries on several levels, extending often for miles. The openings to the tombs were closed with slabs of marble, and a name originally in Greek, later in Latin was carved into them.
Over the centuries the tombs have been looted by invaders and local thieves, but much of interest remains. Saints’ bones have been removed to churches in Rome. Caveat: Many of the catacombs are dark, most of the steps are uneven, skulls and bones are quite visible, and retreat is often impossible once insideand some people do want to retreat. The Catacomb of San Callisto is one of the most impor tant. Named after Saint Calixtus (the slave who became pope), who was appointed guardian of the site by Pope Zephyrinus (1992-17), it constituted the first specifically designated cemetery of the early bishops of Rome and was the burial place of the early popes (but not of Calixtus, who was perhaps crowded out) as well as Saint Cecilia, who is commemorated by a copy of the Carlo Madreno statue in the crypt. It is also the most extensive of the catacombs, stretch ing some 15 miles underground, and has not yet been fully explored. Just behind the catacomb of San Callisto is the Catacomb of Santa Domitilla, which contains the fourth century basilica of San Nereus and Sant’Achilleus, as well as some beautiful paintings, including the first known representation of Christ as the Good Shepherd, painted in the second century.
The Catacomb of San Sebastiano, a few minutes away, developed around the spot where Saint Sebastian was mar tyred and buried, and is also where the bodies of Saint Peter and Saint Paul were first buried. It is an enormous structure on four levels, much visited over the centuries, partly because during the Middle Ages Saint Sebastian was thought to have influence against the Black Plague. The tunnels are covered with graffiti. In the room honoring Peter and Paul words invoking the apostles can be seen. A beautifully decorated pagan tomb adds to the mix.
Along the Appian Way at number 119A is the entrance to the Jewish Catacombs, where names and symbols can still be seen on the tombs. For permission to visit, ask at the Synagogue in Rome, Lungotevere Cenci 9.The bestknown of the Roman burial monuments is the Tomb of Cecilia Metella, a vast circular shape created for the daughterinlaw of the triumvir Crassus, who shared office with Caesar and Brutus. The crenellated top was part of a fortified castle built around it during the 14th century. Un like most monuments. of the period it has been preserved with much ofits marble facing intact, and is decorated with charming relief scenes. Nearby is the restaurant Cecilia Metella, which makes for a pleasant (moderately expensive) outdoor lunch or dinner during the warm weather.
The number 118 bus from the Colosseum stops at the Catacomb of San Callisto; the other sites are all within walking distance from San Callisto. Each catacomb closes on a different day, and they all close from 12:00 to 2:30 P.M. daily.