Rome’s Underground, Beyond the Catacombs

San Nicola underground

Anywhere you go in Rome, you're walking on a buried, ancient world. Beneath your feet lie the remnants of the city that ruled an empire: temples and streets, villas and churches, monuments and tombs. And while we've all heard of the catacombs, there are many, many other underground sights in the city that are every bit as fascinating. If not more so.

I wrote about seven of my favorite hidden, yet accessible places for an underground Rome fix for the Globe and Mail, online here.

(Update,December 2014: After I wrote that piece, one of the coolest, and longest-awaited, underground sites in Rome opened: the Domus Aurea, or Nero's Golden House. Find out more about the Domus Aurea, and how to get there, here!).

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See the Colosseum—and Its Underground—Under the Stars

Colosseum now open at night
Looking for another unique way to visit the Colosseum—and its underground? How about at night?

Not for the first time, but now nightly until October 5, Rome is opening up the Colosseum to nighttime visitors. Talk about a more tranquil, and spookier, way to visit Rome's bloodiest and most depressing  most famous archaeological site. 

The catch: because the visit includes the underground, it has to be on a tour led by a Colosseum official, which has its pluses and minuses.* Available times are at 8:20pm, 8:30pm, 8:40pm, 8:50pm, 9:20pm, 9:30pm, 9:45pm, 10pm, 10:15pm, 1o:30pm, and 10:45pm. Booking is required; reserve your spot by calling +39 0639967700. The cost is €20, including your Colosseum ticket.

*Pluses: You'll almost certainly get more information on a tour with an official guide than, say, from a guidebook. Minuses: The official guides do this tour over and over and over, meaning the million-and-first time they give the tour—in other words, when you happen to be on it—they often have very little enthusiasm for the subject left. Also, their English can be middling to poor.

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The Colosseum Underground Reopens (Again)

Colosseum underground reopen for Easter
The hypogeum of the Colosseum reopens this Saturday, April 7th. After being closed for nearly six months due to flooding, it's practically an Easter miracle!

(And yes, officials announced today that it will be open in two days. Welcome to Rome).

If you didn't even know that the Colosseum underground was closed, I don't blame you. Lots of tour operators were still selling the underground as if it was. But rest assured: It was.

For more on the Colosseum underground, check out my previous posts. This post looks at the three major ways you can visit the Colosseum underground (all are tours). I also have a guide to how to book the Colosseum underground and a post highlighting what the Colosseum underground is really like.

Happy underground-ing, and Buona Pasqua!

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Yes, You Can Buy Colosseum Underground Tours Online. But It Remains Closed

Colosseum underground, currently CLOSED

In mid-October, the Colosseum announced it would keep the hypogeum and third level open through the end of December. And then, just a few days later, it announced that, actually, the underground was closing—thanks to the flooding of the delicate underground area.

Let’s make one thing clear: Since late October, the Colosseum underground has remained closed. There has not been any announcement about when, or if, it will reopen this winter. [Update, April 5 2012: Colosseum officials just announced that the underground will reopen this Saturday, April 7].

But if, having done some research online, you’re confused about if that’s actually the case, I don’t blame you. Here’s why: You can still “buy” the underground tour online.

Different tour companies offer tours of the Colosseum underground. The first, Walks of Italy—which I freelance for—immediately stopped selling its VIP Colosseum tour, which included the underground as well as the third tier, Forum and Palatine, as soon as the Colosseum’s underground closed. In other words, you can no longer book the Colosseum underground tour on their site.

Confusingly, however, Dark Rome is still selling the Colosseum underground tourand in their tour description, there isn’t any mention of the fact that the underground is currently closed (and has been for weeks). (Like Walks of Italy, their tour also includes the Palatine, Forum and the rest of the Colosseum). Even when I clicked all the way through to the checkout to buy the tour, there was no mention that the underground is closed.

To be fair, the underground could reopen, even in the next few days… maybe. But continuing to sell the tour as if it’s exactly the same, for €89, without a single mention that the underground is currently closed and no plans have been announced for its opening? Hmm.

To make sure I understood correctly, I emailed Dark Rome to ask if it was possible to book the tour to see the Colosseum underground for this coming week. The reservations agent replied quickly, telling me that yes, the tour was still running, although due to flooding, the underground would be closed.

I asked if the price of the tour was the same.”If you book this tour, we will refund 12% of the price of the tour after you have taken the tour. This is because we are unsure when the Underground will open,” she responded. But in a following email, she added, “This refund is only due if you take the tour and the Underground is closed. If the Underground is open you will not be entitled to a refund.”

So. Book now, and if—big surprise!—the underground is closed, something you’d have no idea of from their description, you get just 12% of your €89 back. Or about €10. After you take the tour.

Right.

You also can “buy” the underground Colosseum tour with Viator (which—can we finally clarify this?—is NOT a tour company, but a tour consolidator, one that sells lots of other companies’ offerings. In fact, I am 99% sure that this tour is the same one as Dark Rome’s). This description, too, makes it sound as if the underground tour is just fine and dandy. Even worse, the most recent comments that show up don’t mention that the underground is closed (at least they do on Dark Rome’s site). It’s sold as an “upgrade,” costing you, once again, €89.

Then there’s Tickitaly, which, from what I understand, sells the tour with an official Colosseum guide, charging more simply for the convenience of booking online. They’re still selling the underground tour, too.

At least, however, they have this paragraph: “Please be aware that it’s possible the dungeons may not be able to be visited. Recent flash flooding in Rome meant that the underground areas of the Colosseum were closed and as yet there is no firm news on when they’ll reopen—we expected it to be days, not weeks, and the authorities will give us no hard information. It’s usually the case that when something changes we’ll be given just a few hours notice and with this in mind we are still taking bookings for these tours, given that the upper levels are open and the dungeons may be open. We do not offer refunds if the underground areas are closed (for security reasons or due to flooding after heavy rain). Your guide will, nonetheless, give a full explanation and history of the subterranean zones.”

So… be aware. Even if you can “buy” this tour online, that doesn’t mean that Dark Rome, Tickitaly or anyone else has a secret access pass to get you into the flooded areas.

Underground-seekers, take heed. It’s tough to trust marketing these days.

Addendum: I thought long and hard about writing this, especially with the choice to include the names of the agencies in question. However, for purposes of transparency and delivering the most useful information to my readers possible, I’ve made it a policy on my blog to always include names of the places I’m writing about, including both places I love… and those that I think treat tourists unfairly. I don’t think vagueness serves anyone, least of all travelers trying to get a handle on a foreign city.

Finally, I’ve been following the Colosseum underground from the moment it opened. I have, for better or worse, helped create the buzz around it that there is. So I feel a little responsible for the marketing hoo-ha that’s ensued—and also feel that it’s my responsibility to expose when that marketing isn’t 100% honest. If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.

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The Colosseum Underground, Now Open Through December

Colosseum underground open thru December

The Colosseum has just announced—already!—that it's keeping the underground and third tier open through December.

That's particularly surprising news (in a good way), since some of us, myself included, thought they'd close the underground over the winter, as they did last year. Or close the areas temporarily while they started restoration work. But no… which is good news for all of those excited to see the hypogeum and third level!

[Latest update, April 5 2012: After being closed due to floods, Colosseum officials just announced that the underground will reopen this Saturday, April 7. Update, Nov. 2011: I spoke too soon. Please see this Nov. 27 post about the closure of the Colosseum underground from Nov. 27 2011 for a full update.]

The new details:

From Oct. 30-Dec. 31, English tours will run at 9:40am, 12:40pm, 1pm, and 2:20pm. If you go with a tour with an official Colosseum guide (a 2-hour tour that includes only the Colosseum, with the underground and third level), the price is €21.50, including the €1.50 booking fee. The maximum group size for each tour is 25 people. Call +39 06 39967700 to book; here's a Q&A on how to book with the Colosseum and what the underground tour includes.

Since the Colosseum guides can be quite dry, remember that you also have other options, including underground Colosseum tours with livelier guides from Walks of Italy or a tour with Dark Rome.

Any questions? Ask away in the comments!    

You might also like:

Where to Eat in Rome's Most Touristy Areas (Colosseum Included)

Twelve of My Favorite Churches in Rome

On Fridays Through Fall, See the Vatican Under the Stars

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Confirmed: The Colosseum Underground and Third Tier Are Open Through October

Update, October 2011: The Colosseum has just announced that the underground and third level will remain open through… Dec. 31!

After weeks of wondering whether the Colosseum underground and third level would be open in October, good news: They are. Colosseum management Pierreci just confirmed the hypogeum and third tier opening through the month.

As before, these areas are open only to those on specified tours, and must be booked in advance. (The official, Colosseum-run tour, which is one of several options that I explain in the next link, is about an hour long. It includes only these new areas, although the guide will of course be talking about the Colosseum in general, and you'll be left in the Colosseum itself afterwards to explore the rest on your own). Here is more information on the different tours available of the Colosseum underground; here are some photos of what to expect of the Colosseum's underground and top tier.

I'll be updating this post with more information as it comes in—such as whether the areas will be open in November—so keep checking back here.

 

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The Colosseum Opens at Night

Colosseum at night
We'll add it to the list of cool ways to see the Colosseum: The Colosseum is now open at night.

Every Saturday until September 17, the Colosseum will be open from 8:20pm to midnight. (Last entrance is at 10:45pm). It costs €18 to visit the Colosseum and the Colosseum's "Nero" exhibition, or €23 to also visit the Colosseum underground, with a guide. To book, call +39 0639967700. For more information (in Italian), click here.

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Confirmed: The Colosseum’s Underground Is Open Through September

Colosseum underground and third level now open thru September

Hot off the press: The Colosseum's underground and third levels will be open… through September!

After that, though, there's not only no confirmation that those newly-restored areas will be open — but it seems likely they might close, at least temporarily. That's because September is when Rome plans to start a $35 million restoration (paid for by the Tod's shoe company!), and with work going on, who knows what will be open.

Then again, it's Italy, so who knows if the restoration will really begin in September, either.

For more information, check out my post on the three best ways to see and to book the Colosseum's underground; what the new areas of the Colosseum look like; and a step-by-step guide to booking the Colosseum through the Pierreci phone number.

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The Colosseum’s Underground: More Good News

Underground of the Colosseum, now open through July

Everyone’s still excited about the opening (and then re-opening) of the Colosseum’s hypogeum and third levels. Now, there’s more news. And it’s especially exciting for travelers hoping to get into the underground this summer.

First, Colosseum has confirmed that it’ll be running tours of those newly-opened areas through July, rather than ending in June, as previously announced.* And, although it’s not confirmed, rumor has it that the hypogeum and third levels will proooobably also be open through October.

*Addendum, April 5: After being closed due to floods, Colosseum officials just announced that the underground will reopen this Saturday, April 7.

*Addendum, Oct. 20: The Colosseum hypogeum and third tier will be open through December.

*Addendum, Sep. 25: The Colosseum underground will be open through the end of October.

Second, before, the Colosseum only was allowing access to the hypogeum and third level via its own tours, given by official Colosseum guides. (Even tour agencies selling the Colosseum underground hand their clients over to official Colosseum guides for the underground part of the tour). But that’s changed. Now, one agency, Walks of Italy, is using its own guides for the hypogeum and third level on the VIP Colosseum underground tour. And, although I’m obviously a bit biased (full disclosure: I used to work for these guys), I think this is an alternative to consider.

Why? Well, even though the official Colosseum guides know their stuff, they can also be a bit, erm, dry. (Your spiel would start to sound dull, too, if you’d been repeating it five times a day for the past 10 years). And not all of them speak that great of English.

So, from what I can see, there are now three main ways to get into the Colosseum’s underground.

Here they are:

Colosseum tour only, with a Colosseum guide. I outlined how to book this tour in an earlier post about booking the Colosseum’s underground. The cheapest way is to book by phone, at least if you have Skype’s Skype-to-phone set up or a great long-distance plan. Otherwise, you can book by using a website like Omniticket, but these sites charge a premium for the convenience. (And all they’re selling you is the official Colosseum tour that you’d get by calling Pierreci).

The facts: Costs €21.50 (if you book directly over the phone). Takes about 1 hour. Only covers the Colosseum and its underground. You use an official Colosseum guide (not always a good thing). Maximum group size is 25.

The complete ancient city tour, but where you’re handed over to a Colosseum guide. This option would be Dark Rome’s Colosseum underground, forum and Palatine tour. They’re one of the only agencies I can see that offers access to the underground as part of a bigger ancient city tour (i.e., not just the Colosseum), but they don’t do the Colosseum underground part with their own guides.

The facts: Costs €92. Takes 3.5 hours. Includes the Colosseum and its underground, along with forum and Palatine. For the Colosseum part of the tour, you’re handed over to an official Colosseum guide; for the rest of it, you use a Dark Rome guide. Maximum group size is 10; for the Colosseum part, it’s 25 (since you’re put onto the bigger group).

The complete ancient city tour, with your own guide throughout. So far, only offered by Walks of Italy on its VIP Colosseum Underground Tour with Roman Forum & Palatine Hill tour.

The facts: Costs €79. Takes 3 hours 15 minutes. Includes the Colosseum and its underground, along with the forum and Palatine. For the Colosseum part of the tour, you get to keep your own Walks of Italy guide. Maximum group size is 12, throughout the whole tour (since you get to keep your guide).

Options galore!

You might also like:

The New Areas of the Colosseum: What They’re Really Like

(Fun!) Books for Readin’ Up on Rome

Rome’s Best Archaeological Museum: Have You Been?

 

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