Rome's largest catacombs will soon open to the public after decades of restoration
The burial place houses some 26,000 tombs across nearly 7.5 miles, making it the largest catacombs in Rome, the Associated Press reported.
"These tombs represent the roots of our deepest identity, the roots of Rome and of Christianity," Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the pontifical commission, said at a press conference Tuesday.
Calcium deposits, algae, and smoke from oil lamps had obscured some of the nearly 1,600-year-old frescoes for centuries. The restoration itself took several decades and involved a new laser technique that allowed experts to slowly drill through layer after layer of grime.
“When we started work, you couldn’t see anything – it was totally black. Different wavelengths and chromatic selection enabled us to burn away the black disfiguration without touching the colors beneath,” Barbara Mazzei, who led the project on behalf of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology, told the Telegraph.
“Until recently, we weren’t able to carry out this sort of restoration – if we had done it manually we would have risked destroying the frescoes,” she said.
The frescoes in the St. Domitilla catacombs depict symbols of both pagan and early Christian Roman traditions. One of the most remarkable frescoes is known as the “room of the bakers,” depicting the important symbolism of bread for all Romans, regardless of their faith.
Scenes of saints, soldiers, martyrs, and apostles are all featured among the frescoes of St. Domitilla.
A small museum exhibiting statues and parts of sarcophagi is expected to open in June, as the renovations continue on several of the rooms. The restored areas of the catacombs are expected to open to the public several months later.