Of all the reasons to travel the world, “to see a staircase” likely doesn’t show up on many lists. But it may be time to reconsider. The globe is dotted with remarkable staircases that are breathtaking to look at and exhilarating to climb, and each makes for a quality destination in its own right. Here are just seven of some of the world’s most trek-worthy staircases.
Truly a team effort, the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps project is the result of collaboration among neighbors around the intersection of 16th and Moraga in San Francisco. Work on the 163 mosaic paneled stairs started in 2003 under the leadership of artists Aileen Barr and Colette Crutcher, and more than 500 neighbors contributed funds and/or labor to complete the project by August 2004. The stairs are now overseen by the San Francisco Parks Trust.
Despite its name, Bueren Mountain is no mountain at all. Instead, it’s a 374-step staircase in Liège, Belgium that was built in 1881 as a pathway for soldiers. The stairs are named after Vincent de Bueren, a 15th century aristocrat who reportedly defended the city of Liège from an affront by the Duke of Burgundy. Those who make it to the top will reap their reward in the form of stunning views of the city and the Meuse River. The stairwell is also an hour’s drive from popular Brussels.
Also known as the Stairway to Heaven, the Haiku Stairs on the island of Oahu are beloved by thrill seekers despite the fact that it’s technically illegal to climb them (at least not without a permit and a $1 million insurance policy). Installed during World War II and deemed off limits in the 1980s, the 3,922 steps rise to the summit of Puu Keahikahoe, from which those who sneak to the top can gaze out over the Koolau mountain range. Sadly, a powerful storm damaged the stairs earlier this year—they’re now more treacherous than ever, and their fate (along with that of the interlopers who climb them) hangs in the balance.
Photo: Flickr user Forgemind ArchiMedia
The Fort de Roovere, a 17th century Dutch fort surrounded by a moat, was originally classified as an island. But in recent years it found itself in need of an access bridge as part of a restoration project. In order to preserve as much of the island appearance as possible, an architectural firm designed the Moses Bridge Stairs, a “sunken” bridge that immerses pedestrians in the moat (without anybody getting wet). A dam sits at each end of the moat in order to ensure that water never spills onto the bridge.
Photo: Mstyslav Chernov via Wikimedia Commons
Originally constructed in 1715 and renovated in 1930, the stairway was first built so that Santorini residents could climb to the summit of their island home. The stairway switchbacks from the sea to the city for a grand total of more than 4,000 feet (or 657 steps). A cable car was installed in 1979, but you’ll get a better workout if you walk (many tourists also choose to ride donkeys up or down). Rest your feet at any of Santorini’s budget-friendly hotels.
Photo: AnuskaCM via Wikimedia Commons
What better way to connect the small islet of Gaztelugatxe in Spanish Basque Country to the mainland than by creating a human-made bridge of stairs. More than 200 steps lead to a 10th century monastery on the upper portion of the islet, and those who traverse the rocky stairwell report feeling like they’re walking above the ocean (hence the staircase’s name). The church is closed in winter and the islet is packed with tourists in the summer, so the best time to visit is in the spring or fall.
Photo: Paebi via Wikimedia Commons
It’s a bridge; it’s a stair; it’s a bridge-stair! The suspension bridge (also dubbed “The Bridge-Stair at Traversinertobel”) spans the length of the Traversinertobel gorge, connecting two different elevations on either side of the abyss. There’s a difference of around 72 feet between both sides, so those brave enough to ascend the staircase will get a workout in addition to an adrenaline rush. The staircase is only an hour and a half’s drive to Zurich, so travelers can take in both urban culture and natural wonders in the same day.
This article was originally published on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on December 10th.
Ever thought of traveling off the beaten path and glimpsing a side of India that few tourists see? From pristine beaches to quirky villages, hidden architectural marvels and more, there is no shortage of such unseen places in India. These pristine surroundings are waiting to be discovered. Check out these 24 offbeat destinations that are just begging for you to visit them!
Approximately 70 km from Bangalore, this unique hillside is heaven for cave explorers. It is scattered with a plethora of caves formed from small volcanic rocks. The caves are both welcoming and intimidating at the same time.
What adds to its charm? There’s a spring that emerges from a small crevice in the rock, a mysterious source. Local people believe the water of the stream to be very holy.
The small town of Umri in Allahabad, believed to be 250 years old, has perplexed researchers all over the world. Out of every 1,000 children born here, 45 are twins. In the last 80 years, the village has had 108 twins, which is amazingy. The reason for this remains unknown. But the villagers believe it to be god’s miracle.
Located about 45 km southeast of Leh is the beautiful town of Hemis. The town is popular for its Hemis monastery and a colorful festival that it celebrates every year.
Like with other haunted places, Bhangarh has no shortage of myths and ghost stories. But unlike other places this one is so haunted the government of India has made it illegal to enter the grounds. Apparently anyone who has been out past sunrise in the ruined town of Bhangarh, also known as Bhangarh Fort, has never returned alive.
About 11 km from Nagarjuna Sagar Dam in Andhra Pradesh lies Ethipothala, which is home to the spellbinding Ethipothala Waterfall. The falls are a union of three streams and are quite a sight to behold.
Sprawling over forty acres, the 300-year-old Bekal Fort is shaped like a giant key hole. It is one of the best preserved forts in Kerala. The observation tower in the fort offers a fascinating view of the Arabian Sea and all the major places in the vicinity.
This architectural marvel was built in the 18th century in Lucknow. It is a fantastic mix of European and Arabic architecture. The most astonishing aspect is the central arched hall, a whopping 50 meters long and about three stories high, hanging without the support of any pillars or beams!
Well known for its spice plantations, wildlife sanctuaries, hill stations and the gigantic Idukki arch dam, this district in Kerala truly is the epitome of natural beauty.
What makes this place really quirky? Idukki is known for the most unusual phenomenon called Red Rain. The colored rain of Kerala started falling in 2001. Since then it has become one of the most discussed anomalies of recent years.
This is the largest freshwater lake in Northeast India and its banks are home to the world’s only floating National Park. The Loktak Lake in Manipur is also called the floating lake because of the floating masses of vegetation on its surface.
About 24 km from Dalhousie, this small picturesque saucer-shaped plateau is a wonderful destination. For a peaceful sojourn in the lap of the Himalayas, this is the ideal place for relaxation.
For all the tea lovers reading this, this is one place you would crave to visit. At 7,900 ft above sea level the hills of Kolkkumalai in Tamil Nadu produce tea which has a special flavor and freshness.
In the northeast of the Kullu Valley lies the solitary village of Malana. The village is considered to be one of the first democracies in the world. It is also home to the notorious Malana cream, arguably the finest quality hash ever produced.
Do you cringe at the sight of litter on streets in India? Well then you will be surprised to know about this village. Located about 100 km from Shillong is Mawlynnog, a small village in the East Khasi Hills. In 2003 it won the award of being the cleanest village -- not just in India but in all of Asia.
One of the five tallest waterfalls in the country, Nohkalikai Falls near Cherrapunji is named after the horrific tale of a woman named Ka Likai. The legend behind this gorgeous fall makes it all the more intriguing and beautiful.
Full of palaces and shrines still retaining their original grandeur, the city of Orchha dates back to 1501 and is a must for all history / culture / architecture buffs. It is located near the banks of Betwa River in Madhya Pradesh.
Situated at an altitude of 5,029 metres in the Himalayas, this lake is popularly known as Skeleton Lake. Skeletons of about 200 people belonging to the 9th century were discovered here. It was later found that a hailstorm had killed the people. To this day, visitors can still see those skeletons.
A village at about 200 km from Pune follows a frightful custom. Each house in this village has a resting place for cobras in the rafters of their ceilings. No cases of snake bites have been reported in this village despite snakes moving about freely in every household.
Tucked away in the Himalayas of Himachal Pradesh, the Spiti Valley is a relatively unknown world! With Tibet in the east and Ladakh in the north, this region is scattered with tiny villages and monasteries rich in traditional culture.
Located 27 km from the district of Tamenglong in Manipur, the Tharon Cave is of great archaeological and historical importance. A visit to this cave is reportedly the experience of a lifetime.
Is the USA your land of dreams? If yes, then you simply cannot miss visiting the Chilkur Balaji Temple, which is about 20 kms from Hyderabad. People believe the 21st century god of this temple has the power to grant you a US visa.
Yes, you read that right. Every week around 75,000 to 100,000 devotees visit this temple!
About 620 km from Bangalore is the ghost town of Dhanushkodi. Not only is it famously known for its mythological importance, but also for the cyclone that hit the town in 1964, which ravaged the entire region.
Located in the Thane district of Maharashtra, Vihigaons Falls is a monsoon fed waterfall. It is the perfect place for rappelling and canoeing.
About 870 meters above the sea level, this hill station is located in the State of Gujarat. The most amazing aspect about it is the rare and beautiful sea view that guests get to see.
Located at about 148 km from Gangtok, the Yumthang valley with its scenic beauty is truly a paradise for nature lovers.
Over the next six months I will be exploring as many of these locations as possible. 1 down, 23 to go! Follow along at blog.theHoliDaze.com
Like what you just read? More Offbeat Travel Guides
Don't all of us have a place that we have always wanted to visit, that thing we always wanted to do, that little dream? Why wait for tomorrow to fulfill those wishes? There is a universe full of beauty around us, waiting to be seen. Here are some of the most beautiful places in the world that you just can't miss in this lifetime.
Greece is a beautiful place, a mix of ancient beauty both tamed and untamed with a past full of mystery, mythology and magic. With a vivid culture, breathtaking views and magnificent history, this is one holiday you will never forget.
Travel to a different world in this city which takes you into a bygone era. A spectacle of grand architecture with a glorious history offset by piazzas, mouthwatering food and cool gelato, Rome provides an idyllic quaint charm unmatched by any other.
Described by poets as "a pearl set in emeralds," this fortress, originally built in the 9th century is a truly exquisite gem of Islamic architecture. Visit this palace that has witnessed centuries pass by to hear the walls whisper tales of eras past.
Feel the thrill of walking the halls once open only to the Kings favored men. See the history and the tales of ancient China come alive before your eyes. Sinning has never been more tempting.
The holiest Buddhist pagoda, this ancient shrine embodies beauty, serenity and joy. Visit it to experience the divine connection and to appreciate an exquisite piece of architecture and beauty.
The Egyptian pyramids are architectural marvels that need no introduction. Egypt however is home to several other exquisite monuments of days past. Let the fantastic tales of Egyptian mythology mesmerize you as you pay a visit to the country where men were once gods.
The ultimate word in luxury and excess, the Palace of Versailles is a fantasy palace brought to life. With its unparalleled grandeur and incredible architecture, this will definitely be the most impressive palace you will ever see.
An unbelievable feat of architecture, this wall is like no other you have ever seen. Winding its way over the globe, and visible from the moon, gazing at the wall at twilight is an experience you will never forget.
Those who love retail therapy will find this ancient market a dream come true. One of the largest and oldest markets in the world, this marketplace is a beautiful monument all on its own. Soak in the atmosphere, and come back with an unforgettable experience and lighter wallets.
An old imperial city of Morocco called The Red City, Marrakesh oozes a character and charm unlike any other. Brimming with palaces, monuments, museums and souks, you will be hard pressed to decide on an itinerary for your visit.
A natural formation, the Grand Canyon is wild, untamed and breathtakingly beautiful. An awe-inspiring and spiritual experience, this is something that will stay with you forever.
Britain's greatest prehistoric icon, Stonehenge projects an aura of intrigue, power and endurance. The awe-inspiring mysterious ring of stones dated approximately 5000 years ago still continues to mesmerize visitors with their spartan beauty amidst their lush surroundings.
A city that breathes lives and personifies romance, Venice is a must in every traveler’s wish list. From dreamy gondola rides along the Grand Canal to checking out artistic masterpieces & charming palatial palazzos along with sampling authentic venetian cuisine & aperitivios, there is never a dull moment in this city.
Peru's most-visited site, Machu Picchu is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Dating to the mid-1400s, this lost city of the Incas is an architectural marvel. Perched on a high plateau, deep in the Amazonian jungle, this is a perfect destination for a long hike.
This Czechoslovakian jewel attracts tourists in droves with its bohemian allure and fairytale atmosphere. Tired of sitting around beaches, doing nothing? Welcome on board. You can have the time of your life exploring old castles, museums, and strolling around charming, quaint streets, seeing the local Attractions. Refresh yourself with a scrumptious repast at a classic Czech tavern, and visit the famous pubs to party like never before.
You just can't end this list without including Dubai, the ultimate luxury destination. Embodying opulence, magnificence and eccentricity, Dubai is a man made miracle that is a visual feast. Pamper yourself at some of the most lavish resorts in the world, indulge in tax free mega shopping, embark on grand desert safaris< and experience the rich Arabic culture and cuisine.
Besides being a foodie's dream location, Bologna also offers a wealth of activities where visitors can interact with its gritty, ancient and intellectual history. It is home to one of the oldest Universities in Europe where public autopsies would be held. There doctors, students, intellectuals and citizens would congregate to see the interior bodies of criminals. This room can be visited, as well as the entire University, although it isn't something I would recommend before or after eating. As for me I operate on a more sinister level where I was famished after such a visit, probably due to the extreme Summer heat and the room made of smelly pine wood which created a dizzying effect. Anyways...here are some suggestions for anyone interested in visiting the mysterious city of Bologna.
Granted, all of Italy could be considered a foodie's dream but as the food capital of Italy, Bologna is a great spot for a day-trip. I chose to stay in Florence instead of Bologna because of its history and the fact that it was so close to San Gimignano and the rest of Tuscany. I do not regret staying in Florence because it is one of my favourite cities of Italy. Bologna was perfect, for me, for a day trip, not only is the food spectacular but so are the sights around this historical city. As soon as I got off the train I was met with graffiti supporting an underground Fascism movement. However, I was told the only thing you need to worry about in Bologna, and the rest of Europe, are sly pickpockets.
For breakfast I chose a charming cafe directly across from the San Petronio Basilica, of the Piazza Magiore. After seeing so many churches in Rome, Florence and Capri, it was surprising how Bologna's Bassilica overwhelmed me with visual excitement and this was just the exterior. I sat outside the cafe with my notebook and a flaky chocolate cornetto and the best cappuccino you will ever have, which are not hard to come by in Italy. The Bassilica also provides the perfect seating in the form of steps to people watch. Although, this is where I spotted a very obvious pickpocket who seated next to me before I went inside.
I toured the Bassilica noting the odd crucifix with hands, the detailed frescoes of hell, and the massive columns that surrounded me. Cassini's sundial, as well as meridian lines (1655) upon the floor, are contained within and denote to the importance of both religion and science during Bologna's history.
Another important visit is the University of Bologna, founded around 1088. While there I encourage you to walk, as I did, absolutely everywhere. It is a great opportunity for photography but also to stumble upon hidden restaurants that just may contain the best meal you will ever have. Surprisingly, one works up quite the appetite while sitting in the University's viewing room where autopsies were conducted for citizens to observe, so long as you have a ticket. It is a pine room with wooden bleachers and a marble table sits in the centre. If you have a talented historian in the room with you (and if it is Summer) you may feel as though you are taken back in time, with burning incense, music playing and the smell of a decaying body, I became dizzy and had to exit the room.
During my walk consisting of fresh air, relieved not to smell hot pine anymore, I became famished. I found a small restaurant with outdoor seating and collapsed onto my chair. The restaurant, La Clavature, would provide me with the best meal I have ever had (so far). I ordered fresh tortelloni, a larger version of tortellini, filled with flavourful pumpkin and delicious truffle oil. The sauce was light and tangy balsamic reduction. It is in Bologna that I learned of the silky deliciousness of fresh pasta and the woodsy, rich flavour of truffles – two combinations that would make any meal special.
To top it off I was served a gratuitous dessert, my least favourite Tiramisu, however, I soon realized that North America has ruined me with the commercial stuff. You have not tried Tiramisu until you've had it in Italy, or at least an Italian mama has made it for you. La Clavature also caters to vegetarians and vegans.
To do as the Italians, it is customary to walk off your meal. If you're still up for some touring after the best meal you've ever had, take a trip into the imagination of the Renaissance. The Museo di Palazzo Poggi, also known as The Ulisse Aldrovandi Museum, holds the most unique collection of preserved animals and in general, ways of thinking. For example, there is a long horn kept there and it is labeled a unicorn's horn, although, I can only surmise that it belongs to the Narwhal Whale.
Back in the sixteenth century Ulisse Aldrovandi wanted to compile an encyclopedia of species from around the world. He was sent preserved fish, shark heads and many other species that weren't well known at the time. I love this museum because a visitor can appreciate how far we've come in exploring the world, but also the imagination is percolated in this natural history museum.
Bologna is a place of imagination, delightful food and historical curiosities that would stir the mind of any writer, artist, foodie or traveler. It is great for a day trip or even to stay if you want to have more memorable meals. But remember in Italy the hunt for great food is always worth it! So don't settle for the overpriced tourist restaurants. Be a traveler and find the real Italy!
Taj Mahal, the beautiful palace that symbolises love and romance, is one of the monuments that every traveler to India should visit with their special someone. It has withstood the test of time as a magnet of love and when you walk in with your second half that feeling of romance comes alive even stronger. I believe it is Mumtaz and Shahjahan's soul that inculcates the feel of love and romance in this place and attracts thousands of visitors daily...although some do surely come for the grandeous architecture. Otherwise people like me would never ever turn up on what is technically a funeral site.
But its not just the two lovers who are buried here. The Taj is a great monument in and of itself. The sheer size, architecture, and fine craftsmanship of the marble make it a mandatory bucket list requirement for every traveler. It exudes a feeling that you cannot translate to text...and that is why people flock in such great numbers to visit the Taj Mahal everyday.
On a recent trip to Stockholm, my friend Joahnna and I decided to explore the city the effortless, yet informative way - by boarding the Historical Canal Tour.
We went to the visitors center at the airport to claim our Stockholm Cards that we ordered online. With it, tourists get to use public transportation and go to major museums and attractions for free. It's really worth it! While the Arlanda Express is a really efficient and cheap way to get from the Arlanda airport to Stockholm Central Station, where our hotel was conveniently located, we wanted to make use of our Stockholm Cards and use free public transportation.
So, we got on a bus to Malsta and switched to a train to Stockholm Central. After checking in to the hotel and eating lunch, we trekked to Stadshusbron, where the Historical Canal Tour departs from.
The weather was alternating between light rain and cloudy, which made made for slightly dramatic shots. If it gets too chilly, there are flannel blankets to keep passengers warm.
I wish I could tell you amazing facts about these awesome buildings but I'd had zero sleep, and though interesting, I forgot all the things the audio guide narrated. Weirdly, I only remember Swedish House Mafia, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and ABBA being mentioned.
The views were just amazing. I really enjoyed the 50-minute tour, it was as relaxing as it was informative. Bonus: you'll even see a few kayaks!
Stockholm Historical Canal Tour Official Web Site
Price: SEK 160 for adults, or free with the Stockholm Card.
Departs from Stadshusbron.
First appeared on No Stopovers.
Kumbhalgarh Fort, also known as the Great Wall of India, is a new up-and-coming off the beaten path destination in Rajasthan that is starting to become more well known. However the leap in the numbers of visitors over recent years definitely makes it a worthy destination to visit when in Rajasthan for those who like getting off the tourist trail.
Located near Udaipur, this wonderful fort has a glimpse of history, war and tales of patriotism. If you love to hear history and visualize the fell then this is the must visit for you. The broad and wide walls depict the era of war and conquer, fights and patriotism, and tell the story of how strong the Sisodia dynasty were to safeguard their people.
Khumbhalgarh can be approached via Udaipur through Dabog airport / Udaipur Junction. But to reach you have to take the road Journey via Nathdwara. It is approximately 90km from Udaipur. The road though is not very good but is a state highway and the government is trying to upgrade so as to increase the travel volume of the state. The road journey is also pleasing as you pass by the country side of the Udaipur district. With it you will get a glimse of true rural India and many beautiful lakes and villages around them. Its good to see the nature and humans mingling with each other.
The fort of Kumbhalgarh is built on a hilltop and the walls of the fort has a peripheral of 36kms. It is the second largest wall in Asia after the famous Great Wall of China. The fort is said to be the most difficult to be won and had lost only once when the combined forces of Mughal Emperor Akbar, Raja Man Singh of Amber, Raja Udai Singh of Marwar and the Sultan of Gujarat breached the wall due to a shortage of drinking water. The walls as said early are huge and unbreachable and this can be gauged by the their overwhelming thickness -- 15 feet!
Kumbhalgarh has become a favourite destination among many travelers, both domestic and international. Plenty of resorts down the hill from 5-star luxury to budget resorts, even camping sites. We stayed in Club Mahindra Resort and really enjoyed the hospitality of the group. NOT TO MISS the light and sound show organised in the fort which narrates you the entire history of the place from its built to its conquer.
Kumbhalgarh is a destination less travelled but if you have time while visiting Rajasthan it is highly recommended that you swing by and experience Kumbhalgarh Fort and the majesty of the Great Wall of India with your own eyes.
A friend and I recently ventured into my local metropolitan center, aka San Francisco, and did some exploring. The weekend is best summarized by said friend's phone call to her husband: "Hey babe, I just saw the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, toured a WWII Submarine and now I'm going on a night tour of Alcatraz. Tomorrow I'm going to see a Tuscan Castle!"
Her husband's hilariously sarcastic response: "Great. Let me know when you fly a fighter jet!"
There is a really cool path up/down to/from Coit Tower, which wanders by an amazing neighborhood and some very cool, unexpected gardens in the middle of the city. If you're lucky, you'll see the famous parrots.
Rajasthan's royal forts, palaces, and havelis have marked itself high on the tourist trail. The luxury of the kings and queens, the princely state and the comforts of the royals have now open to the world. Lots of old forts and palaces are opened to the guest for their comfort stay as well as royal treatment and luxury. Some of the royal ones are listed here with a brief description of what makes them unique and worth visiting.
Built by Rana Kymbha, this fortress has only been conquered once in all of history -- due to shortage of water. It was fighting against the joint forces of Akbar, Raja Man Singh of Amber, Raja Udai Singh of Marwar, and the Sultan of Gujarat. The wall of this fort is the second largest continuous wall in the world (after the Great Wall of China) and stretches around 36km. (That's over 20 miles!) Kumbhalgarh Fort Photo Gallery
Also known Amer Fort, this ancient fortress is huge. It was constructed by Raja Man Singh I but the history of this city goes back far past this. Amber was ruled by Meena rulers prior to the Rajputs. The fort is known for its rich culture and art. The best part of it are Sheesh Mahal, Diwan-e-Khas, Diwan-e-Aam, and Sukh Niwas. More Amber Fort Photos
via Milo & Silvia
Chittorgarh is the epitome of Chattri Rajput (an Indian Warrior caste) pride, romance and spirit, for people of Chittor always chose death before surrendering against anyone. Vijay Stambh and Rani Padmini's sacrifice in the great and extended fort of Chittorh are the best part. Meera bai, a famous follower or lord Krishna also relates to the history of Chittorgarh.
One of the largest forts in the world, Jaisalmer Fortress was built by the Bhati Rajput ruler Rawal Jaisal, from where both the town and fort derives their names. The fort stands proudly amidst the golden stretches of the great Thar Desert, on a hill overlooking the city around it, and has been the scene of many battles. Its massive yellow sandstone walls are of yellow color during the day, fading to honey-gold as the sun sets. For this reason, it is also known as the "Golden Fort".
Jal Mahal, the Water Palace also located in Jaipur is another popular destination. There is an open promenade (where this photo was taken from) where locals always gather and enjoy the view -- as do the tourists!
Raj Mahal Palace, also known as Jaisalmer Palace for an obvious reason, is another beautiful of ancient architecture that is now a museum. (Jaisalmer may be located far from everything but do not skip it!)
Rajasthan has achieved great importance that has withstood the test of time and now attracts more tourists than invading empries. From a travel point of view its rich and royal forts, palaces, and havelis make Rajasthan a "must visit" destination for most visitors to India. Experience the royal treatment of past kings and queens and walk where they walked, enjoy the same elegant destinations and views. It is truly a step back in time!
In my first article in this series I covered the generalities and historic background of the Vatican Necropolis. (Go back and read itif you haven't, I'll wait.) In this second post I'll cover the mausoleums in the underground tour under Saint Peter's Basilica, one by one with the its highlights. I hope this compendium will bring us closer to the people who built these tombs, the care they poured into these family spaces commissioning the decoration and the architecture, the dedication and the sentiment in making these the best place possible for their dead.
And ultimately, let us go back in time in a walk up the Vatican Hill, to finally reach the tomb of Saint Peter, Jesus' right hand man.
According to the Open University’s course about ancient Roman funerary monuments family was important for the ancient Romans. One way to preserve the name of the family was to build a family tomb. Though most Romans could not afford one, many built them for their nuclear family of husband, wife and children. Poor Romans would be buried in mass graves or small tombs marked on the ground with modest markers o amphorae.
The size, extent of decoration and inclusion of architectural elements had a direct relation to the social status of the family. During the first century AD the deceased were cremated and their remains put into containers or urns that were placed in small niches (columbarium) inside the family tomb I will be using a Vatican Necropolis floorplan along the way, so that you know exactly where you are. Here we go!
This is where the tour starts. The mausoleum of Caius Polilius Heracla contains a tablet in which the existence of the nearby arena (Nero’s circus) is mentioned. Tablet from Mausoleum A. From 'The Tomb of St. Peter' by Margherita Guarducci, Hawthorn. 1960
It belonged to Fannia Redempta, the wife of Aurelius Hermes, a freeman of the Augusti family who highlights his wife as "incomparable." The walls have niches where the ashes were stored in urns, which indicate a pagan (different from the main religions of the world) burial. The painting on the vault is of a "Sun Chariot" accompanied by figures of the seasons. The rest of the tomb is decorated with paintings of flowers and animals.
This is the tomb of L. Tullius Zethus. The L preceding the name implies he was a freed slave or his father had been. He must’ve done pretty well for himself since this tomb is one of the most ornate with wall decorations and mosaic floor. Two marble urns were added at a later period. The tomb has niches for urns and two arcosolia (a recess on the wall in the form of an arc, used as grave).
We don’t know who it belonged to. It’s called Mausoleum of the opus reticulatum, named after the pattern in which the bricks have been placed.
This is the tomb of T. Aelius Tyrannus, a freedman who worked in public office. The most notable elements of this tomb are two alabaster containers, one with a Medusa carving and the stucco paintings on the walls.
As with other tombs there are niches and arcosolia… but observe also the staircase that was used to go up to and down from the upper room which was used for the “refrigerio” a rite in which family accompanied the deceased in a sort of feast. The family go down to the inner burial room to pour libations (offerings of food and wine) through holes on the floor, to feed the deceased.
Interior of Mausoleum E with alabaster containers. Photo: Blanca & Ian's Travels
The first to be discovered in 1939, this is the tomb of the Tulli and the Caetenni as it is stated on the altar that stands in the middle of the mausoleum. This is a pagan tomb with some Christian symbolism. The woman mentioned in the altar is Emilia Gorgonia, and her husband mentions her beauty and goodness. The holes for the libations are visible on the right side of the floor. Romans held funeral banquets in which wine and food were poured inside these holes, for the deceased to be fed.
The Tomb of the Teacher is named after the painting in the back wall depicting an old man with a scroll, in front of a younger man. It is most likely an administrator and a servant, though the first people who saw the tomb interpreted the painting as a teaching and his student. The ceiling depicts beautiful paintings of animals, garlands and geometric figures. Can you imagine the artist painting these figures with so much care and attention?
The Tomb of the Valerii is the most luxurious of all the tombs. It belonged to Valerius Philumenus and Valeria Galatia who gave permission to several members of their family and some friends, to use this mausoleum. Several marble portraits (including some children) were found in it. See a couple of them on the bottom-right corner of this picture?
The Tomb of the Chariot from the quadriga figre in the mosaic floor that depicts the rape of Persephone by Pluto on a chariot driven by Mercury. The fresco paintings depict birds, a peacock (a symbol of afterlife), ducks, doves and floral designs.
The tomb of the Julii or "Cristo Sole", Christ the Sun or the Christan Mausoleum. This tomb was built by the parents of Julius Tarpeianus. Even though the shape and some elements of the tomb are pagan, the mosaics are Christians depicting a scene of Jonah being eaten by the whale and a scene of a fisherman.
The tomb of Aebutius also bears the name of "Clodius Romanus". His mother calls him her "most gentle son" on the epitaph of the urn.
A reduced tomb, you can only see a small detail of a painted “light-bearer”.
The Tomb of Trebellena Flaccilla is decorated with delicate painting of birds and flowers. There’s also a detail of a dolphin.
This tomb has been largely occupied by the foundations to Bernini’s Baldaquino (the canopy above). Mausoleum S is very important because it’s located on the south of Field P and beyond it, there’s a small corridor called the “Clivus” that runs from south to north meeting the “Red Wall” at the northeast side. You need to remember these three terms for the next post, because here, we are entering the Tomb of Saint Peter itself. But for that, we need an even more thorough explanation.
By now we have walked up the slope of the Vatican Hill, south to north, going through the remains of a cemetery for wealthy Romans. We have imagined how they remembered their dead and how they celebrated life with their rituals and the ornate decorations that cemented their family tomb. Have you ever visited other Roman cemeteries? What was the experience like? How do they relate to the way we see death now and our own rituals?