(JNS.org) The city of Rome will be opening its 2,000-year-old Villa Randanini Jewish catacombs to the public for the first time between May 1 and June 5 as part of a cultural initiative to broaden the scope of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, launched by Pope Francis last December.
The Jewish catacombs were discovered beneath the vineyard of Villa Randanini in 1859. The labyrinth of tunnels stretches for nearly 18,500 square meters (about 199,000 square feet) and has a depth of five to 16 meters (about 16 to 52 feet). The walls have inscriptions in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, outlining information about the individuals who were buried there. There are still remains of frescos and tablets depicting Jewish menorahs.
Rome has more than 40 Christian catacombs that are visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists annually, but until now the city's few Jewish catacombs were only open to private tours and small groups of visitors.
Giorgia Calo, the cultural councillor for the Jewish community of Rome, said the decision to allow more visitors to the Jewish catacombs was made because Jews “have always been a part of the history of the [Italian] capital,” the Religion News Service reported.