The Underside of Ancient Rome

Bible and archaeology news

The Mithraeum connects to the tunnels below the Baths of Caracalla. Photo: theartnewspaper

After extensive restoration, Rome plans to reopen the ancient tunnels below the Baths of Caracalla that connect to the largest Mithraic temple in the Roman Empire. The popular mystery religion Mithraism is named after the deity Persian Mithra, and was practiced for centuries across Roman Europe. While those who celebrated the Mithraic Mysteries worshipped the other gods in the Roman pantheon, their rituals were considered similar to those practiced by early Christians, who considered Mithraism a threat to the development of Christianity. The Roman Mithraeum was discovered last year and its sparse decoration includes a fresco of the deity along with a delineated space for the sacrifice of a bull.

The restoration of the underground tunnels will be complete in December, and tourists will have access to the extensive tunnel network underneath one of Rome’s most luxurious public baths. The third-century C.E. underground passageways suffered from extensive algae damage after skylights were opened in the ceilings, and the new restoration replaces the open spaces with artificial lighting. The Mithraeum itself was recently reopened after a year of restoration work, and is due to be connected with the underground tunnels to form a single underground route for tourists. Roman officials are enthusiastic about the grand reopening of the tunnels below the public bath, which will be accompanied by artwork by Michelangelo Pistoletto.

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