Standing at the Museum Romeinse Katakomben (Roman Catacombs Museum), you will find yourself in two places at once. Above ground, you’re in the pretty Dutch town of Valkenburg, but descend below ground and you’re in Rome, circa 400 AD.
Jan Diepen, son of a wealthy Dutch textile magnate, was fascinated by early Christian grave sites, the catacombs of Rome in particular. In 1908 he began constructing a reproduction of the famous catacombs in a disused quarry.
After enlisting the assistance of the renowned architect Pierre Cuypers, Diepen’s project gained recognition. Its accuracy and attention to detail earned the stamp of approval of Rome and the Vatican. The Italian city would would eventually pitch in to aid in finishing the project so the people of the Netherlands could see Roman history up close and personal. The catacombs were opened to the public in 1910.
The catacombs are a faithful replica of the originals, improved slightly for museum presentation: the hallways are shortened, and only the most impressive parts of 14 different catacombs were included. You enter into the winding catacombs through an above-ground mausoleum. Tours are led by candlelight, which flickers off the ghostly frescoes above and the columbariums to the left and right. Marble statues look eerily lifelike in the near dark. It’s as if you’re back in ancient Rome… almost.
Know Before You Go
Guided tours only, check the website for time table.