Catacombs are human-made underground passages – usually built below religious buildings – that are designed to hold human remains. For an eerie underground adventure that’ll add something extra to your holiday, here are five of the world’s most fascinating and atmospheric catacombs.
Convento de San Francisco Ossuary, Lima, Peru
Convento de San Francisco Ossuary in Lima
The ossuary below the Convento de San Francisco in the Peruvian city of Lima holds the skulls and bones of over 70,000 people. Seventy. Thousand. Part of the reason for this gargantuan number of remains is that they are connected via subterranean passages to the city’s cathedral and many of the local churches.
Speaking of the Cathedral Basilica of St John; visitors who don’t want to go underground will find various grates throughout the cathedral that provide a glimpse of the illuminated catacombs below. If you’re still keen on sightseeing book into the Apartamento 5 estrellas en Centro Histórico de Lima and admire their beautifully maintained gardens.
Znojmo Catacombs, Znojmo, Czech Republic
Znojmo Catacombs in Znojmo
The Znojmo Catacombs are rather unusual. Rather than sitting underneath an individual church or building, they stretch underneath most of the town of Znojmo. During the 14th and 15th century, the citizens of Znojmo wanted to build escape tunnels, in case of invasion. Rather than take on the daunting task of digging fresh tunnels, the townspeople built connecting tunnels between the cellars of their own houses.
These catacombs no longer house bodies – an unfortunate side-effect of various local skirmishes – but they do have drainage systems, wells, air-filtering and even a few chimneys. Once you’ve had enough of subterranean life, return to the surface and relax at the Penzion Austis.
Catacombe dei Cappuccini, Palermo, Italy
Catacombe dei Cappuccini in Palermo
Within the scintillatingly-sinister Capuchin Monastery catacombs, the corpses that decorate the walls of aren’t just piles of bones and artfully-arranged skulls. They contain skeletons nailed to the walls, sitting in pews and lying in open coffins, with over 8,000 bodies carefully-posed and dressed in their best clothes.
If you feel a little shaky after your visit, the B&B Palazzo Reale is a bright and cheerful place to recover with a strong cup of tea and slice of cake.
Ta’ Bistra Catacombs, Mosta, Malta
Ta’ Bistra Catacombs in Mosta
Some of the oldest underground tombs in the world, the Ta’ Bistra Catacombs were built during the 4th century and only rediscovered in 1891, buried beneath a traditional Maltese farmhouse in Mosta. The catacombs have a varied history – at one point they were used to shelter farm animals during the Second World War – and it wasn’t until 2008 that the farmhouse was converted into a visitor centre.
Visitors will find that moving from the pristine white walls of the Ta’ Bistra visitor centre to the dark, cramped tunnels of the catacombs requires some adjustment, but it’s more than worthwhile to explore this fascinating side of Malta’s history. Stay near many of Mosta’s other historical monuments at Apartment 81.
Catacombs at Templo Expiatorio, León, Mexico
Catacombs at Templo Expiatorio in León
The towering walls and neo-Gothic circular windows of the Templo Expiatorio overlook the Mexican city of León and while it presents a dramatic visage, it’s what’s under the temple that truly excites the imagination. Originally built in 1924 as part of the temple foundations, the catacombs lay unfinished for decades and frequent floods added to the close atmosphere.
In 2012, the tunnels were finally finished (despite a doomsday prophecy that their completion would herald the apocalypse) and today the catacombs are open for tourists to explore. Stay nearby at the Othelo Boutique Hotel, only 400 metres from the city’s Main Square.