The Catacombs of Pretestato in Rome were excavated between 1847 and 1872, though their existence was already known in the 16th century. In 1931 another cemetery was discovered above ground. This rather extensive burial ground contained the remains of members of the imperial family and of senators.
Catacombs of Pretestato Rome
In earlier times the residence of Heros Atticus (the so-called Tripius) stood on the site, but after his death the grounds became imperial property and used for burying high ranking people, like the Emperor Balbinus, whose sarcophagus was found here.
The catacombs themselves were built by reusing a long tunnel, which is thought to have been an abandoned cistern, the Spelunca Magna. They date back to the beginning of the third century and consisted of three main complexes on different levels. In the next century the catacombs were enlarged by creating an extensive network of galleries and cubicoli.
The best-known painting (originating from the 3rd century) in the cubicles depicts the crowning of Christ and is thought to be one of the oldest examples of representation of the passion. Other, 4th century, frescoes depict the popes Liberius and Sixtus II, and the apostles Peter and Paul.
Also in the 4th century a number of churches were built in the area, such as the Basilica of Valerian and Maximus (which has completely disappeared) and the Basilica of Zeno and Tiburtius.