There is a close web of catacombs on the Island of Pianosa (Marina di Campo) dating back to the end of the IV century AD that was used as a burial ground as far back by the first Christian inhabitants that settled on the island.The catacombs have been carved out of the rocks along the coast, and are made up of a close web of quite large tunnels.There are more than 500 niches and 200 tunnels with, it is thought, not less than seven hundred people buried there, so this makes this the largest catacomb structure from the north of Rome upwards, and proves that the number of Christian settlers there was very high.
At that time access was through a small grotto near the sea, and a ancient mark cut out on the rock showed that was where the catacombs were, but only those who knew of the Christian settlement on the island, however, also knew of the mark, becase it was deliberately cut out in a hidden area of the antique port: it was a large cross with a flame above it, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, and a smaller cross showing the entrance.
The tombs are in one part of the catacombs, while another was proably made bigger later, where the family members could get together and the rites could be held.
Each tomb had three layers, but only the more important people had a basin shaped tomb, and this contained the other two. Due to shortage of space, the bodies were placed in the fetal position, and a stone slab covered each niche, on which the name of the dead person was engraved the wrong way round, so that from the inside he could read it the right way round.
A small mystery: Although these catacombs are clear proof of the fact that there was once a Christian settlement on the island, no written proof has ever been found. Not only that, despite the coins and relics of funishings that have been found, we know for sure that the island was abandoned in the I century, probably shortly after Agrippa's murder. Maybe this was too soon to justify the presence of such a high number of Christians.
Access is from the main street in Pianosa, just off the port. Go through a gate and you will see the attendant who will give you a detailed description of the history of the catacombs and how they were used, as well as some interesting anecdotes about the entire area.
Entrance fee: full price 5 euros - reduced 3 euros