Wednesday, October 3, 2012


It is one of the oldest cities in all of civilization; it is a mystical, magical land, the scene of some of the most craven acts of humanity as well as the birth place of some of its greatest creations. It was the home of emperors, popes, warriors, and saints as well as artists. Is it any wonder then, that it is also purported to be one of the most haunted places in the world?


It should come with little surprise to learn that the Coliseum, the site where humans killed humans for the entertainment of other humans, is the home to the majority of paranormal activity reported in Rome. Perhaps one of the most recent, most abrupt, and most witnessed occurrences happened when a woman, having taken an evening tour of the ancient stadium, was trying to leave, only to have her hair yanked on and her body pulled back into the Coliseum. It took two members of her party to ‘dislodge’ whatever held her and rescue her from its clutches.

Other visitors have reported feelings of being pushed and touched, visions of apparitions seated—as if watching the Gladiators below—and walking up and down the steps. By far the profusion of reports concern sounds within the ancient ruins, that of humans crying, weeping and moaning, the clashing of swords, the shrieks of animals, and even the sound of cheering crowds.

The heartbeat of the ancient city of Rome, the Forum—a rectangular plaza surrounded by the city’s most important buildings, now the world’s most visited ruins—was considered the greatest meeting place in all of civilization. Now it’s considered one of the most haunted. Tales of its unearthly inhabitants date back to the 4th century when then pope Sylvester I was forced to exorcise the devil in the shape of a dragon. Current tales speak of spectral images, hard to see, however, for they only come out night and can only be seen in the scanty dark recesses of the areas around the Forum. But there, among the arches and columns, shadowy figures hover just inches about the earth, speaking and gesturing to unseen tormentors. Most say the figures look like ancient soldiers, no doubt those who lost their lives in defense of the city, of one emperor or another.

At least forty catacombs dot the landscape of Rome and the surrounding area, and ghostly occurrences have been reported in at least half of them. And it’s no wonder. These subterranean burial chambers are believed to have been the Christians’ answer to honoring their persecuted dead with a decent burial. Because of the dynamic composition of Rome’s soil…softening when exposed to air and then hardening once recovered—there are catacombs with kilometers of tunnels and up to four layers/levels.

When the catacombs were originally used and created in the second century, the bodies were clothed, wrapped in linen and placed in sarcophagi. But in a two-fold effort—to save space and to further show reverence—secondary burials were not unheard of and found great popularity. In the ossuaries of the Roman catacombs, the dead were dug up and their skeletons used to create archways of bones and shrines of skulls. When the catacombs were rediscovered (most archeologists pinpoint this at some time in the 16th century), the practice was seen as disrespectful and the bones were once more moved and once more buried. Now many believe this last upheaval has called forth the angry spirits to whom the skeletons belonged.

Many visitors complain of claustrophobia and severe feelings of panic that might easily be explained by the small, tight confines of the catacombs themselves. Not so easily dismissed are the specters reported floating in the corridors or the chilling sound of disembodied voices sluicing through the tunnels, groaning from the depths of the niches.

As the vagaries of life leave their eternal imprint upon our souls, so do our souls imprint the world in which we inhabit. Haunted places are no more than the evidence that we have been and we have been here.

No comments: