Last updated on August 18, 2023 by Wandering our World
Rome, the eternal city of captivating history and timeless beauty, has long been a magnet for travelers seeking to unravel its iconic wonders.
But beyond the well-trodden paths that lead to the Colosseum, Vatican City, and the Trevi Fountain lies a world of secret treasures waiting to be discovered.
For the intrepid souls who yearn to veer off the beaten track, Rome’s offbeat attractions promise an enchanting journey into the city’s lesser-known, yet equally captivating, corners.
So let’s trade in familiarity for something a little more unexpected, and step away from the crowded tourist scenes we’ve seen a dozen times before. From ancient underground crypts to monuments plagued with morbid pasts, we want to explore what’s hidden in quiet alleyways in the dark side of tourism in Rome.
Each of these offbeat gems offers a unique perspective on the city’s multifaceted history and vibrant culture.
So, lace up your walking shoes and open your heart to a Rome less traveled – where stories of the past and the pulse of the present intertwine to create an unforgettable adventure through Rome’s best dark tourism destinations.
The Macabre, Strange & Interesting Dark Tourism Destinations of Rome!
1. The Colosseum
Centuries ago, the Romans sat at the head of the metaphorical global table, with an unfathomable infrastructure and society that in some instances outdoes modern times.
But unlike modern society, the world of technology was somewhat premature. Instead of being able to widdle away mindless hours watching TikToks and Youtube videos, the Romans had to find something interesting to pass the time.
Ancient Ampitheatres began to spring up, and the cities would flock in droves to the stands to watch Gladiators battle to the death.
The Colosseum is considered today, one of the first Dark Tourism destinations on earth, not just Rome. Its visitors were not drawn there for theatrics. They wanted to witness the guts and glory of heart-stopping brawls, which often had a bloody ending.
It’s only recently as historians delve deeper into the history and significance of the Colosseum, that the morbid horrors became apparent. Beneath the ring sat a maze of prison cells, in which unwilling slaves and animals were kept and tortured. Death not only plagued the surface, but lingered beneath the soil as well.
While the Colosseum was eventually left to ruin, it became one of Rome’s most popular tourist destinations. With some modern adjustments, guests can step onto ancient turf and feel the breath catch in their throat.
Aside from the jaw-dropping architectural feats, as you listen to helpful tourist guides regale on Greek Tragedies, the silence that clings to this ancient stone relic begins to surface a new meaning.
It may have once been a popular entertainment destination, but that will never hide from the fact that thousands of people died here, all in the name of sport.
Location: The Colosseum, Rome, Italy
Tags: Dark History
2. Torre Argentina
Largo di Torre Argentina was unearthed as part of Bento Mussolini’s effort to rebuild the great city of Rome in 1929.
Four distinct temples revealed themselve, and after becoming a fascination to archaeologists and historians alike, it was rumored that these ruins were part of the very same complex in which Julius Caeser was so infamously stabbed by Brutus.
It’s perhaps one of the most famed Greek Tragedies to date, and is still reinacted in theatres across the world today.
Unfortunately, Mussolini’s mission didn’t get too much further, leaving the ruins standing empty just long enough for the self-proclaimed royalty of domesticated animals to turn it into a permanent home.
That’s right, the cats that sleep on every sun-soaked stone in Italy have turned the ruins of Julius Caeser’s murder site into their cosy new abode.
But don’t worry, the city isn’t allowing the population to grow unchecked. In fact, the ruins have become a sanctuary that caters mainly to ferals with special needs.
The gattare, or as we know them today, childless millennial females, take very good care of the feral population, ensuring they’re well fed and happy in their home.
It’s a wholesome ending for a murder site, if only someone would convert the Amityville Horror House into a puppy rescue!
Location: 1-41 Via di Torre Argentina, Rome, Italy
Tags: Dark History
3. Domus Aurea
Now this a destination that’s definitely NSFW, at least if you attended an event here several hundred years ago.
Emperor Nero built the Domus Aurea as a grand palace to sit on the Oppian Hill. Although it’s a palace fit for royalty, Nero hardly saw it as a permanent abode, instead frequenting it as a leisurely hideaway whenever he felt fit.
While most royalty prefer to soak up their lavished lifestyles with luxurious parties and extravagant ownership, Nero… Well. Nero took a different turn. For anyone who visited the Domus Aurea, they’d say it is the pinnacle of opulence, stacked with ivory, marble and mosaic.
But it was a site that caused ridicule amongst Nero’s followed due to the type of entertaining that happened behind closed doors. Basically, whenever Nero was around, you could expect to find a trail of ladies (and sometimes men) and a sock attached to the door knob.
Ah yes, this mad King was quite shameless. In fact, in a last ditch attempt to bury the shame of the Nero’s Dome of Pleasure, his pride and joy were buried under constant construction.
Ironically, this just kept the frescoed halls in perfect condition until it was rediscovered by chance again some centuries later. Until its immaculately kept halls began to corrupt to outside exposure.
The intricate details were destroyed, and all that stands now is a shell of the former pleasure house it used to be, with some interesting graffiti courtesy of Casanova, mind you.
It’s open to tours, and as it might be a struggle to picture the ruins as some ancient version of Christian Gray’s Red Room, you may need is an imagination equally as wild as Nero’s.
Location: Via della Domus Aurea, 1, Rome, Italy
Tags: Obscure Tourism
4. Museum of the Holy Souls of Purgatory
To anyone with a slight sense of world history, you’d know that Rome is amongst one of the holiest places in the world, thanks to the Vatican City being so nicely confined within the city limits.
So it’s no surprise that you’ll find quite an intricate maze of religious tourism to navigate. And yes, while the stunning churches and
The Museum of the Holy Souls of Purgatory is an eerie destination that holds a lot of unanswered questions. It’s a tribute to the ancient Catholic belief that when you pass, your soul sits in a strange state of inbetween. Your soul can only ascend from Purgatory, if it can atone for its sins.
This was rumored to be further urged along by the prayers of still living loved ones. Strangely enough, a similar belief exists elsewhere where Catholicism is quite prominent. Maybe Disney’s Coco was on to something?
Anyway! It is said that some souls are able to make their presence known by reaching through the veil of life and death. It is because of this, that the exhibits of the Museum of Holy Souls of Purgatory was made possible.
Cloth, singed with the handmark of an unknown entity, pages of books with seared paper. The small but intriguing collection really makes you ponder about the blurry line between life and death, and whether there is indeed some kind of afterlife to look forward to.
As if our quarter-life crises were not enough, add a little existential crisis to that Roman Holiday, would ya?
Location: Lungotevere Prati 12, Rome, Italy
Tags: Dark Tourism, Religious Tourism
5. Mausoleum of Augustus
The Romans knew how to live and die with flare, after all, look at all the theatrics involved with Julius Caeser’s assassination! Well, we can blame the first Emporer of Rome, Augustus for that.
In fact, after a trip to Egypt in 28 BC, Augustus felt quite deeply that he’d like to do as the Egyptians do, and wanted to build himself some sort of monolith to remember his legacy by.
Thus construction on Augustus’ Mausoleum began.
Today, the ruins of his colossal burial site stand as a waypoint in the centre of Rome, right by the Tiber River. It is the final resting place to several of Rome’s leaders, with Augustus being the first, and Nerva being the last.
The site sat dormant, and privy to ruin from 98 AC up until the early 20th century when it was briefly used as a concert hall. Eventually it was restored, or somewhat at least, to its rightful purpose as a tomb of Kings. If you ever find yourself in the area, take a moment to admire the stunning intricacy of detail that went into this glorified graveyard.
And take a moment of silence for the former rulers of Rome, after all, they changed the history of the modern world indefinitely.
Location: 61 Via Mario Dè Fiori, Rome, Italy
Tags: Grave Tourism
6. The Catacombs of San Sebastian
The Catacombs of San Sebastian lie nestled along the 6 kilometer stretch of Via Appia. In 350 AC, the remains of the martyr Saint Sebastian were put to rest at this site, in a basilica built to commemorate and honor him.
It was amongst one of the first of its kind, starting a long-standing burial tradition with deeply embedded roots in the Christian faith to this day. Without the Catacombs of San Sebastian, we wouldn’t have half the global dark tourism sites that attract thousands of visitors year round.
The walls of the catacombs are adorned with frescoes and inscriptions that depict scenes from the Bible and Christian symbolism. And throughout the years it started to gain a niche collection of items including a set of marble footprints said to be from Jesus himself.
You don’t have to be a Christian to admire the delicate details put into this monument, which, for the time, was quite an incredible feat! Guided tours are available which will lead you through the hallowed tunnels where you can gaze at the religious artistry that adorns its walls, and hear stories about its significance throughout history.
Aside from the eerie passages though, there’s nothing entirely “dark” about visiting this catacomb. That is, if you can get past the fact that there’s a bunch of bones buried behind the walls that surround you.
Location: Via Appia Antica 136, Rome, Italy
Tags: Grave Tourism
7. Ospedale delle Bambole
Taking a stretch beyond the religious relics of Rome, we want to introduce you to a destination that’s as wholesome as it is disturbing. Ospedale delle Bambole, which translates to “the Doll Hospital” is exactly what it sounds like.
And luckily for those with Pediophobia, a fear of inanimate humanlike objects (thanks Annabelle), this creepy little store is tucked away in a cobblestone alley that most tourists don’t know to look for. But for those of us fascinated by the strange and let’s face it, downright creepy, this is the spot for you!
While the motive behind this destination is far less sinister, we can’t help but shudder at the mirage of dolls heads in different states of disrepair staring at you through the glass window.
If you step inside, you’ll instantly feel the gaze of hundreds of porcelain and plastic dolls burrowing in to you. This small little shop is actually a tiny workspace run by a mother-son duo who’s main priority is to restore porcelain dolls and objects to their former glory.
For collectors, it’s a paradise!
Location: 29 Via Ripetta at Via del Vantaggio, Rome, Italy
Tags: Obscure Tourism
8. Museo Storico Nazionale Dell’ Arte Sanitaria
The Museo Storico Nazionale Dell’ Arte Sanitaria is a well hidden part of the history of Rome, namely its medical history. It’s found quite close to Vatican City, and is an often overlooked tourist attraction that not too many people have heard about.
It is part of the Santo Spirito in Sassia, a 12th century learning hospital, and has converted the student ampitheatre into a mirage of exhibits. Museums like this, while macabre to some, are vital in showing the history of medicine, and can be quite eyeopening in terms of our evolution to modern medicines today.
From the porcelain anatomical recreations of the 17th century, to full recreations of alchemy labs and pharmacies, this museum is definitely worth a visit for anyone with a fascination for the medical field. Or just plain morbid curiosity.
Some of the exhibits are quite lifelike, so we do advise that it’s not a tourist attraction for the faint of heart. After all, standard medical practices up until the 21st century included labotomies and some other unbelievably strange operations that fit straight into a torture playbook.
Location: Lungotevere in Sassia, 3, Rome, Italy
Tags: Dark History, Obscure Tourism
9. Santa Maria della Concezione Crypts
Visiting the Santa Maria della Concezione Crypts is an experience that transcends the realm of the ordinary. It is a place that is equally as haunting as it is awe-inspiring!
Located beneath the Church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini in Rome, Italy, these crypts are renowned for their unique and macabre decoration. The remains of Capuchin friars have been artistically arranged to create intricate designs on the walls and ceilings, much like the Paris Catacombs!
Built in the 17th century, Baroque artists and architects took inspiration from the delicate line between life and death.
While the original point of the crypts were to give the Capuchin friars a final resting place, those tasked with the assignment took their artistic liberties to the next level, creating macabre murals made from skulls and femurs, and even human bone chandeliers!
While the intricacy and attention to detail might be enough to steal your breath away, one thing is undeniable – the Santa Maria della Concezione Crypts are a stark reminder of the afterlife. The bone decor within the crypts hold deep symbolic meaning. They serve as a visual representation of the cycle of life and death.
They are open to the public, and tours are not only welcomed, but encouraged. In fact, the crypts have become a significant cultural and historical site in Rome, capturing the imaginations of tourists of all kinds. But, of course, this destination holds a special place in the hearts of Dark Tourism lovers.
Location: Via Vittorio Veneto, Rome, Italy
Tags: Dark Tourism, Grave Tourism
10. Cimitero Monumentale del Verano
It goes without saying that the majority of Rome’s dark tourism industry thrives off their bountiful burial sites. Cimitero Monumentale del Verano is no exception, and has become a much beloved offbeat destination for lovers of art, architecture, and death. What a combination!
Established in response to the increasing need for burial spaces in a growing city, the cemetery emerged during a period marked by profound cultural changes. As a result, it not only became a final resting place but also a reflection of evolving architectural and artistic trends that shaped the era.
It seems that everybody in Rome wants a lavish burial site of their own! The influences here are as diverse as the people they commemorate, from Art Nouveau to Gothic, the monuments, masauleums and statues make this cemetery a sight to behold!
It’s an attraction that’s now packed with symbolism and for art lovers, or people who simply enjoy a good riddle, it’s interesting to try and decipher the deeper meaning behind each intricate detail engraved in the tombstones.
The cemetery serves as a quiet oasis where history and art entwine, and it’s a good way to remind yourself of the fragility of life. And as far as cemeteries go, this well-maintained and beautiful dedication to the deceased is not as creepy as you’d hope.
But, if there’s ever a zombie uprising, Cimitero Monumentale del Verano wouldn’t be the worst place to get eaten alive.
Location: Piazzale del Verano, 1, 00185 Roma RM, Italy
Tags: Grave Tourism