A. Benenson and Letizia Pitigliani

Descending through dense overgrowth the author’s father enters the Inferiore, or older section of the Villa Torlonia catacombs. Directly above the catacombs is the stable of the Villa Torlonia, a squat, colonnaded building where Benito Mussolini lived. Father Umberto Fasola, an expert on the Torlonia catacombs, dates this part of the catacomb to the second century A.D. on the basis of the brick and tufa stone entryway. Fasola dates the Superiore or newer section of the catacombs (not shown) to the third century A.D. because he found a tile there with the imprint of the Emperor Septimius Severus (193–211 A.D.). Together, the galleries of the older and the newer sections cover over 5 1/2 miles.

Shortly after these photographs were taken in 1978, earth was dumped into the two sunken entryways, sealing the catacombs. The Vatican authorities, who are the present guardians of the catacombs, explain that the catacombs were sealed to protect them until their future custodians can be determined.