The houses and streets of modern Syracuse rise above an underground world, a dense network of tunnels carved directly into the stone: the catacombs, dating from 220 to 315 AD.
The custom of burying the dead in underground places was already known to the Etruscans, Jews and Romans, but underground cemeteries (hypogea) were born with Christianity, which were much more complex and larger, to accommodate an entire community in a single necropolis.
The catacombs were initially located outside the city because urban burial was prohibited by Roman law for religious and hygiene reasons.
The complex of the Syracusan catacombs, due to its importance and extent, is considered second only to that of Rome. It includes the Catacombs of St. Lucia , which housed the remains of St. Lucia, the Catacombs of Vigna Cassia and the Catacombs of San Giovanni.
The Syracusan catacombs developed in the area of the Acradina district, where the fossores, i.e. those who dug tunnels and tombs, used the tunnel system for water supply and adapted some of the places for kilns used in potters’ workshops.
The presence of Christian cemeteries confirms the city’s strong religious imprint. Though there is no historical evidence of the spread of the Christian religion in Syracuse, it is likely that the Syracusans learned of the Gospel message long before other cities in the West, precisely because of the strategic location of the city, which became a crossroads for ships heading from East to West.
Some scholars claim that St. Paul was the founder of Christianity in Syracuse, based on what is written in the Acts of the Apostles (28.11-13), where it is said that in the year 61 AD, a ship sailed from the island of Malta, landed at the port of Syracuse and stayed there for three days. On board, along with Luke was the Apostle Paul, who was being taken to Rome to be judged.