A town beneath the town. The Early Christian Necropolis in Pécs was inscribed on the UNSECO World Heritage List for a reason. The ancient Roman burial chambers is an extraordinary cultural attraction not only for archaeologists but for the public too.
The Roman provincial town of Sopianae was founded in the 2nd century. Its importance had grown over the decades and by the end of the 3rd century it had become the capital of Pannonia Valeria. The ancient town with inner parts surrounded by walls occupied the downtown area of today’s Pécs. It served as an administrative, economic and religious centre of the area. Just like in other parts of the empire, religious life was under continuous change. Deities of Roman mythology were first replaced by mystery cults in the 3rd century but after decades of persecution, Christianity had become the state church by the end of the 4th century. Roman rule had ended in 430 the latest with the arrival of Huns.
The sepulchral remains of early Christian inhabitants of Sopianae give us an insight into ancient Roman times. The first decorated chamber was found during the construction of the Jesuit abbey in Széchenyi Square in 1716, but it had not been preserved. Peter-Paul chamber was detected while digging the foundation for the Archives of the Cathedral Chapter in 1782. Since then, 25 chambers have been excavated (numbered by the order of detection). Many of them are exhibited for the public in Cella Septichora Visitor Centre.
Tha chambers are exceptional not only because their size and richness make them one of the major necropolises outside Italy but also because their richly decorated murals compare to those in Rome. Both small-sized, family chambers and larger buildings were discovered. Murals inside of outstanding quality depict Biblical themes using early Christian symbols. The most visited chambers include the Peter-Paul chamber, the Jug chamber, the Cella Trichora chapel (chapel with 3 apses) and the eponym Cella Septichora (with 7 apses) being the largest there.
The Early Christian Mausoleum is somewhat separate from the chambers. Excavation started in 1975 when the cascade in Szent István Square was under renovation. The upper part of the two-storey cemetery chapel served as a memorial chapel (cella memoriae) and the crypt as a burial chamber. The richly ornamented chamber hosted 3 sarcophagi.
The necropolis was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000.