The Vatican necropolis

The St. Peter’s Basilica is supposedly built on the spot where the grave of St. Peter was. Right now you don’t really see it, but the spot where the Basilica is situated is on a hill. This hill used to be a cemetery. So underneath the Basilica are a lot of Roman graves.

How much time should I spend here?2-3 hours
How much does it cost?It depends
How far from the city center?10 minutes
What modes of transport are available?Metro
What is the nearest subway stop?Ottaviano
Where can I find it?Google Maps link
Is there an official website?Click here
What can you combine it with?St. Peters Basilica

In the 20th century, the powers that be in the Vatican ordered the excavation of the necropolis (city of the dead) underneath the Basilica. Pope Pius XI wanted to be buried as close to St. Peter as possible, so locating the grave is a rather essential part of that endeavor.

So the Vatican started excavating the area underneath the Basilica. This was a rather sensitive job as the church above needed to stay intact, of course. And closing the place wasn’t really an option either.

The official scavi office.
The Scavi office.

As you can see on this picture on Wikipedia (look for the ‘S’) the grave of St. Peter is right where it was supposed to be. In the center of the church. When I went there, the guide was very clear about the degree of certainty she felt there was that this was actually the grave of St. Peter: It’s a matter of faith.

Now it is hard de describe what you’ll find once you enter what is essentially a 2000-year-old burial ground underneath the Vatican. The ancient Greek word necropolis (city of the death) is closest to what it feels like. Narrow streets with burial buildings to either side of the street. It’s safe to say you shouldn’t go here if you are claustrophobic.

The guide will take you through the excavated part of the cemetery until you end up at the grave of St. Peter. Now don’t think of anything grand. And there are a few ifs and buts to go along with this particular spot. But if you take that leap of faith – and I’m not saying whether you should or shouldn’t- then you are standing in the presence of Saint Peters remains.

This video by Yahoo news shows you (the dark part) the grave of St. Peter in 360 degrees. And in person, it feels pretty much like: dark and small.

Should I visit the excavations?

Well, if you are interested in history and/or religion, then I would say yes(!!). I can’t describe how special this place is, and the significance it has in history alone makes it worth a visit.

However, this is something you should do if you are in Rome for multiple days. Don’t go here if you are in a rush, it just won’t do you any good and the tour takes a good while.

This is one of the most special places in the Vatican you can visit. Both in the sense of the religious importance and the setting it is in. It’s safe to say you should not bring small children here. It just isn’t a suitable environment.

And then there is another matter: the daily amount of visitors is severely limited. There is a good chance you won’t be able to visit the excavations during your trip due to this limit. So if this is on your bucket list (it sure was on mine) then book as far ahead as you can.

As for where to book: please book through the official website of the Vatican. This saves you on cost and makes sure you won’t get scammed.

How to get to the excavation?

This is very cool: to get to the excavation office, you need to ask a Swiss Guard for permission to pass. So you get to interact with them. Yep, that made my day. And that is before you see the actual excavations.

To get to the Scavi office (Google maps link) you need to enter St. Peters Square and (when facing the Basilica) turn left instead of right. You’ll see a couple of metal detectors there too, same as on the right side. But these lead into the Vatican rather than the Basilica.

Be on time, but don’t show up here way too early. The officers manning the scanners will tell you to come back later if you are. Then ask the nice Swiss Guard if you can pass. He will want to see your ticket and your passport.

Then continue on straight along the side of the basilica towards the office of the excavations. Go inside and let them know you are there. You can buy a few postcards here too if you want to. But do that before you enter because you won’t return here after the tour.

Then just wait for your tour guide to arrive and make sure you don’t get lost in the city of the dead.

Stay in the Loop

Get the daily email from CryptoNews that makes reading the news actually enjoyable. Join our mailing list to stay in the loop to stay informed, for free.

Latest stories

You might also like...