vatican necropolis

Vatican Necropolis: All you need to know to visit St Peter’s Tomb


During the mid-20th century, excavations under the Vatican City revealed an amazing find. A necropolis, dating back to the 3rd century!

An old cemetery, one of many outside of the original city walls, was the resting place of many. St Peter was buried here after his martyrdom in ca. 64 AD. Despite laws protecting the Necropolis, the Emperor Constantine planned to build a Basilica on the site of St Peter’ final resting place. He had the area excavated, with orders to preserve St Peter’s tomb. The rest of the Necropolis became submerged in soil and debris during the construction, and largely forgotten.

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The Origin of the Vatican Necropolis

History

The Vatican Necropolis, which you can access with a Vatican Necropolis Scavi tour, is thus thousands of years old. Originally a pagan burial ground, a Vatican Necropolis tour will take you through different sections.

The pagan section dates back to the first century AD. By the 5th Century AD Christian mausoleums began to appear. The Necropolis is located on the Vatican Hill slopes, and in the mid-20th Century Pope Pius decided to excavate the area in order to find St Peter’s burial place. The Necropolis was therefore uncovered, and remains a site of much interest to this day.

Excavations

The excavations of Pope Pius in the 1940s unearthed a world of treasures. Numerous Mausoleums were discovered, each classified with different letters.

Later, in the early 2000s, more of the Necropolis was uncovered during the building of a car park.  The tombs under the Vatican are spread through 22 Mausoleums, and lead right through to the famous Field P. It is here that the apostle Peter is believed to be buried at St Peter’s Tomb.

The location is underground however is directly below the altar of the world renowned St Peter’s Basilica.

Why should you consider visiting the Necropolis?

What more important place in the entire Vatican City than the supposed final resting place of St Peter? Not as famous as the museums, the Basilica or the Sistine Chapel, a Vatican necropolis tour is well worth the money. It’s an exclusive experience, with entry on special agreement only. Vatican Scavi reservations are definitely hard to come by!

In addition, the conditions inside the Necropolis aren’t for everyone. It’s a bit claustrophobic for example, so not everyone wants to visit. Therefore, you can count yourself part of an exclusive group of people who have seen the remains of St Peter! You’ll just have to get past the Swiss Guards that guard the Vatican Necropolis entrance first!

vatican necropolis Swiss_Guard
Swiss_Guard

What to expect in the Vatican Necropolis ?

Whilst it would make good sense to try and tick off the whole of the Vatican in one day, we’d recommend against it. It is indeed possible, but you might feel a little tired and overwhelmed by the end of the day!

The Vatican Scavi Tour is awe inspiring, and from start to finish will take about 2 hours, perhaps 3-4 if you spend more time in the Vatican Grottoes. On top of that, you will want to take a tour of the Basilica too!

If you do all of this in combination with the Vatican Museum & Sistine Chapel, you’d be exhausted! The Vatican Museum needs at least 3 hours to do it justice. And that’s not including queuing for tickets if you didn’t prebook skip the line tickets to the Vatican.

If you do want to combine all together, we suggest you look at the Vatican gardens and Necropolis via triumphalis Tour, mentioned a bit later on this page.

How to get tickets to visit the Necropolis ?

Vatican Necropolis Entrance tickets

As we mentioned before, tickets are on a limited basis and subject to approval by the Scavi office.  Only 250 people max are permitted to enter each day. Of course, this is to preserve the ancient site from mass tourism destruction.

The Scavi website promises to accept all requests, provided there is enough space on the time slot requested. See here for more details as to how to apply for a slot directly with the Scavi office.

Tickets cost just €13 and include a full guided tour! What a deal!

Vatican Necropolis Scavi Tour

Due to the sensitive nature of the site, tour groups must be accompanied by a qualified guide. They are really knowledgeable about the area.  The groups are limited to sizes of 12 only. From the Vatican Necropolis entrance you will be led through the area, learning as you go. Finally, you will come to the Tomb of St Peter.

At the end of the tour, the tour guide will leave you to have a look around the Vatican Grottoes. This is not to be confused with the Necropolis, and is one level up. This is the resting place of many of the Popes through the ages.

Vatican gardens and Necropolis via Triumphalis Tour

If you want even more of an overview of the Necropolis, then check this out. The Vatican Gardens and Necropolis tour, including the Via Triumphalis, is a special treat. The Via Triumphalis is the route along which most of the Necropolis is found. As the name suggests, the tour will see a knowledgeable guide take you through the Vatican Gardens and Necropolis. The ticket also includes free access to the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel so is a good overall package.

Our Top tips to visit the Vatican Necropolis

  • Skip the Queue! If you have access to the Vatican Necropolis you will be able to skip the people queuing to get into the Basilica at the end of your tour!
  • Reserve early! Due to the limited space you might be disappointed if you don’t!
  • Pay by credit card. If you get confirmation you are accepted you will receive a link to do so.
  • Top Tip! The tickets are scarce and are reserved sometimes months before. If you can’t get one, show up anyway and ask if anyone has cancelled. You might get lucky!

Important information about the Vatican Necropolis

Pay attention to these rules – this is a sacred site so needs to be treated accordingly.

  • Appropriate dress – no skirts, shorts or bare shoulders
  • Important for families – no one under 15 years is allowed in!
  • Rucksacks are not permitted
  • Not suitable for those suffering claustrophobia
  • Not suitable for those who suffer from issues caused by damp atmosphere
vatican necropolis St Peter's Tomb
St_Peter's_Tomb

Vatican Necropolis opening hours

Open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm. Saturdays until 6pm

How to get to the Vatican Necropolis ?

The Vatican City is accessible by many different forms of transport. The entrance to the Vatican Necropolis can be found in St Peter’s Square, directly below the basilica.

By Metro, take line A to Ottaviano-S. Pietro. It will take just a few minutes to walk into the Vatican

By Train, the St Pietro Station is located about 10 minutes’ walk from the Vatican City

By Bus, Line 64 and 62 stop directly at the Vatican.  Don’t forget that many Hop on Hop off busses stop here too!

Walk – Of course, if you are near enough, you can walk to the Vatican City. Nearby Trastevere is a convenient location for example, with Passeggiata del Gianicolo offering some cool shade in the summer.

vatican necropolis Hop On Hop Off Bus
Hop_On_Hop_Off_Bus

FAQ – Vatican Necropolis

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Can you tour the Vatican necropolis?

You can tour the Necropolis only on Scavi office approval. You have to send a request ahead. only allows about 250 people per day to visit the Necropolis.

Can you visit the necropolis?

Yes you do. But remember that only 250 people per day are allowed to visit the Necropolis, and this in groups of 12-15 people.

How long is the Vatican Necropolis Tour?

Expect a visit of at least 1,5-2 hours.

Is the Scavi tour worth it?

It is if you’re into religion and don’t want to miss out apostle tomb’s and ancient Rome cemeteries.

Are all the popes buried in the Vatican?

Most of them, yes. But there are also Papal tombs in Rome’s major churches as other churches around Italy.

What is the difference between a cemetery and a necropolis?

Cemeteries are places where the deceased are buried, while a necropolis is a kind of large cemetery, but is usually found in places steeped in history or in ancient cities.

Conclusion

Thanks for reading this guide. Visit the Scavi website directly if you want, or look for special deals on Roma Pass. Here, you are able to get bolt-ons that you can’t buy directly from the Scavi website, such as audio guides and extended tours. One we would recommend is the Necropolis plus Basilica tour – this will really finish off the day nicely.

If you are interested in a tour of the Vatican Necropolis then you had better get working on it quickly to ensure you don’t miss your slot!

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