The Vatican Necropolis

The Vatican Necropolis is an ancient burial ground situated beneath Vatican City, close to the foundations of St. Peter's Basilica. Holding immense historical and cultural significance, it has become a site of pilgrimage and study, offering a window to the past civilizations of Rome. A Vatican Necropolis tour means going to the excavation site where St. Peter's bones are located, and can only be granted by the Vatican’s Excavations Office itself (Ufficio Savi). The price per person to visit the Vatican Necropolis, also known as a Scavi tour is €13.

The crypt where the Papal tombs are located is a different thing, being the first level below St. Peter's Basilica where the tombs of the Popes are located. Anyone can enter the crypt and see the Papal tombs while touring the Basilica itself.

Scavi Tour to the Tomb of St. Peter's & Tour of St. Peter's Basilica


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Join a small-group tour of the Vatican Necropolis and St. Peter's Basilica, where you'll skip the long lines and explore ancient tombs and artifacts with an expert guide, learning about centuries of history before marveling at Renaissance masterpieces, all with a group capped at six for a personalized experience. The price of this tour does not include the entrance cost to the attractions.


  • Scavi Vatican Necropolis tour
  • St. Peter's Basilica guided tour

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Historical context and significance

The Vatican Necropolis, or "city of the dead," comprises a series of burial sites that date back to the Imperial Roman period. It is believed to include the grave of Saint Peter, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, making it a site of profound historical importance to Christians. The tombs within the Necropolis reflect a mix of both pagan and Christian burials, illuminating the religious transitions of ancient Rome.

Cultural and religious impact

This site's influence extends beyond its archaeological value. As the purported burial place of Saint Peter, the Necropolis is a point of convergence for religious devotion and Christian history. The presence of early Christian burials alongside pagan ones provides a cultural mosaic, evidencing the coexistence and transformation of religious practices in Rome.

Excavation and research

Archaeological excavations began in the 1940s at the request of Pope Pius XI and revealed the complexity of the Necropolis, including multilayered strata of cemeteries and graves spanning various historical periods. Continuous research and preservation efforts help enrich our understanding of the site's historical layers.

Visitor experience

Visitors to the Vatican Necropolis can explore this underground cemetery by special guided tours, which must be arranged in advance. The experience offers a rare glimpse into ancient Rome's burial practices, with well-preserved tombs displaying intricate inscriptions, mosaics, and artifacts that paint a vivid picture of the past.

Architecture and artifacts

The architecture and artifacts of the Vatican Necropolis are reflective of ancient Roman burial customs, with structures and relics dating back to Imperial times. This subterranean site includes intricate tombs and is adorned with valuable frescoes, mosaics, and inscriptions. Conservation challenges are significant due to environmental conditions, such as humidity and temperature variations, which can adversely affect delicate materials. Efforts have been made to ensure the stabilization and restoration of mausoleums, with special attention given to the preservation of paints and structural integrity.

The tombs of Popes and notables

The Vatican Necropolis is renowned for housing the tombs of popes and notables, including what is traditionally believed to be the tomb of St. Peter himself. This lends the site both cultural and religious importance. To protect these sacred and historic tombs, the Vatican has implemented strict access control, with limited visitor numbers managed by the Swiss Guard. Additionally, ongoing maintenance and conservation efforts are pivotal to prevent deterioration, and include monitoring techniques to detect any potential issues early. Preservation practices aim to balance public interest with the sanctity and historical value of the necropolis.

Rome Underground Heritage

Within Rome's environs, speaking to a broader aspect of subterranean heritage, are the Catacombs of Rome. These underground burial places have a distinct narrative that parallels the Vatican's own internment customs:

  • Domitilla, Callixtus, and Sebastian – Domitilla, Callixtus, and Sebastian
  • Jewish Catacombs – Evidence of the coexistence and the customs of Jewish communities in ancient Rome.

The catacombs exemplify the ancient Roman tradition of interring the deceased beneath the earth, mirroring the late-antique practices witnessed in the Vatican's own Necropolis. Hence, the Vatican, surrounded by and including such sites of antiquity, stands as an enduring symbol of cultural and historical preservation.

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