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The Vatican Scavi Tour: Visiting the Necropolis of St. Peter’s Basilica

Updated on March 12, 2017
bdegiulio profile image

Traveling has always been one of my passions. It exposes us to new cultures, experiences, and makes the world a better, more tolerant place.

St. Peter's Square

St. Peter's Square
St. Peter's Square | Source

If you are visiting the Vatican as part of a trip to Italy there is a little known tour given by the Vatican that is worth taking. Called the Scavi Tour, this ninety minute guided tour takes visitors down into the lowest levels of St. Peters Basilica. This is not the “grotto” area that lies just beneath St. Peters where the monuments, chapels and tombs of past Popes and Italian dignitaries lie. The Scavi Tour goes down below the grotto to an area known as the “necropolis”.

And of what significance does this newly excavated area hold and why would one want to visit? In addition to being the site of an ancient pagan and Christian cemetery and burial ground from the 1st century, this is the presumed location of Saint Peter’s burial tomb. That’s right, Saint Peter, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ and the first recognized leader and Pope of the Catholic Church. This is perhaps the most sacred site within Vatican City and amazingly you can now visit it.

Vatican City

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Drawing showing the layout of the Necropolis under the Grotto and the Basilica

Layout of the Necropolis under the Grotto and St. Peter's Basilica
Layout of the Necropolis under the Grotto and St. Peter's Basilica | Source
Excavations (Scavi) Office entrance
Excavations (Scavi) Office entrance | Source

How to Visit the Necropolis

So how does one get to visit this sacred and revered area? You will need to plan ahead as the Vatican only allows about 250 people per day to visit the necropolis. The only way to get down there is with a Vatican led tour and each group is limited to approximately twelve visitors.

As you have probably already surmised, this is becoming a very popular and sort after ticket so you will need to request a reservation well in advance of your visit. Requests should be made in writing via e-mail or you can visit the Excavations Office at the Vatican in person, which may be difficult if you are traveling from outside of Rome.

For our visit we made the request via e-mail approximately three months prior to our visit. This tour is becoming very popular as more and more people find out about it and I would suggest that you make your request to the Vatican as soon as you have travel plans in place. The Vatican is very strict about limiting the number of visitors to the necropolis and you don’t want to miss out on this once in a lifetime opportunity.

The Hottest Ticket in Vatican City

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The necropolis was excavated in the 1930s and 1940s and it was at this time that the remains of a tall, slender man were uncovered here.

After intense study and debate, the Vatican has determined these remains to be those of St. Peter, upon which the magnificent St. Peter’s Basilica sits.

The official declaration was made in 1968 by Pope Paul VI who declared the remains and burial site to be those of St. Peter.

When making your request you MUST include the following information:

  1. Exact number of visitors.
  2. Full name of each member of your group.
  3. What language you would like the tour to be in.
  4. The possible dates that you are available to take the tour, listing more than one date will help to increase your chances. Date must be submitted in the following format: 23 December 2014.
  5. Your e-mail address, fax number or a postal address.

Send your request to: scavi@fsp.va, or if you prefer by fax to: +39 06 69873017

Roman Tomb

Interior of a Roman Tomb in the Necropolis
Interior of a Roman Tomb in the Necropolis | Source
Reconstruction of the area around St. Peter's Tomb
Reconstruction of the area around St. Peter's Tomb | Source

Do you think that the remains discovered under St. Peter's Basilica are indeed those of St. Peter?

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Tour Information

The cost to take the Scavi Tour is 13 euro per person and you will be asked to submit a credit card once your reservation has been approved. Be aware that you must be 15 years old or older so no children are allowed on this tour.

Before you go through all the trouble of arranging this tour please be advised that the conditions in the necropolis are very different from the rest of St. Peter’s Basilica. There is no air conditioning down there and the air can be very warm and humid. Also, most of the floor is dirt and stone and some of the spaces can be somewhat confining. Because you are entering a very sacred site you must be dressed respectfully, which means shoulders must be covered, long pants for men, and nothing above the knee for women. You are not allowed to bring large bags or backpacks with you and cameras and photos are absolutely prohibited, which is why I have no photos to share with you from our tour.

Roman Tomb

Roman Tomb close to St. Peter's Tomb
Roman Tomb close to St. Peter's Tomb | Source

Did you know?

Scavi is Italian for excavations.

Arrive Early

On the day of your tour you will need to arrive at least ten minutes prior to your assigned tour time. If you are like me you will arrive even earlier, just in case you get lost. There is a free bag check office at St. Peter’s to store your belongings but plan on travelling lightly on the day of your tour. The entrance to the Excavations office is through the colonnade to the left of St. Peter’s Basilica. You will have to go through a Swiss Guard station and they can help to point you to the Excavations Office. Don’t be intimidated, they’re only human and very helpful.

Vatican Necropolis

Vatican Necropolis
Vatican Necropolis | Source

Despite the restrictions and the somewhat uncomfortable conditions our tour of the necropolis was absolutely one of the highlights of our visit to Italy. Hearing the history of the ancient burial place and the clues and evidence that led the Vatican to determine that this was indeed the final resting place of Saint Peter is a truly remarkable story. In addition to St. Peters tomb there are a number of other Christian tombs, burial vaults, frescoes, mosaics and mausoleums from the second century BC and this makes for a fascinating historical tour. Plan ahead, arrive early, and enjoy your tour of one of the most sacred sites of Christianity.

Ciao for now.

© 2014 Bill De Giulio

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    • bdegiulio profile image
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      Bill De Giulio 2 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Charito. Seeing the Vatican and St. Peter's is a must see on any trip to Rome. I would also consider the Scavi Tour a must do also. I hope you make it there soon. It's worth the effort and sacrifice to visit Rome and the Vatican. Thanks so much for stopping by to comment, have a wonderful day.

    • Charito1962 profile image

      Charito Maranan-Montecillo 2 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      Hello, Bill! I just want to let you know that if there's one place in the world I'd like to visit before I die, it's the Vatican - where I can truly feel my Catholic faith! And of course, I've got to see St. Peter's Basilica!

      The Scavi Tour sure sounds interesting. I'll definitely take it if I ever reach Rome which is the seat of Christianity.

      Thanks for this hub!

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 2 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Mary. Next time you are in Rome try to take this tour. You have to arrange it ahead of time so plan accordingly. This was amazing. They take you down under St. Peters to where they believe Peter was buried. It's a fascinating tour.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      What a great addition to your visit. I had been in Rome several times but I don't I have done this. I will make sure next time to arrange one.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 2 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Glimmer. Thank you. It is tough keeping up here when you work either part time or full time. I know I am way, way behind.

      This tour was fascinating. It's amazing what's under St. Peter's Cathedral. Whether or not this is indeed the burial tomb of St. Peter it is still amazing to go down there and look around. Great to see you here, a Happy Thanksgiving to you also.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Glimmer Twin Fan 2 years ago

      I haven't been around for a while since I got a part time office job a few months ago and started some freelance work so I am just now catching up with unread hubs of folks I follow. This tour sounds fascinating. I did the standard tourist tour many many years ago, but I can imagine how much more interesting this one would be. A great hub Bill. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 2 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Anne. I have to say that it was an amazing experience. It's unbelievable what's right under the Basilica. I hope you get there soon, it's worth the effort. Thanks for stopping by, have a nice weekend.

    • Anne Harrison profile image

      Anne Harrison 2 years ago from Australia

      I so wish to do this - it has been on my bucket list a long time. The photos are amazing. I never realised the necropolis was right under the Basilica! There is always something more to discover in Rome….

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 2 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Linda. Thank you. We really enjoyed this tour. It's amazing how they have pieced together the history of St. Peter's Basilica and how things changed over the centuries. Certainly worth the effort if you get to Rome. Thanks for stopping by, have a great week.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 2 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Mona. Thank you. It certainly was a fascinating tour to take. You would be amazed the extent of what is beneath St. Peter's Basilica and I'm sure they've only scratched the surface of what is down there. Have a great week.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is very interesting, Bill. What a wonderful place to explore ancient history! Thank you for sharing the information about how to visit the Necropolis. I will definitely do this if I'm ever lucky enough to visit Italy.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 years ago from Philippines

      Sounds like a fantastic tour. Thanks for the information. You made it seem like I was walking right through there.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 2 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Suzie. Thank you. I hope you are doing well and continuing to recover. You and Bill make me laugh :). For now I'll continue to write about my travels and see where it takes me. We are heading to France this fall, not our usual destination but we are looking forward it.

      Great to see you here and I look forward to you resuming writing when you are ready.

    • Suzie HQ profile image

      Suzanne Ridgeway 2 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Hi Bill,

      What a pleasure to read and see how your work has continued to develop and grow. This is a thoroughly superb put together guide of the Scavi tour for all to see. I would love to take this tour when next in Rome and with your heads up on planning you have made it an unmissable experience.

      Hope you are keeping well my friend and great to see you writing more travel pieces for that book!

      I will be like Bill seeing your book in print and saying I know him!

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 2 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Patty. Thanks, it was a fascinating tour that we really enjoyed. The Vatican has some amazing things to see.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 2 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Dianna, it is somewhat of an adventure going down into the necropolis. Certainly a once in a lifetime opportunity. Thanks for stopping by, enjoy the rest of the weekend.

    • pattyknap profile image

      pattyknap 2 years ago from Long Island, NY

      sounds fascinating

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 2 years ago

      Sounds like an adventure I would enjoy to visit this place. Thanks for bringing this little known secret to light.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 2 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Cassandra. Thanks for stopping by and welcome to HubPages. The Vatican is a good one to have on your list, as is the rest of Italy. :)

    • CassandraCae profile image

      Cassandra Kuthy 2 years ago from Ohio

      Vatican City is definitely on my to do list.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 2 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi ologsinquito. I think you are correct in that many people do not realize that Saint Peter was the first Pope of the Catholic Church. After taking this tour and researching on my own I do think there is sufficient evidence to conclude that this site is indeed the burial tomb of St. Peter. Pretty amazing stuff.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 2 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Bill. If I do ever get to that point I will have you to thank. You have laid out the process for me so when the times comes all I have to do is to follow the path you have laid out in front of me.

      Hope you have a wonderful weekend.

    • bdegiulio profile image
      Author

      Bill De Giulio 2 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Flourish. I can't tell you how excited I was when we were notified that our request was approved. This was the highlight of our visit to the Vatican. If you ever plan to visit Rome put this on your "must see" list. Thanks for stopping by, have a great weekend.

    • ologsinquito profile image

      ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

      It's good to get the information out that Saint Peter, the Apostle, was our first Pope. A lot of people, Catholics included, do not know this. If more people knew this, perhaps they would not leave the Catholic Church, founded by Christ in the year 33 AD.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Your book continues to grow and take shape. One of these days I'll see your work at the local bookstore, and I'll be able to say "I knew him when...."

      Have a great weekend my friend, and job well done.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      I absolutely want to go! Great hub! Shared, voted up and more, plus pinning. I love this type of "inside information" with respect to travel.