Things to do in Rome

Vatican Necropolis Tour – Unearth Ancient Roman History Beneath St. Peter’s Basilica

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Just north of the City Center in Rome, is the world’s smallest country, Vatican City. Roughly one-eighth the size of Central Park in New York, this tiny country has a very rich cultural and religious history which attracts people from all over the globe. The Vatican is most famous for being the temporal seat of the Pope, the seat of Christianity. Apart from being a country of great religious, historical, and political significance, it is also a thronging tourist destination, with almost 6 million visitors passing through its gates every year. Some of Vatican City's most famous attractions include St. Peter’s Basilica, The Sistine Chapel and The Vatican Museums. However, if you're looking to try something different and unearth hidden secrets, a Vatican Necropolis tour should be on your agenda.

The Vatican Necropolis in a Nutshell


Must-See in Vatican Necropolis

  • 1st century AD Pagan burial ground
  • 5th century Christian stone mausoleums
  • Alleged tomb of St. Peter the Apostle

Opening Hours

Vatican Necropolis
  • Mon - Fri: 9:00 AM - 6:00 PM
  • Saturday: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
St. Peter's Basilica
  • April to September: 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM
  • October to March: 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM

What’s so incredible about the Vatican Necropolis?


Beneath the splendour of St. Peter's Basilica, over 2,000 years of Roman history lies buried. Located at a depth of five floors under the most visited church in the world, the Vatican Necropolis is one of the best kept secrets of the Vatican complex. A network of underground graves and mausoleums that were once open-air (not to be confused with the Roman Catacombs), the Vatican Necropolis is the site of many famous final resting places, including that of St. Peter the Apostle. In order to preserve this delicately balanced archaeological from decay, visits to the Necropolis is limited to around 250 visitors per day, in groups of not more than 12-15 people.

You must be wondering, “What is the Vatican Necropolis and why should I go there?” To answer that, you must first know what a ‘Necropolis’ is - it is a “large, designed cemetery or burial ground with intricate tomb monuments.” The Vatican Necropolis is especially famous as it is considered to be the final resting place of Saint Peter himself. Located about 5 stories below the architectural marvel that is St. Peter’s Basilica, the ruins of the necropolis date back to the founding of the Roman Empire.

The Necropolis was first discovered in the 1940’s when Pope Pius XI requested excavations to be carried out under St. Peter’s Basilica in order to find the remains of Saint Peter, long presumed to be buried under the church. The archaeologists in charge of the excavations instead found a burial ground dating all the way back to the 4th century. A series of mausoleums and Emperor Constantine’s Temple were unearthed along with the bone fragments, of whom most archaeologists believe to be, Saint Peter’s himself, one of Jesus Christ’s 12 Apostles.

The Vatican Necropolis was originally built on the slope of the Vatican Hill, right beside the Circus of Caligula. On your tour of the Necropolis, you will see 5th century Pagan and Christian burial grounds and pass about 15 mausoleums as you make your way up the hill, before you reach the site of St. Peter’s burial.

Vatican Necropolis Tours


If you are visiting the Vatican, Vatican tickets must be purchased online and in advance if you don't want to stand in lines for hours. Including a Vatican Necropolis - Guided Tour is a good choice since you will get to explore the Scavi with the help of a local guide who knows the place inside-out and skip the ticket lines as well.

What to expect at the Vatican Necropolis


Getting admission to the Necropolis is very difficult as access is highly restricted. Visits are allowed into the Necropolis from time to time with special permission granted by the ‘Fabbrica di San Pietro’ (Fabric of St. Peter) or the institution of the Roman Catholic Church responsible for the conservation and maintenance of St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums.

Due to its historical, religious and cultural importance, great measures are taken by the Fabbrica di San Pietro to preserve this holy place and protect its integrity. For this reason, only 200 people or so are allowed to visit the Necropolis per day, in groups consisting of no more than 12 people at a time. A special guide, appointed by the Church is in charge of this tour and will walk you through the entire history of the Necropolis and will also explain each nitty-gritty of this special area. A guided tour is something you should definitely go for, as you will be able to gain more insight into the history of the Necropolis from an expert, and be able to understand its significance. Another very important reason to take a guided tour - question and answer session! You can ask the guide all the question and doubts you have on your mind and he/she would be more than equipped and happy to answer them, thereby making your visit all the more fruitful.

Visiting Vatican City - All You Need to Know


Getting to Vatican City

1. Metro
The closest station to the Vatican is the Ottaviano-S. Pietro station. Line A of the Rome Metro stops at this station at regular intervals.

2. Train
The St Pietro train station is also an option and this train stop is perfect for those coming from Civitavecchia, the cruise port for Rome.

3. Bus
Bus numbers 40 and 64 frequently stop at the Vatican. Buses 62 and 81 also stop at the Vatican, although a little less frequently.

Timings

Vatican Necropolis
• Monday to Friday: 9:00 AM - 6:00 PM
• Saturday: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM

St. Peter's Basilica
• April to September - 7:00 AM AM to 7:00 PM
• October to March - 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM

Vatican Necropolis Tours - Insider Tips


  • In order to visit the Vatican Necropolis, you will need to make your reservation online. Ensure that you make your booking at least 3-4 weeks in advance in order to secure your place. The tickets for the Necropolis are high in demand and may get sold out if you book last minute. For a private tour, you will need to email the Fabric of Saint Peter directly.
  • The Vatican Necropolis is completely underground with little ventilation and is dimly lit. Also, the temperatures and humidity levels would be slightly higher than on ground, so those people who have any serious medical concerns or suffer from claustrophobia should not visit.
  • Since you will be entering a holy and sacred place, please make sure you wear appropriate clothing. For both men and women, knees and shoulders must be covered.
  • Avoid travelling during the high season! During the months of June - August, the entire city gets very crowded and the lines to enter could go on forever. Try visiting during the off season to make the most out of your limited time.
  • Note down all your questions beforehand as you may not get too much time to ask the guide during the tour.
  • Give yourself at least 1.5 hours for the entire tour. You do not want to rush past all the attractions and find yourself regretting it later.

Vatican Necropolis Tour FAQs


Where can I book a tour of the Vatican Necropolis?

Is a Vatican Necropolis tour included in my Vatican ticket?

What can I see on a tour of the Vatican Necropolis?

How many people can tour the Vatican Necropolis in a day?

What are Vatican Necropolis opening hours?

Where is the Vatican Necropolis located?

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The Vatican Necropolis