St. Peter’s Scavi: Unveiling the Necropolis under the Basilica

The ancient Vatican Necropolis was brought to light accidentally. The vast cemetery lays nearly 32 feet below St. Peter’s Basilica, under the Vatican Grottoes, and must not be confused with the Necropolis of Via Triumphalis an underground cemetery of members of the poorer classes, located between the Vatican City and Castel Sant’Angelo.
A very special tour, known as the Scavi Tour, is organized by the Excavation office of “La Fabbrica di San Pietro”. Visits take place from Monday to Saturday in small groups. Keep reading to discover the history and highlights of this sacred place!

Credits: image by @lorenzogallo
Location: under St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City Area
Tickets: Needed / For more info see Vatican Necropolis
Accessibility: Not Accessible
Restrictions for kids: they must be older than 15

Origins of St. Peter’s Scavi

It all started when Pope Pius XI asked to be buried as close as possible to the Tomb of St. Peter Apostle under St. Peter’s Basilica.

Works to enlarge the burial chamber of the Pope brought to life an entire necropolis. When the archaeologists started digging they discovered a double line of burial buildings, laying on one slope of the Vatican Hill. You must think about this necropolis as an open-air cemetery, hence very different from the catacombs.

The buildings were located one next to the other, decorated with paintings and mosaics. These details tell experts that these were private tombs of rich people in Rome.
The Vatican Necropolis was used for a very long time, probably from the 1st to the beginning of the 4th century.

Credits: image By digitalisiert von Mogadir – Pietro Zander; Fabbrica di San Pietro (Hrsg.): The Necropolis under St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.2010, ISBN 978-88-7369-081-8., CC BY 3.0, Link

St. Peter’s Shrine and Bones

The central point of the Vatican Necropolis Under St. Peter’s is the area archaeologists referred to as “Trophy of Gaius”, a shrine dating back to the 2nd century on the place where St. Peter’s was supposedly buried.

When St. Peter was crucified in the ancient circus of Nero, his remains were buried by christians in the bare ground next to a red wall, probably part of a Roman sepulchre.
The area was well known by believers and pilgrims who came from all over the world to this place to visit the tomb of the Apostle. So, 100 years later from St. Peter’s crucifixion, a small shrine supported by two columns was built to protect the sacred place.

Credits: image By digitalisiert von Mogadir – Pietro Zander; Fabbrica di San Pietro (Hrsg.): The Necropolis under St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.2010, ISBN 978-88-7369-081-8., CC BY 3.0, Link


Of course, there’s no DNA test we can run to be sure this place was the original tomb of St. Peter the Apostle, but there are many evidence in support of this statement.

100 years later another wall was built to mark the tomb. This wall is full of Latin graffiti and the name of St. Peter’s recurs several times.

Almost a century later, Emperor Constantine (Roman Emperor from 306 to 337 AD) had the first basilica built all around the original St. Peter’s shrine. The task was no peace of cake for Constantine. Indeed he had to overcome a huge problem: the slope of the Vatican hill, that required several terracing works. The determination to build Constantine’s Basilica exactly on that spot and not elsewhere in Rome, may be considered as another proof of the sacrality of the place.

Moreover, in a niche of the above-mentioned wall, the one covered with the graffiti, archaeologists have found the bones supposedly belonging to St. Peter. Today, what is supposed to know as the ancient shrine of St.Peter Apostle is buried underground below the main altar of the Basilica and Bernini’s Canopy.

How to visit the Vatican Necropolis

Visit to the Vatican Necropolis under the St Peter’s Basilica, also known as Tour of the Scavi, must be arranged directly with the Excavations Office.
Early reservation is highly recommended due to the limited number of people admitted at a time. Groups size vary from 10 to 15 people. The tour lasts 1,5 hours and is accessible only by people older than 15 years old.

The cost of the individual ticket, including the contribution for the Guide, is €13 (approximately $16.50 USD) No reductions in price will be given for any reason.

NOTE: the environmental conditions will be different underground, with possible increase of temperature and humidity. Those who suffer specific and serious physical problems that could be affected by these conditions, including claustrophobia, should not visit.

For further details and how to plan your visit see “Vatican Necropolis