Vatican Necropolis

Vatican Underground Tours | Vatican Necropolis Tours & Tickets

What is Vatican Necropolis?

Deep in the depths of Vatican City lies an ancient Roman burial ground referred to as the Vatican Necropolis. The word necropolis is a Greek term, quite literally meaning the “city of the dead.” The Vatican Necropolis is located about 5 to 12 meters below St. Peter’s Basilica. Although hidden for many years, excavations during the 1940s revealed the existence of the necropolis. We’ve put together a guide to visiting the Vatican Necropolis including its origins, what to see, tips, & more! 

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Why Visit the Vatican Necropolis?

Vatican Necropolis
  • Discover ancient Roman burial grounds hidden beneath the grounds of Vatican City.
  • Explore a detailed network of mausoleums and tombs from the 1st and 4th centuries. 
  • Archaeologists believe that this site contains the original tomb of St. Peter himself! 
  • You will also get a close look at Emperor Constantine’s Temple, 15 mausoleums, and tombs from Pagan and Christian burial grounds. 

Your Vatican Necropolis Tickets Explained

Only around 250 visitors per day are permitted to enter the Necropolis. So, If you wish to visit the Vatican Necropolis, plan ahead. Purchase a Vatican Necropolis - Guided Tour so you can explore the Scavi with the help of a local guide.

  • With these tickets, you will be able to explore St. Peter's Basilica during the early morning hours.
  • Climb to the very top. From Michelangelo’s dome enjoy the unparalleled views of the rolling green Castelli Romani hills, the Tyrrhenian Sea, and the Vatican.
  • Make your way down to the Papal Sarcophagi along with an expert local guide who will provide you with interesting details and facts about the Papal Tombs
  • Choose from an English, Spanish, French, or Italian-speaking expert guide.
  • Super-Flexible Cancellation Policy: You can cancel up to 24 hours before the day of the tour for a full refund.

What's Inside the Vatican Necropolis?

Vatican Necropolis

Hidden beneath the treasured Basilica of St. Peter is the ancient city of the dead called the Vatican Necropolis. Excavations in the 1940s unearthed the remains of mausoleums, tombs, and even what is believed to be the grave of St. Peter himself. 

Inside the necropolis, you will find the 1st century Pagan burial site with small tombs made of clay and stone. Above this is a 5th century Pagan and Christian burial ground with many stone mausoleums and other ruins including a piece of a large arch. 

Between the two levels is a small mount with a hole dug into it, a spot believed to contain the bones of St. Peter, as well as the rock upon which the original basilica was first constructed. 

Origin of the Necropolis

Vatican Necropolis

Caligula’s Circus

The origins of the Vatican Necropolis are believed to date back to the time of the Etruscans buried the dead beyond the city walls. During this period, the law required bodies of the deceased to be buried outside of the urban area. This means that during its inception, this area was technically not a part of the city. They built a necropolis on a nearby bill called the Viaticum. The “city of the dead,” as its name suggests, primarily served as Pagan and Christian burial grounds, which were open-air sites.

After the Etruscan civilization fell to the Romans, the Vatican territory became part of the city of Rome. Emperor Caligula built a circus adjacent to the necropolis. The circus was used by Romans for horse races and games, as well as Christian martyrdom. A huge Egyptian obelisk was raised in the center of the circus, which stands today at St. Peter's Square.

Vatican Necropolis

Construction of Old St. Peter

According to tradition, the Apostle Peter was crucified by Emporer Nero between 64 or 67 AD in the Circus. It is believed, thanks to the necropolis' proximity to the Circus of Nero, that St. Peter is buried here. After the Edict of Milan in the year 313, Emperor Constantine began the construction of a commemorative basilica, that has come to be known as the Old St. Peter's Basilica. The basilica was located just above the supposed grave of the Apostle Peter. Emperor Constantine I excavated part of the necropolis to create enough flat land for the foundation of the church. As a result, the necropolis was filled with soil and building debris.

Excavations of the Necropolis

Excavations under St. Peter’s Basilica began in the 1940s and carried on until 1949, under the sponsorship of the Vatican. This work began at the request of then Pope Pius XI, who wished to be buried near the grave of Peter the Apostle. Initially, the excavation began with the aim of locating the actual burial site of St. Peter. 

After years of uncovering the remains of the site, certain areas of Emperor Constantine’s Basilica were found along with 15 mausoleums, and Pagan and Christian tombs. Many former Pope’s are also believed to be buried at the Vatican Necropolis making this site a holy one, visited by many every year. 

Vatican Necropolis

St. Peter’s Grave

St. Peter's Tomb, Vatican necropolis

Ancient tradition holds that the Apostle Peter was declared a martyr in the year 64 or 67, during the reign of Emperor Nero. It is believed that Peter was buried in the necropolis since it was close to the Circus of Nero - where he was martyred. Inside the necropolis is a small area named with the letter P, which archaeologists regard as the original burial site of the apostle. About a hundred years after the death of Peter, a shrine was constructed over his grave. The shrine is located adjacent to the Red Wall of the necropolis.

Plan Your Visit to Vatican Necropolis

Timings
Getting There
How to Visit the Vatican Necropolis?
Visitor Tips & Rules
Vatican Necropolis Timings
  • Monday-Friday: 9 AM to 6 PM
  • Saturday: 9 AM to 5 PM

The last visit starts at 3:30 PM (From April to September the last visit starts at 4.15 PM)

Closed: All Sundays and Vatican Holidays.

St. Peter's Basilica Timings
Getting to Necropolis
  • Metro: Take Line A of the Rome Metro. The closest station to the Vatican is the Ottaviano-S. Pietro station.
  • Train: Take the train from Roma Termini to the St Pietro train station.
  • Bus: Bus numbers 40 and 64 frequently stop at the Vatican. Buses 62 and 81 will also take you to the Vatican.
Vatican Necropolis

Requests to visit the Vatican Necropolis should be sent to the Excavations Office. If the person submitting the request is not the actual visitor, the visitor's name and e-mail address should be submitted along with the form.

The requests should be submitted in written form by faxing the form to 39 06 69873017, or by visiting the Excavations Office in person. The exact number of participants, names of participants, the language of the guide, possible dates that you would like to visit, and E-mail address, or fax number, or a complete postal address should also be provided.

Or, you can skip the hassle and book a guided tour ticket to the Necropolis.

Vatican Necropolis Rules
  • Reach the meeting point at least 10 minutes before the scheduled time of the visit.
  • The Necropolis is located beneath St. Peter's Basilica. And, the Necropolis is a sacred place. Dress appropriately.
  • Luggage, large bags backpacks /cameras have to be deposited in the locker area available to the right of the façade of the Basilica on the ground floor.

Map of the Necropolis

 

Vatican Necropolis

Necopolis Map Index

A. C Polilius Heracla

B. Tomb of Fannia Redempta

C. L Tullius Zethus

D. Opus Reticulatum

E. Aelii

F. The First Tomb of the Caetennii

G. Teacher

H. Tomb of the Valerii

I. Chariot

L. Caetennia Higia

M. Cristo Sole

N. Aebutii

O. Matucci

P. Field P

- Red Wall

- Shrine of St Peter (Trophy of Gaius)

- Graffiti Wall G (Bones of St Peter)

Q. Area for inhumation

R. Tomb R

S. Tomb S

T. Traebellena Flaccilla

U. Lucifer

V. Tomb V

Z. Tomb of the Egyptians

X.  Mausoleum Chi

Φ. Marci

Ψ. Mausoleum Psi

Virtual Tour of the Necropolis

If you can’t make it to the Vatican Necropolis in person, you can always take a virtual tour of this secret world hidden beneath St. Peter’s Basilica. 

The virtual tour of Vatican Necropolis takes you through all the major areas underground with just the click of a button. Navigate your way through the Necropolis with a 360° view, while on a virtual tour.

Visitor Tips

Here are some pro tips to keep in mind while planning your visit to Vatican Necropolis. 

  • Book your tickets early! Vatican Necropolis attracts many visitors every day and the tickets can sometimes be booked for months.
  • Vatican Necropolis allows only a maximum of 250 visitors per day. Plan your visit and book tickets in advance so you don’t miss out on this must-see attraction. 
  • Why wait in line when you can skip the line and head right in? Make sure you opt for a skip-the-line ticket so you can save time and energy on your visit. 
  • Tour groups include only a small number of approximately 12 people and access is granted strictly only to those who are 15 years of age and above.  
  • Choose a guided tour on your visit so you can learn about the history of the Vatican Necropolis while you explore it. The guided tours last for around one and a half hours. 
  • Keep in mind that the conditions at the Necropolis might not be suitable for all. The temperature and humidity are much higher underground so if you have any pre-existing health conditions, you might want to sit this one out. 

All Your Questions About Vatican Necropolis Answered

Q. Can you tour the Vatican necropolis?

A. Yes, you can visit the Vatican Necropolis and explore what’s inside.

Q. How do I get tickets to the Vatican Necropolis?

A. You can book tickets to the Vatican Necropolis directly with the Scavi office.

Q. Does my Vatican Scavi tour include a guided tour?

A. Yes, the Scavi institution provides a licensed guide to accompany visitors.   

Q. What are Vatican Necropolis hours?

A. The Vatican Necropolis is open between 9 AM and 6 PM from Monday to Friday and from 9 AM to 5 PM on Saturdays. It is closed on Sundays.

Q. Is photography allowed inside the Vatican Necropolis?

A. No. Photography is not permitted inside the Vatican Necropolis.

Q. Is the Vatican Necropolis wheelchair accessible?

A. No. Sadly, the underground ruins of the Vatican Necropolis are not accessible to people with reduced mobility.

Q. How long is the Vatican Necropolis Tour?

A. A tour of just the Vatican Necropolis takes about 1 - 2 hours.

Q. What is the difference between a cemetery and a necropolis?

A. A cemetery is a burial site for the deceased, while a necropolis is a large cemetery constructed in an elaborate manner, located outside the city. Necropolis or nekropolis, refers to the "city of the dead".