The Vatican Necropolis is located beneath the Vatican City, or more precisely beneath St. Peter's Basilica. The location was found in the early years of Pius XII Pacelli's presidency (1940–1949), when he conducted a number of archaeological investigations in the vicinity of the Vatican Confession and in the heart of the Sacred Caves.
Visitors are directed down three levels upon having entered the Scavi, or Vatican Necropolis, to a pagan burial site from the first century AD with a few modest clay and stone archives, then to a combined pagan and Christian burial ground from the fifth century with many moderate sized stone mausolea and other ruins, including a broken portion of a large arch. In general, these two levels and the periods in which they would have been used account for nearly 90% of the Roman Empire's existence. These levels are separated by a tiny earthen mound with a hole in it that is lighted, loosely gated off, and said to contain St. Peter's bones.
This maze has the papal grotto as well as an early Christian chapel from the 12th century that has roof vents that extend into the basilica's floor.
We must go back to the era of the Etruscans, centuries before Rome was created, in order to truly comprehend the necropolis. This civilization constructed a necropolis on a neighboring hill, guarded by the goddess Vatika, and the hamlet on the hill was known as Vaticum. This civilization typically interred its dead outside of the city walls. According to all accounts, the Etruscans were the first people to live on Vatican Hill and Christianity was not involved at all.
The land of the Vatican joined the city of Rome after the Etruscan civilization was conquered by the Romans. The region was mostly unaltered until Caligula constructed a circus, which the Romans used for Christian martyrdoms as well as horse races and sports. Between 64 and 67 AD, St. Peter was crucified by Nero in this same circus and was afterwards buried in the necropolis.
The mausoleum became a place of pilgrimage. In the wake of the Edict of Milan in the year 313, Constantine the Great commanded the construction of a memorial basilica. The necropolis was dug up to create room for the new church's foundations, leaving it below floor level. The construction process took 30 years, and the new building quickly became the location for papal coronations.
The construction of St. Peter's Basilica, which would take more than a century to complete, was started by Pope Julius II in 1506. The grave of Saint Peter, however, was absent from the basilica. Since the basilica has two floors, excavation efforts to find the apostle's bones were conducted during the 20th century and were challenging. The oldest layer contains the ancient necropolis, while the Vatican Grottoes, a church-like necropolis with three naves, tunnels, and chapels, are found in the higher layer. Due to all of this, it was difficult to locate the saint's final burial site.
In a 100-meter length, excavation work beneath the Vatican has so far revealed a total of 22 mausoleums, all of which are connected by a central channel and are lavishly decorated with mosaics, murals, and lovely sarcophagi. The tomb of the apostle, however, was one of the best kept secrets of the Vatican Necropolis.The riddle started to come together ten years after the excavations first began. Evidence showed that in the fourth century, Constantine the Great carried the bones from the first niche to the new church, where they were laid out in a purple shroud sewn with gold thread. It wasn't until 1952 that a piece of the 'Red Wall' in the necropolis offered unambiguous proof. "Peter is inside," the caption reads in Greek letters.
Emperor Nero accused the Christians for a large fire that broke out in Rome in the year 64 AD. As a result, St. Peter, who was regarded as the head of the Christians, was crucified. He was eventually laid to rest not far from where he passed away in the Vatican Necropolis. To honor St. Peter's passing, Emperor Constantine I commissioned the building of a large basilica in 326 AD. The saint's last burial site at the Vatican Necropolis was covered by this ancient church.
Pope Julius II, who sought to maintain the reverence of St. Peter's burial site, erected a new church on the same location following the destruction of Old St. Peter's Basilica. The new St. Peter's Basilica, which was built in the 15th century, now contains the revered grave of the Apostle within the Vatican Necropolis under its grounds.
Michelangelo made sure that the dome of the Basilica was built over St. Peter's Tomb when he was designing the Basilica. Both of these structures, which were constructed just above the tomb and even the Baldacchino created by Bernini, signify the great regard in which St. Peter is held. Pope Pius XI requested to be interred next to the St. Peter Tomb, which led to the area's renown as a cemetery. There are now 91 Popes and other notable people buried at the Vatican Necropolis.
Timings: Mondays to Fridays: 9.00 AM - 6.00 PM. Saturday: 09.00 AM- 05.00 PM
Last entry: April to September: 04.15 PM October to March: 03.00 PM
Location: Piazza San Pietro, 00120 Città del Vaticano, Vatican City
Purchase your Vatican Necropolis tour tickets in advance since there is a daily limit of 250 people to the Necropolis.
Select a guided tour to discover the Vatican Necropolis while learning everything there is to know about it.
Only people aged 15 and up are permitted access.
You won't be turned away if you adhere to the dress code.
Please leave your bags, luggage, parcels, and containers in the cloakroom.
Arrive at the meeting location at least ten minutes before the visit.
The Vatican Necropolis is an ancient Christian cemetery, home to the tombs of some of the most important saints in Christianity, including Peter the Apostle.
The Vatican Necropolis sprawls about 5-12 meters underneath the Vatican City. It is located below even the Vatican Grottoes, which house Papal crypts and are located directly beneath the Basilica.
Just the Vatican Necropolis tour in itself would take about 1-2 hours. However, touring the entire city should take up one entire day, if one is planning to visit the Basilica as well as the Vatican Museums.
St. Peter’s Tomb is located just underneath St. Peter’s Basilica, along with the rest of the Necropolis. It is believed that the Apostle was initially buried in the Vatican Hill, and later removed to the Necropolis as a mark of respect.
Yes, one can take a tour of the Necropolis. However, the section allows only 250 visitors each day, and booking one’s tour in advance and online is highly recommended.
To get to the Necropolis, one would first have to arrive at Vatican City. One can take a metro, bus or tram to reach the city from anywhere in Rome. The St. Peter’s Basilica is only a short walk from the City gates.