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

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

St. Peter's Square

St. Peter's Square

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 90-minute guided tour takes visitors down into the lowest levels of St. Peter's Basilica. This is not the “grotto” area that lies just beneath St. Peter's 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.”

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

Layout of the Necropolis

Layout of the Necropolis under the Grotto and St. Peter's Basilica

Layout of the Necropolis under the Grotto and St. Peter's Basilica

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 sought-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 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.

Excavations (Scavi) Office entrance

Excavations (Scavi) Office entrance

The Hottest Ticket in Vatican City


This Excavations Office website will guide you through the ticket-buying process. Once you make your request, be patient as it can take a few weeks to hear back.

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

Final Resting Place of St. Peter?

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.

Interior of a Roman Tomb in the Necropolis

Interior of a Roman Tomb in the Necropolis

Reconstruction of the area around St. Peter's Tomb

Reconstruction of the area around St. Peter's Tomb

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 close to St. Peter's Tomb

Roman Tomb close to St. Peter's Tomb

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.

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.

Questions & Answers

Question: This is my first time in Italy. We have confirmed SCAVI tour tickets. Do we need to buy tix to St Peter’s to get to where the entrance to the tour is? Or is a ticket to Scavi is enough? I am just confused on where we enter.

Answer: Your Scavi tour ticket is all you will need. The entrance for the tour is to the left of the cathedral if you are facing it. The Swiss Guards will check your ticket and then allow you to enter the area where the Scavi Office is located. If you have trouble locating it just ask one of the guards. Enjoy the tour, it is fascinating.

Question: I already have a tour of the Vatican. Should I still keep that tour along with the Scavi tour?

Answer: Yes, they are two entirely different tours. The Scavi Tour will take you down to the necropolis, which very few people get to see. A normal tour of the Vatican will likely include the Basilica, the grottoes, maybe the museum, etc. Tickets to the Scavi Tour are limited to only 250 people per day.

Question: Last time I went on the Vatican Scavi Tour in 2014 we were taken up into the Basilica at the end to avoid the long queues. Is this still the case?

Answer: Yes, after the tour they take you to the Grottos area and from there you have access into the Basilica.

Question: Are there handicapped facilities such as elevator or sloped walkways on the Scavi tour?

Answer: Unfortunately, the Scavi tour that goes down to the Necropolis is not handicapped accessible. The floors are dirt and/or brick as are the walls and ceiling. It's very basic and still in an excavation mode. The papal tombs are handicapped accessible and I would highly recommend visiting. There is an elevator to get there and the floors are smooth marble and very clean.

Question: My husband is very large. Is the Necropolis of St. Peter's Basilica too confining?

Answer: It is somewhat confining down there. Very low ceiling, narrow walkways, and the floor is dirt and stone. You can try contacting the Scavi Office there to see if the accessibility has been improved in the last year or so. But, I will say that it is fascinating and was definitely worth the effort.

Question: How long does the Scavi Tour last?

Answer: The Scavi Tour lasts approximately 90 minutes. Probably the most interesting 90 minutes that can be spent in the Vatican. Truly fascinating.

Question: Is a separate ticket needed to tour the Basilica after the Scavi Tour?

Answer: No, touring the Basilica is free. The Scavi Tour actually ends in the Basilica so no need to wait in another line. Prior to going on the Scavi Tour, they will do a security check so there is no need to have another check done to enter the Basilica.

© 2014 Bill De Giulio


Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on February 16, 2020:

Hi Ivy. I do not believe you will be able to leave the basilica for lunch and then re-enter without lining up again. Otherwise your itinerary sounds fine to me. Perhaps eat an early lunch or late breakfast prior to the Scavi tour, or grab a quick bite after the mass before touring the Vatican Museum. Sounds like a great day, enjoy.

Ivy R on February 15, 2020:

Hi Bill,

Just received confirmation of Scavi tour for end of April, Yey! What are your thoughts on this itinerary? The Scavi tour is scheduled at 11:30 so should be done by 13:00, at which point we would be in the Basilica for a good 3 hours before catching the 5pm latin mass. We plan on visiting the Vatican Museum around 19:30 to try and avoid the crowd. Which hopefully gives us time for a quick dinner and walk to the museum after mass. My question is, can we re-enter the Basilica without lining up, so we could take a break for lunch momentarily? I could not find any snack bar within the building except for the rooftop one that requires a ticket to the cupola for access.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on January 30, 2020:

Hi Joe. The tour actually ends in St. Peter's Basilica, but does not include a tour of it.

Joe Brown on January 30, 2020:

Hi Bill, Does the tour include St. Peter's Basilica?

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on September 16, 2019:

Hi Patricia. The location of the entrance (stairs and elevator) to access the cupola are located just to the right of St. Peter's Basilica if you are facing the front. I believe from inside the basilica there is also a sign just to the right after entering that directs you to the ticket booth. You will surely find it. You can get there easily from either inside or outside of the basilica. Definitely do this as it's the best view in Rome.

patricia holmes on September 16, 2019:

We are taking the Scavi tour in November. At the end of the tour we would like to see the Cupola. Does anyone know how we do this? TIA

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on August 02, 2015:

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.

Charito Maranan-Montecillo from Manila, Philippines on August 02, 2015:

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!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on March 03, 2015:

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.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on March 02, 2015:

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.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on November 25, 2014:

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.

Claudia Mitchell on November 25, 2014:

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!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on November 07, 2014:

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 from Australia on November 07, 2014:

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….

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on August 25, 2014:

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.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on August 25, 2014:

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.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on August 25, 2014:

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.

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on August 25, 2014:

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

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on August 24, 2014:

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.

Suzanne Ridgeway from Dublin, Ireland on August 24, 2014:

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!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on August 24, 2014:

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

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on August 24, 2014:

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 from Long Island, NY on August 24, 2014:

sounds fascinating

Dianna Mendez on August 24, 2014:

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

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on August 23, 2014:

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. :)

Elizabeth Lynn Westbay from United States on August 23, 2014:

Vatican City is definitely on my to do list.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on August 23, 2014:

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.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on August 23, 2014:

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.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on August 23, 2014:

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 from USA on August 23, 2014:

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.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 23, 2014:

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 from USA on August 23, 2014:

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.

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