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.
To gain a comprehensive understanding of the necropolis in Vatican City, we must venture back to the era of the Etruscans, which predates the founding of Rome by centuries. The Etruscan civilization established a necropolis on a nearby hill, believed to be guarded by the goddess Vatika, and this hillside settlement was known as Vaticum. In keeping with their customs, the Etruscans typically buried their deceased outside the confines of city walls, leading to the establishment of the necropolis on Vatican Hill. It is essential to note that at this point in history, Christianity had no involvement in this region, and the Etruscans were the earliest known inhabitants of Vatican Hill.
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The land of the Vatican became part of the city of Rome following the Roman conquest that overcame the Etruscan civilization. Over time, the area remained relatively unchanged until the reign of Caligula, who built a circus that served various purposes, including Christian martyrdoms, horse races, and other sports. Tragically, between 64 and 67 AD, St. Peter was crucified by Nero in this very circus, and subsequently, he was laid to rest in the nearby necropolis.
St. Peter's burial site soon became a significant place of pilgrimage. With the Edict of Milan in the year 313, Constantine the Great issued orders for the construction of a commemorative basilica. The construction process involved digging up the necropolis to make way for the foundation of the new church, leaving it situated below the floor level.
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The construction of St. Peter's Basilica commenced in 1506 under the patronage of Pope Julius II. However, during its construction, the grave of Saint Peter, the apostle, was not immediately discovered within the basilica. The complexity arose from the fact that the basilica consists of two floors, and efforts to locate the apostle's remains were carried out in the 20th century.
Excavations proved to be challenging due to the presence of multiple layers of history. The lower layer contained an ancient necropolis, while the higher layer held the Vatican Grottoes, a church-like necropolis featuring three naves, tunnels, and chapels. These intricate layers made it difficult to pinpoint Saint Peter's exact burial site.
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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.
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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.
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Timings: Mondays to Fridays: 9.00 AM - 6.00 PM.Saturday: 09.00 AM- 05.00 PM
Last entry: April to September: 04.15 PMOctober to March: 03.00 PM
Location: Piazza San Pietro, 00120 Città del Vaticano, Vatican City
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By Metro: The Ottaviano-S. Pietro station on Line A is used to reach the Vatican Necropolis which will take 11-15 minutes.
By Train: The nearest station is St. Pietro train station by taking the train from Roma Termini which will take about 35 minutes to reach.
By Bus: You may go to the Vatican by using buses 40, 64, 62, and 81, the bus takes about 30 minutes to reach at the destination.
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What is the Vatican Necropolis?
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.
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Yes, it is important to book Vatican Museums tickets in advance. Due to the popularity of the Vatican Museums, they attract a large number of visitors throughout the year. By booking your tickets in advance, you can avoid long queues and ensure that you gain entry to the museums, especially during peak tourist seasons. Additionally, booking in advance allows you to select specific time slots, providing more flexibility and convenience for your visit.
What Lies Under the Vatican City?
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.
How long is the Vatican Necropolis Tour?
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.
Where is St. Peter’s Tomb?
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.
Can you tour the Vatican necropolis?
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.
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How do I get into the Vatican necropolis?
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.
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