The Vatican has a long history going back to the early Roman days. It is no wonder that there are secrets buried beneath it. One of the more intriguing is the Vatican Necropolis laying underneath Saint Peter's Basilica. There is much more to the Vatican than just being the home of Saint Peter's Basilica and being the smallest country on earth.

Most visitors to Saint Peter's Basilica are overcome with the stunning artwork, sculptures, and frescoes of the world's largest and perhaps most famous church. But there is more than immediately meets the eye. Underneath the mighty gleaming basilica, there are secrets and one of the best is the Vatican Necropolis.


Evacuations Of The Necropolis By Pope Pius XI

In the 1940s the Vatican sponsored archaeological excavations under Saint Peter's that revealed parts of the necropolis that dates from Imperial Roman times. These are at depths that vary between 5-12 meters.

The necropolis is believed not to have been one of the many and incredible Catacombs of Rome but an open-air cemetery with tombs and mausolea. While in Rome plan to visit the Catacombs, they are incredible and are a scary journey into the world of the dead.

  • Necropolis: Greek for "City Of the Dead"
  • Italian Name: Vatican Scavi

The reason Pope Pius XI requested these excavations is that he wanted to be buried as close as possible to the Apostle Peter is who is supposedly buried under the Basilica. During the excavations serval, burial sites were discovered.

When Pope Pius XII commissioned the excavations to find the grave of Peter, more than that was discovered. The necropolis has artifacts of six different historical periods and iis around five floors beneath St. Peters. Excavations revealed:

  • Emperor Constantine's Temple
  • 15 Mausoleums
  • Pagan And Christan Burial Grounds

Some archaeologists believe they could have actually found the tomb of the Apostle Peter - whether they have or not is unlikely to ever be known for certain

Since the excavations, there have been various restoration projects to preserve and maintain the ruins beneath the Vatican.

Related: This Is The Most Scenic Neighborhood In Rome (And What To While Visiting)

Tomb Of the Julii

In the necropolis is also the "Tomb of the Julii". This tomb has a vaulted ceiling with a mosaic depicting Helios (Roman Sol Invictus) and has been dated to the late 3rd or early 4th century. Other mosaics depict the Biblical story of Jonah and the whale and the good shepherd carrying a lamb. It is therefore thought to be a Christian tomb.

It was first discovered in 1574 AD when workers unintentionally broke through the ceiling while working on the basilica. It was briefly explored, documented, and then sealed again.

Related: There's Much More Than Catacombs Under Paris: Check Out These Quarries And Tunnels

Tours Of The Vatican Necropolis

Today tours of the Vatican Necropolis are permitted. St. Peter's Basilica Tickets offer tours of the world of the dead. On the tour, one can explore the detailed network of the mausoleum and tombs over which St. Peter's Basilica has been built. One can even visit what some consider to be the original burial site of St. Peter.

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If one would like to partake in this tour, one will need to be quick as the tickets to the Vatican Necropolis are very limited. Only 200 visitors are permitted daily and in groups of 12. This is in an effort to preserve the delicate fabric of the Necropolis.

  • Groups: Limited to 12 People
  • Limit: Only 200 People are Permitted Daily In The Necropolis

Unlike other tours, this tour can not be made online but as booked directly with the Scavi office onsite. The tour includes a Church-approved tour guide who will guide the visitors along the way.

Vatican Necropolis Opening Hours:

  • Monday to Friday: 9 am to 6 pm | Saturday: 9 am 5 pm

Photos: It is Strictly Forbidden To Take Photos Inside the Vatican Necropolis

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It is believed that this was the burial site of both Christians and Pagan during Roman times around 2,000 years ago.

As one embarks on the tour, one is led down three levels to the 1st century AD pagan burial ground with some small clay and stone repositories. Above these is a 5th century Pagan and Christain combined burial ground. There are several medium-sized stone mausolea and other ruins (there is even a fractured piece of a large triumphal arch).

Between these levels is a small earthen mound with a hole dug out of it. It is cordoned off and is said to have the remains of Peter the Apostle.

If visiting Paris, its catacombs are the final resetting place of an astonishing 6 million people and there are tours of them. At the entrance is a sign reading in French  "Arrête, c'est ici l'empire de la mort!" (Stop! This is the empire of death!)

Next: These Are Some Of The Best Preserved Roman Roads To Explore