Europe, Travel Advice, Trip Reports

Exploring the Excavations of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican

August 25, 2009 • By

The Scavi Tour

If you are planning a trip to Rome, the usual must-sees are the Trevi fountain, the Pantheon, the Coliseum, Spanish Steps and the Vatican.

But did you know that there exists a necropolis beneath the Vatican that you can tour during your visit there?  This historical archaeological burial site houses and preserves the original grave of St. Peter and is located below St. Peter’s Basilica.

It was rediscovered in 1939 by workers digging a burial tomb for the deceased Pope Pius XI.  This is a tomb in the truest sense of the word with uneven footing, dim lighting and tight spaces being the hallmark of the venue.

Vatican

Me, standing pretty much dead center of St. Peter’s Square

As a precaution, only 250 visitors per day are permitted to tour this excavation or Scavi site.  Groups are arranged according to the language spoken and there is a limit of only 12 members per group with a minimum age of 15.   However, some exceptions are made for 11-15 year olds who are traveling with parents.

The Vatican only accepts reservations in writing (from Principals, no third party requests) either via email: scavi@fsp.va or uff.scavi@fabricsp.va or via fax: (39-06) 6987-3017 or directly to the Excavations Office.  It may take a couple of weeks before they can reserve a spot for you, so please be patient and do not make a reservation more than once.

St Peter's basilica

Looking high into the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica

When requesting a visit, make sure that you indicate the exact number in your party, their names, language desired for tour, the date that you are available for tour and lastly your contact info; preferably 90 days in advance.  The Excavations office will determine the precise time assigned for your tour.  Once they notify you of the tour date, be sure to confirm your reservation at least five days before the tour date.  The cost is 10 euros per person which you can pay on site .

Upon arrival, you will need to go to the Holy Office Gate where you will see a Swiss Guard who will direct you where to go.  The office is open daily from 9 to 5 except Sundays and Holidays.  Please be aware that you will need to pass through security (metal detector) in St. Peter’s square before entering the Vatican.

It’s advised that you make your reservation as soon as you know that you will be visiting the Vatican to assure a spot during your desired reservation date.  Cameras and heavy, bulky bags must be checked in, but to be honest, I did witness some camera activity while I was there.

Swiss guard

The Swiss Guard standing at attention

Directing guests to the Holy Office in preparation for the Scavi Tour

One more tip while you are at the Vatican: Make sure that you visit their on-site Post Office (remember the Vatican is its own little country, thus has it’s own postal system) and send a letter or postcard home to yourself or friends.  How special will it be to see a letter with the official Vatican seal and Vatican postage stamps affixed to it?

Vatican

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