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

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

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.


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: [email protected] or [email protected] 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 the 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?




Renee King
[email protected]
  • Glen
    Posted at 21:09h, 12 November Reply

    aviewtoathrill.net is very informative. The article is very professionally written. I enjoy reading aviewtoathrill.net every day.

    • Renee
      Posted at 09:22h, 13 November Reply

      Thanks for coming by, Glen! What a wonderful compliment. I will definitely try to live up to them! Hope to see you again soon.

  • Lala Who Cares
    Posted at 11:17h, 17 March Reply

    Also remember that some places (I think excavations/tombs) are for people over 15…so don't tell your kids 🙁

  • aviewtoathrill
    Posted at 13:39h, 17 March Reply

    Absolutely, Lala! I did briefly mention that the minimum age is 15 which will be disappointing for the little ones. Thank you so much for coming by!

  • Cathy Sweeney
    Posted at 11:39h, 20 October Reply

    Helpful and informative article that I’ll keep on file for a future visit. I like your suggestion about mailing a postcard from there. I like getting foreign postcards from anywhere!

    • Renee
      Posted at 15:02h, 20 October Reply

      Thanks, Cathy! I love anything that can create a meaningful, genuine record of my travels.

  • adventureswithben
    Posted at 22:20h, 20 October Reply

    I think my grandmother would get a kick out of mail coming from the Vatican City. Great tip!

    • Renee
      Posted at 12:44h, 21 October Reply

      You are quite welcome, Ben! Yeah, that will make a nifty souvenir!

  • Michael
    Posted at 01:46h, 21 October Reply

    We’ve been to Rome twice and seen most of the sights there. This is a very welcome info about the necropolis. Nowhere in the tourist brochures did we see this, or perhaps the info was “buried” in so much text, we missed it. Thanks for these tips. Will share them with friends.

    • Renee
      Posted at 12:43h, 21 October Reply

      Hi Michael,
      Always glad to give folks different ideas of what to see during their travels. Please, by all means share this info with your friends! I appreciate it.

  • Ayngelina
    Posted at 10:56h, 21 October Reply

    I went to Rome and at 10am in December the line-up was down the street so I skipped it but it looks like i missed out on quite a site.

    But I knew I’d return some day, Italy is one of those places you know you’ll come back.

    • Renee
      Posted at 12:42h, 21 October Reply

      I think that a lot of people are catching on the winter and spring travel to Europe. Sorry that you had to miss it, but you are right….you will catch it the next go round.

  • Norbert
    Posted at 11:37h, 21 October Reply

    Wow! Sounds really interesting. Would love to see those excavations one day. Thanks for the tips!

    • Renee
      Posted at 12:18h, 21 October Reply

      You’re welcome, Norbert! Thanks for dropping by!

  • John
    Posted at 11:21h, 22 October Reply

    We have a ticket for the excavations tomorrow and I was just checking out where the excavations office is. Is it to the left of the basilica as you face the Basilica? Do you have to join the line of people going into the Basilica to clear security? Could take time just to get in.

    • Renee
      Posted at 11:33h, 22 October Reply


      You are right….everyone has to go through security. As soon as you clear security, tell the people at the desk that you have a reservation for the tour. They will direct you where to go to drop off your bags and from there, they will instruct you to go to the gate where the Swiss Guard is standing. That is where the Holy Office is located. There your reservation will be confirmed and you will begin the tour shortly afterward. Be sure to arrive a little early because you never know how bad the lines may be….you wouldn’t want to be left behind.

      • John
        Posted at 11:44h, 22 October Reply

        Thanks Renee. I had totally missed the security aspect. I thought the square itself and collonade were outside the secure area.

        • Renee
          Posted at 12:09h, 22 October Reply

          No problem, John. Essentially the square is simply a large paved area (similar to a parking lot) located right in front of the Vatican. Up until then, I thought it was some majestic, mystical locale that would be difficult to assess….but you can pretty much walk right up to it. I will post a pic of me standing in the middle of it so that you can see what I mean.

          • John
            Posted at 10:53h, 23 October

            We went today. No problem getting in although the security line was long. It is a fascinating visit. Glad I didn’t miss it.

          • Renee
            Posted at 11:58h, 23 October

            I’m so glad that everything worked out for you…thanks for checking back in to let me know how things went!

  • Michael
    Posted at 19:39h, 10 November Reply

    Thanks for the info on the Excavation. I’m confused and worried about one thing. How do I enter to go to the Excavation office? Do I have to get into that long line to enter the Vatican? Where is the etrance? I’m just worried that if I have to wait in line to enter the Vatican that I’ll miss the scheduled tour that I have.

    Michael 🙂

    • Renee
      Posted at 20:51h, 10 November Reply

      Hi Michael,
      You’ve probably had time to read the other comment from John who had pretty much the same question….but I just wanted to acknowledge your comment anyway. Be sure to leave early so that you will have time to stand in that line to get to the excavations office. You are right, they will probably leave you if you aren’t there on time.

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