St Peters Tomb - How to visit one of the most exclusive sites in Rome!
Would you like to see St Peters tomb at the Vatican?
Find out how to book this special archaeological tour of one of the most fascinating underground sites in Rome.
These 2000-year-old tombs are just some of the extraordinary things you will see in this archeological visit underneath St Peters Basilica. Photo - Fabbrica di San Pietro
Visit St Peters Tomb - Everything you need to know
Are you wondering what I am talking about?
Yes, you can book a special visit to the archeological site underneath St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
And on this tour, one of the things you will see is the (supposed) tomb of Saint Peter.
What is St Peters tomb and where is it?
What is St Peters tomb? Where is it?
St. Peter was (said to be) crucified in Rome in 64 CE at the orders of Roman Emperor Nero.
Peter asked to be crucified upside-down, because he did not think he was worthy of being crucified right-side up as Jesus was.
A scenic showpiece by Caravaggio displayed in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome. In the Crucifixion of St. Peter, the saint is crucified with his head down out of respect for Christ.
In the basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo, in Piazza del Popolo in Rome, you can visit the Cerasi chapel, where you can admire two stunning paintings by Caravaggio (among works by many other important artists).
In this painting, Saint Peter is shown being crucified upside-down.
You have to stand to the right and lean in to see it.
The other Caravaggio painting in this chapel depicts the conversion of St. Paul on the road to Damascus.
Saints Peter and Paul are the patron saints of Rome.
Saint Peter was crucified in an arena known as Caligula’s Circus.
Caligula was emperor before Nero, and had built a “circus”, which in ancient Rome referred to an open-air stadium or field where games were held.
This particular arena is also called Nero's Circus.
And it's where Saint Peter's square is (more or less), today.
In Ancient Rome, the dead were buried just outside the city walls, in an area called a Necropolis.
It's thought that St. Peter was buried near where he was martyred, in the necropolis on the Vatican Hill (it was called Vatican Hill before Christianity came along, although there is some discussion as to the exact origin of the name).
In the 4th century, when Constantine became the first Roman emperor to embrace Christianity, he had a church built on the site of Saint Peter's grave, and called it Saint Peter's Basilica.
A 19th century engraving of Old Saint Peter's basilica as it would have looked in the 15th century, before it was replaced by the current basilica. Photo - wikipedia
This basilica, now referred to as Old Saint Peter's, does not exist any more, as it was replaced in the Renaissance by the basilica you see today:
St Peter's basilica, built in the 16th-17th centuries, as we know it today.
When Michelangelo was designing the current Saint Peter's Basilica, he purposefully centered the dome right over the spot where St. Peter is presumed to be buried.
Later, many popes chose to be buried in the Vatican grottoes, just underneath Michelangelo's dome.
Probably they wanted to be near the tomb of Saint Peter.
You can visit those tombs directly from inside the basilica, on a normal visit there.
Michelangelo's dome, and later, Bernini's "baldachin", or canopy, are centered directly over St Peters tomb
Are those really St. Peter’s remains there?
Hmmmm, well I cannot answer this.
If you look around on the internet, you will see arguments declaring these are REALLY St. Peter’s remains. 100%, no doubt.
And, you will see equally as many arguments that say no, they are not, or at least, we just cannot be sure.
I’ve done this tour 5 times.
On one tour, our guide was a seminarian at the Vatican.
In his presentation, there was never once mention of any scholarly doubt on this subject.
There was only an absolute statement that we were indeed in the presence of St. Peter’s remains.
On another visit, our guide seemed to be more of a student of theology and archeology, and her presentation was quite different.
She did let us know that there is some question, at least on a scholarly level, as to whether these are indeed St. Peter’s remains.
She was not negative, just speaking academically.
And on the most recent tour, the guide spoke of the remains but also stated all the arguments in favor of them really being St. Peter as fact, as if to reinforce this belief.
All the guides were fantastic, and your visit will be fascinating regardless of which guide you get.
My take is that each person who visits this holy site should absorb the information, and make their own decision as to what they believe.
Is Saint Peter's tomb worth visiting?
Most definitely yes!
If you have the time to plan this in advance, you can see one of the most exclusive, special and sought-after sites in Rome.
I know, I said above that these may NOT be St. Peter’s remains.
But, then again, they might.
And 99% of the visit is about other stuff, mainly the necropolis under the basilica.
- Are you interested in Ancient Roman history? This tour is for you.
- Are you interested in archeology? This tour is for you.
- Are you interested in this visit from a religious or faith point of view?
- If you want to see one of the most sacred sites in Christendom, this tour is for you.
The perfect 3-day itinerary in Rome
Trying to figure out how to organize your visit to Rome? I've got the perfect 3-day itinerary for first-time visitors (or those who have not been here in a while.) It works for a 2.5 day visit as well.
In my 3-day itinerary, you'll see all the major must-see Rome attractions like the Vatican, Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Spanish Steps, Castel Sant'Angelo, and much more.
And if you have more time, or want suggestions for extra/other things to do, you'll find that there too.
Visit my page with the best 3-day itinerary in Rome for first-timers.
What will you see when you visit St Peters tomb?
No photos are allowed on this tour, so I don't have any of my own, except of the outside.
Any photos on this page of the necropolis itself are from the Fabbrica di San Pietro, an official Vatican website.
When you visit St Peters tomb, you start out by viewing a wooden model of the basilica.
This allows you to understand where you will be going underground.
The Vatican Necropolis located below the level of the subterrane, in correspondence with the central nave of the basilica, was found during the pontificate of Pius XII Pacelli, (1939-1958) in the years between 1939 and 1949.
From there, the guide will take you down to the underground excavations.
Most of your tour is not actually about Saint Peter, and will be of the tombs in this necropolis . . . which are all in Greek!
Ancient Greek. Yep!
It's absolutely fascinating.
The guides are very good, as they know this area like the back of their hand.
So you really get a sense of what life and death were like in Ancient Rome.
At the end of the tour, you will see the area where St Peters tomb is supposed to be.
It's not very easy to see.
In fact, you have to line up to view, one at a time, the little hole in the wall where the remains are.
Finally, your guide will leave you in the Vatican grottoes.
You can walk around and view tombs of other popes (this is actually fascinating too).
And from there, you can go up into St. Peter's basilica.
This is a huge plus, as you avoid the long queues to get in at the main entry.
HOW LONG DOES THE TOUR LAST?
The guided tour takes around 1.5 hours.
But you should factor in the time it will take you to find the entrance, and gather and show your tickets.
Then, factor in time you may want to spend on your own in the grottoes, and of course, in St. Peter's basilica.
You could also climb the dome of the basilica, once you are inside. This will take another hour.
So your visit to St Peters tomb will last anywhere from 2-4 hours. And this does NOT include visiting the Vatican Museums.
Should you plan this tour on the same day as you visit the Vatican Museums?
In my opinion NO.
If you try to visit the Vatican museums on the same day that you have a scavi tour, it will be exhausting and you will have Vatican fatigue (I don’t know if that’s a thing but I’m telling you, you will).
But if you have limited time in Rome and want to try to fit these visits into the same day just make sure to plan for it time-wise.
Book your Scavi tickets first, because unless you book through a ticket agency, you have no control over the time (or date) they give you.
Then, make sure you have about 4 hours between visits of the Necropolis and the Vatican Museums.
Then book your Vatican Museums ticket.
Want more help planning your Vatican visits, and fitting it all in?
Visit my page about this.
How to get tickets to see St Peters tomb?
There used to be only one way to get tickets to visit St Peters tomb - which was directly through the Scavi (excavations) office of the Vatican.
You can still do this.
You send them your request, and the dates you will be in Rome, and then you wait and hope.
Now, you can finally book this visit via a ticket agency.
It's more expensive this way, but they take the wait/worry out, and, you have more control over when you go.
And, by booking via a ticket agency, you can usually get tickets closer to the date you want to visit.
how to book your tour of St Peters tomb and Vatican Necropolis via the Vatican Scavi office
If you want to book via the Vatican Scavi office, send an email (English is fine) to: email@example.com or by fax: 011 39 06 6987-3017.
You can also fill out the form on the official Vatican Excavations Office website.
You will need to provide the following:
- The exact number of visitors (no children under 15 allowed, no exceptions)
- Everyone's names and surnames
- Language desired for the visit
- The dates you are available for a visit (the more options you provide, the better chance you have of getting a spot).
- Contact information (an e-mail address, fax number, or full postal address) so that the Excavations Office may advise you about your visit.
If there is space available during the time frame you provide of your availability, the Scavi office will send a proposed date and time.
If you accept, you write back and let them know, and they in turn will confirm the visit with a request for payment in advance.
Tickets are 13€ per person.
There are no discounts for anyone. (You must pay in advance to confirm the booking.)
In my experience, the Scavi office responds within 24 hours of your request, but if they don't, just be patient.
If your request is urgent, you can try phoning the Excavations office at the following number: 011 39 06 69 885 318.
No matter what season you visit Rome, here are 4 things never to leave at home:
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HOW TO BOOK YOUR TOUR OF ST PETERS TOMB AND VATICAN NECROPOLIS via a tour agency
Vox Mundi, the official Vatican tour agency, has made some time slots available to ticket resellers.
Space is very limited, and it does cost more than booking directly with the Scavi office, but it's a smoother and more immediate process.
Click here to book Vatican Scavi tickets through an authorized reseller.
The tickets to this special visit are not associated with the Roma Pass, the Omnia Pass, or any other pass.
There are no discounts for any reason.
What to do when you cannot get tickets to St Peters Tomb
- Book through a reseller. If you've written to the scavi office, and discovered that it's too late, and there is no availability during your visit, you can try booking through a ticket reseller. Yes, this is more expensive but if you really want to see this site, it may be the only way.
- Book the tour in another language. One thing you can also try is to ask for the tour in another language like Spanish, French or Italian. The English language tours are always booked long in advance, but there may be availability in another language. If you don't speak anything other than English, it may be frustrating to take the tour in a language you don't understand, but if it's important to you to see this site, you can try this option.
- Go to the Scavi office and ask if there are any cancellations. This is really a longshot, but you can try asking the Swiss Guard if you can go to the Scavi office, and see if they have any last minute cancellations. It's doubtful you can get in this way but you could ask.
If you just cannot get tickets, there are other things you can see that may be of interest, along a similar vein:
A special visit to the basement of the Basilica of S. Giovanni In Laterano. An extraordinary and intricate archaeological complex with frescoes from the 1st century AD, remains of the Lateran Domus and the barracks of the first emperor's horse guards regiment.
Important tips for visiting St Peters tomb at the Vatican:
- Dress appropriately - You are on Vatican property. No bare knees, midriffs or shoulders. Even in the height of summer, you will have to be respectfully covered when you visit this site, or any site at the Vatican.
- Be more than punctual - You are dealing with the Swiss guard here. They do not understand the meaning of the word “late.” Plan for more time than you think you need. You should arrive at the gate of the Swiss Guard no later than 15 minutes before your tour begins. If you have plenty of time to kill, you can always walk around St. Peter’s Square and get some pix.
The left-side guarded entrance of Saint Peter's Basilica. This is where you come to have the Swiss Guard let you in so you can make your way to the entrance of the Necropolis.
- How to find the entrance - You need to get to the gate of the Swiss Guard on the left-hand side of Vatican Square, behind the colonnade, i.e. outside the square. If you have any walking issues, you can have a taxi or car drop you off right at the gate of the Swiss Guard (see photo above). Otherwise, if coming from the Ottaviano metro stop, it’s a good 20 minute walk. Once the Swiss guard let you past their gate, you still have to walk to the Scavi office, which is about a 3-5 minutes’ walk.
- It is HOT under there - The site has to be well-sealed to keep moisture from ruining the frescoes and other art. Even though you are underground and not exposed to heat and sun, it is NOT a good place to “cool down” when it’s hot outside. So if you have a choice and can visit this site from mid-September through May, you will be more comfortable. If you are in Rome only for the summer, just remember to plan and dress accordingly and wear the lightest cotton possible.
- It CAN be claustrophobic - You will be underground. And some of the spaces are a little small. I am slightly claustrophobic and I can do it, but if you suffer from severe claustrophobia, this tour may not be a good idea.
- You may not take ANY photos during the tour. They are strict about this. The photos I published on this page are mine (of the outside), and from the Vatican website Fabbrica di San Pietro (of the inside).
- All-important bathroom stop - once you pass the Swiss guard and make your way to the Scavi office, you may ask where the toilet is. It is just off the little outdoor plaza there, before you enter the site for the tour. There will not be any more places to use the bathroom once you begin the tour. You will find the next bathroom once you exit Saint Peter's Basilica after your tour ends.
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