Vatican City is technically a city-state encompassed within a 2-mile long wall. The city started from humble beginnings. St. Peter’s Basilica, the focal point of the city, was built to honor the eponymous Apostle, who was crucified and buried in the Vatican Hill necropolis around the 1st century. If you’re lucky enough to be able to book a the Vatican City Scavi Tour, where you can view the remains of St. Peter, it will be one of the most memorable parts of your visit.
When Christianity became the official religion of Rome in the 4th century, Emperor Constantine began the construction of the church. The site was later expanded and built up over the next 17 centuries. Millions of people visit St. Peter’s to see the upper Basilica. A few thousand visit the majestic Vatican Museum, a must see place that houses one of the most impressive and expensive art collection per square foot in the world.
What most people don’t know is that you can do more than just visit the impressive church and Museum. Travelers “in the know” will actually sign up for a special visit to the original necropolis level of the Basilica, where the 4th century ground once stood, to see the remains of St. Peter. Booking the Vatican City Scavi Tour requires you’ll deal with a bit of Vatican bureaucracy and it might test your patience, but trust me, it is worth the effort. This post will help you get it all set up.
The Vatican City Scavi Tour
Scavi (or, ‘excavation’), refers to the Vatican City archeology project that explores the excavation underneath St. Peter’s Basilica. It started in the 1940s, when they were expanding the underground area to bury deceased popes. During that excavation, the original necropolis site was discovered, along with bone fragments believed to be those of St. Peter’s himself. This belief is based on knowledge of the temple from the Emperor Constantine’s era and a marking that translates as “Peter is here.”
Here’s the catch. Most people don’t even know this important and unique tour exists, and access is extremely limited: only 250 people may visit in any given day. Also, it’s important to note that your ticket to the Vatican Museum does not include the Vatican City Scavi Tour. It must be requested separately, with permission granted by Vatican City.
How to reserve your Vatican City Scavi Tour
If you want to see St. Peter’s remains for yourself, there is only one way to visit the site. You must contact the Ufficio Scavi (Excavation Office) directly. Fabbrica di San Pietro, an organization within the Vatican, appointed to overlook the excavation project, runs this office.
To book the Vatican City Scavi Tour, email email@example.com or fax them at +39 06 69873017 to request access. You can also visit the Excavations Office in person (see below for directions).
Required information for booking
- Number of participants
- Names of participants
- Language requested
- Possible dates for your visit (the time is assigned by the Excavations Office).
- E-mail address, fax number, or postal address
If your Scavi tour is granted, the office will reply to you and give you a specific date and time. You’ll need to confirm your acceptance, at which time they’ll issue you a confirmation number. Bring this number with you when you visit. You must show it to the Swiss Guard to be allowed inside the Vatican compound.
Things to know before registering
Request far in advance: I can’t stress enough how limited this tour is. There are only 250 people allowed each day in groups of about 12. So request your Vatican City Scavi tour months in advance and be flexible – give at least a couple of dates. I requested my June visit way back in February and barely made it. This is first come, first served. The office will reject your request if there are no spots on your requested date.
Confirmations and changes: You may visit the Ufficio Scavi when you’re in Rome to confirm your appointment prior to your appointed date. If you need to change your date or the time of your visit, they will only do it in the unlikely event someone canceled.
Registering large groups: You must list the names of every single visitor. If you’re with an organization (universities, parishes, cultural associations, agencies, and other groups), tell them the name
Minimum age: To visit, you must be at least 15 years old – no exceptions.
Disability accommodation: Sadly, there is no accommodation for wheelchairs or people with physical disabilities. If you have a severe case of claustrophobia or any dust/humidity allergies, this tour may not be suitable for you.
Cost: For an individual ticket, including the contribution for the guide, the cost is 13€ (approximately $16.50 US). No discounts given for any reason.
The day of your visit – things to know
Entrance to the Excavations Office: You may only enter through the gates located on the Via Paolo VI. This is outside the Colonnade, just to the south (left), near the entrance to the General Audience Hall)
Bring your confirmation number: You must bring this number, and list of the members of your group (if applicable) to show the Swiss Guards. If you don’t have it, you can’t go in. Although they are friendly, they are definitely very strict about allowing access to Vatican territory.
Arrive at least 10 minutes before your visit: They won’t allow you in if you are late. I highly arriving even 30 minutes beforehand.
Dress appropriately: This is a sacred place. As is the case in all of the Vatican, even in the top-level of the Basilica and the Museum, they don’t allow shorts or anything above your knees. No tank tops/straps that show shoulders. No exceptions. They will turn you away.
Leave larger bags, backpacks and cameras at your hotel: Although there are a few lockers and places where you can leave some smaller bags, they won’t allow any bags or big cameras inside the excavation area.
Tours are arranged by language: These are highly trained individuals who are more than happy to answer your burning questions. The guided tour lasts about an hour and a half.
Vatican City Scavi Tour
Excavations Office (Ufficio Scavi)
00120 Vatican City State
Tel.: + 39 06 69 885 318
Fax: + 39 06 69 873 017
Monday – Friday: 9:00 – 18:00
Saturday: 9:00 – 17:00