Unveiling the Secrets of the Past: Vatican’s Ancient Necropolis Now Open to All

In a significant move, the Vatican has expanded public access to the ancient Roman necropolis, a historical treasure trove located beneath St. Peter’s Basilica. This move is part of the Vatican’s exhibition, “Life and Death in the Rome of the Caesars,” which opened recently.

A Glimpse into the Past
The Vatican Necropolis, a sprawling site of over 10,000 square feet, is a window into the past. It houses marble sarcophagi, tombs from the first to the fourth centuries A.D., and Roman frescoes and mosaics. Previously, access to this archaeological gem was limited to approved groups of academics, students, and specialists. However, the Vatican has now opened a gate along its walls overlooking Risorgimento Square, allowing any ticket holder to freely explore the site.

A Unique Archaeological Site
The necropolis is a unique archaeological site that offers insights into the lives of the people who lived during the Roman Empire. It includes the graves of enslaved people, some of whom were imperial property, as indicated by the epigraphs on their graves. The site also contains the graves of artisans and other lower-middle-class Roman citizens who were employed by Emperor Nero.

The History of the Necropolis
The Vatican Necropolis dates back to the time of the Etruscans, who buried their dead outside the city walls. After the fall of the Etruscan civilization, the Vatican territory became part of the city of Rome. Emperor Caligula built a circus adjacent to the necropolis, which was used for horse races, games, and Christian martyrdom. Emperor Constantine I later excavated part of the necropolis to create enough flat land for the foundation of the church.

Planning Your Visit
The Vatican Necropolis is open from Monday to Friday, 9 AM to 6 PM, and on Saturday from 9 AM to 5 PM. It is closed on Sundays and Vatican Holidays. Visitors can reach the Vatican by Metro, Train, or Bus. Requests to visit the Vatican Necropolis should be sent to the Excavations Office.

Can I visit the Vatican Necropolis?
Yes, the Vatican Necropolis is now open to the public. You can explore the site with a ticket.

How can I book tickets to the Vatican Necropolis?
You can book tickets directly with the Scavi office or through a guided tour ticket.

Is there a guide provided for the tour?
Yes, the Scavi institution provides a licensed guide to accompany visitors.

What are the opening hours of the Vatican Necropolis?
The Vatican Necropolis is open from 9 AM to 6 PM from Monday to Friday and from 9 AM to 5 PM on Saturdays. It is closed on Sundays.

Can I take photos inside the Vatican Necropolis?
No, photography is not permitted inside the Vatican Necropolis.

Is the Vatican Necropolis accessible to people with reduced mobility?
No, the underground ruins of the Vatican Necropolis are not accessible to people with reduced mobility.

How long does a tour of the Vatican Necropolis take?
A tour of just the Vatican Necropolis takes about 1 – 2 hours.

Necropolis: A large, designed cemetery with elaborate tomb monuments. The name stems from the Ancient Greek νεκρόπολις nekropolis, literally meaning “city of the dead”.
Sarcophagus: A box-like funeral receptacle for a corpse, most commonly carved in stone, and usually displayed above ground, though it may also be buried.
Epigraph: An inscription on a building, statue or coin.
Etruscans: A civilization of ancient Italy in the area corresponding roughly to Tuscany, western Umbria, and northern Lazio.
Circus: An open-air venue used for public events in the ancient Roman Empire. The circus was the Roman equivalent of the ancient Greek hippodrome.