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St. Peter's Necropolis Scavi Tour; Booking Info, Websites, History?

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[This is a repost but I have added quite a few things. Regards, Walter]

This is the official website with info and booking directions. OR
 Just follow the simple instructions for booking and respond to their emails with the info they request.

  Request, Book and Show-up, it's very simple if space is available on the tour, so don't let my ramblings below confuse you:).


These are past posts of mine that I have strung together, so they are just my opinions and experiences.

  I'm a history buff and an Atheist so I have no religious bias regarding this site.
 But I do honestly believe this is the tomb of the historical Jesus Christ's Disciple Peter.

  With a *very good possibilty* that some of the bones found there are actually from St. Peter (I believe they are).

 IMO this site is the only actual physical link we have to Jesus Christ, so a very important historical site regardless of one's beliefs.

[For info] [Detailed articles & *Photos*] [Interactive Map & *Tomb Photos*] Also completely check-out for all kinds of info and photos of the Basilica, it's a wonderful detailed website.

  I want to stress IMO the most important site on this tour is St. Peter's Tomb of course:) but also the Tomb's 'Graffiti Wall' and a viewable single human bone within the Tomb.

 My 1st guide (a priest) to that side of the Tomb (closed on my 1st 2 visits) enthusiastically told us about this site and individuallity pointed it out (Graffiti Wall & Bone) with a laser light to each person.  

 But on my 2nd tour the guide *just* mentioned the Wall during her overview Tomb speech while we were sitting in the underground chapel.  Later we passed by the Wall on our own and it seemed to me that many people on that tour didn't fully understand what they were seeing or that there was a 'bone' in that small plexiglass box.

So the last stop in the underground section of the tour is a small room on the far side of St. Peter's Tomb.
Behind a plexiglass wall you will see this  
 That is the 'Graffiti Wall' (in 1975) but today in the lighted hole below the Wall there is a small plexiglass box.
 Inside that box you can see one of the bones of an old man found within this Tomb.
 And IMO from what I have read this bone is *very likely* from St. Peter.

  This tour info is from April' 06 but things always change with this tour so keep that in mind.  
 Booking was once done by email and mailed check, later you paid at the ticket office but today you book and pay by credit card via email (you can also do this by FAX if you're worried).

 This is a *very limited* 1.5hr underground tour beneath the foundations of St. Peter's Basilica.

  The tour is of an ancient Roman necropolis/cemetery built alongside an ancient street (Via Cornelia) and of the tomb belonging to St. Peter.

 This tour must be booked in advance, you probably wouldn't stand much chance at 1 month out and even possibly 2 months out in peak-season but try anyway.

  Also the more dates you give them the better are your chances.

There have been many Fodor's Forum posts about the timeline for booking to final confirmation but there seems to be no firm timeline procedure.

 It *seems* that *sometimes* they start sending out confirmations ~90 days before the tour date. So earlier requests might be held until then and then answered?

  While others have received their confirmation sometimes only a few weeks or even days before their tour.

  I have always booked exactly 90 days out for tours in Feb, March and 1 in late April and have completed the entire process (request to final confirmation) within 2 weeks. But this was off-season, many other posters have had different results (much longer waits [months], last minute confirmations, no responses, etc).
 But walk-ups are possible.  One Fodor's poster has gone to the Scavi Office early in the morning and asked if they have any cancellations and has twice gotten tours later in the day (It's worth a shot but it's 'hit or miss' and others have also done this).
I would go at 0900, only because *I believe* the 1st English tour is at 0915.
 Tell the Swiss Guard you wish to go to the Scavi Office to see about a reservation.

 If have your email confirmation reservation just show-up to the left of the front stairs at St. Peter's Basilica where the Swiss Guards are standing in front of an arched-bridge entrance.
[Go to
 The photographer is standing in the 'Piazza San Pietro', in the background is 'St. Peter's Basilica', to the right of the Basilica is the 'Sistine Chapel' and to the right of that are the Vatican Museums.

 Now look at the leftside of St. Peter's Basilica in the photo. See where it looks like that low building connects to the leftside of the Basilica. That's were you want to go for the St. Peter's Necropolis/Scavi Tour.

And this is what you'll see when you get there. See the 2 colorfully dressed Swiss Guards beneath the bridge on the rightside of the photo? Close-up photo   
10mins before your tour walk-up to the Swiss Guard (the one without the lance:) with your confirmation email and he will let you enter. Don't worry they speak perfect English and probably Italian, German, French and maybe even Swiss:). You will come to the Scavi Office on the right in ~50m ]

 I have booked it 5 times since '98, my 1st was cancelled due to structural problems, my next 2 tours the 'Graffiti Wall' was closed (structural problems) but my last 2 it was opened.  

  My tours have ended in St. Peter's, while others back where I started near the Scavi Office but today you can do either location.
 This is on account of Pope Paul's Tomb, our guide said the queue to see the tomb is sometimes ~1hr, so for crowd control they are using the Scavi Tour entrance as an exit.

  So after the tour you can also go up St Peter's side-steps with the exiting crowds and either into the Church or over to 'Left Luggage' (if you stored anything) without going thru the Security line (metal detector & bag x-ray).
*But* this could change at anytime.
 I have seen even woman's handbags banned one year but they are now allowed (it says so on their website).

  My last tour had people with daypacks! and cameras! taking pictures until told to stop (no photos are allowed).   I don't know what the Scavi Office was thinking for allowing this and I hope they go back to enforcing the no camera/backpack rule.  Backpacks damage the site (narrow areas) and picture takers distract from the guide's narrative and slow the group down.  

To the right of St. Peter's front stairs there is a free 'left luggage-coat check' (w.c. also) where you can leave your stuff beforehand.

*BUT* you must pass thru the Security line/queue (bag x-ray & metal detectors) and this line can be very long.  But as I stated above as of 2006 you can get back to 'left luggage' to retrieve your belongings after the tour without again passing thru the Security Checkpoint. 

But if they go back to the old system you would have to go back thru the Security Checkpoint to get to 'left luggage'. But a poster once stated that if you show your 'left luggage, claim check' to the person guarding the Basilica's Exit points they will let you in? This is to the right of the security *entrances*.

  The Scavi ticket office also sells an English guidebook of the excavations for 6.2e, it's called 'Roma Scavi' 'The Vatican Necropolis'.  

 Also on the pavement outside the ticket office look for a small white marble bordered square, that marks the spot where the oblisk (now in front of St. Peter's) originally stood when it was in the center of the Circus

Here's my nutshell *opinion* and some guesses of what possibly happened from what I have read.

  On July 19, 64AD there is the 'Great Fire of Rome' aka 'Nero's Fire'.
 The 'word on the street' is that Emperor Nero started this fire in order to *vastly* expand his palace.


 The Roman people (Mob) have always been feared by Emperors, the Senate and the rich. The term 'Bread and Circus' was a means of keeping the Mob happy with free or inexpensive food and entertainment, usually violent.

 Now this Mob is burnt out of their homes and living in the open and they are *not* 'happy campers' either :) (there was even a shanty town built in this Vatican area to house some of them).
And they could quickly turn into a very vengeful Mob if rumors like the "Emperor started it" spread.

  But Nero didn't start the Fire and wasn't even in Rome at that time (he was in Greece), nor did he fiddle while Rome burned (wasn't there and the fiddle hadn't been invented yet :) ).

 For Nero to a start a fire in the Circus Maximus to obtain land where the Colosseum now stands would be very foolish.
 His new Palace is on the Palatine Hill between these 2 sites and it also burned down.

 So Nero in order to get the heat off himself puts the blame on a new Jewish religious sect...Christianity.

[The Romans also had earlier problems with Jews/Christians under Emperor Claudius (41-54AD). It's recorded that Claudius expelled Jews (48-9AD) for fighting among themselves over somone called 'Chrestus' (Christ).]  

 So a Christian persecution begins shortly after the fire. And sometime probably in the 1st half of Oct '64 (
St. Peter is crucified upside-down in the 'Circus (racetrack) of Caligula and Nero' on the Spina (the long elevated spine in the center (------).

The Roman writer Seneca (living at this time) records in a letter of seeing criminals being crucified upside-down.
So this isn't an oddity and if St. Peter requested this as Biblical history says he did the Authorities or Guards would have no reason not to do it. And probably laughingly would have complied.  

 This Circus was built by Caligula ~37AD, Nero improved it during his reign (54-68AD).
1st called the 'Circus of Gai (Caligula)', then after Nero's improvement it was the 'Circus Gai et Neronis' (Caligula & Nero). It is also called later in history just the 'Circus of Nero',

 You can see this Circus in relation to the present day St. Peter's Basilica below or  

 Afterwards the Christians somehow retrive St. Peter's body.

  The Church claims that with the permission of Imperial Authorites Christians removed the body from the cross.
 IMO this makes for a great story or a nice Medieval/Renaissance painting but I find it very hard to believe.  
Peter wasn't a Roman citizen, so he had no real Rights.
 Plus these Christians are rabidly hated and despised, the authorites accuse them of "hatred towards humankind".
And the masses must have considered them terrorists for the burning of Rome. 

 Their bodies (other Christians and possibly some criminals were also executed that day) would either be thrown into the Tiber River or dumped into a nearby rubbish pit (certainly this area would have one nearby).

 It was also possible to bribe the Guards for a dead body, this wasn't unheard-of and usually done by family members.

 The Guards likely took down the body because no foot bones were found in the Tomb.
It's believed Guards/Soldiers at crucifixions simply hacked-off the feet (or wrist & hands) to get a body down quickly.   This would also probably make prying the nail out later easier without the body or parts attached?

  So it's likely his body was retrived either from a pit or from the bribed Guards.

  Now just across the street (Via Cornelia, this is the street you walk on during the tour, also try and picture St. Peter traveling this road as a prisoner to his execution and of all the early Christians {martyrs, saints & unnamed followers} walking on it to visit his tomb) that runs alongside the Circus there is a graveyard.

1st Century AD tombs have been found there, these are just basic meager tombs for the poor.

  The large grandiose tombs along Via Cornelia that you see on the tour don't appear until well into the 2nd Century.

 It our timeline this area is a snake infested rocky hilly plain prone to flooding and Malaria . But there are sections of rich aristocratic gardens, temples, clay deposits & furnaces, fields, forrests and barren patches.  

 The Circus was built in the area that once was the 'Gardens of Agrippina the Elder' who was Caligula's mother. And Nero's aunt also had gardens in the area, until she was poisoned:(.

  The Christians take St Peter's body into this poor desolate cemetery and bury him just a stone's-throw away from where he was crucified.

  It was just a simple poorman's grave dug into the earth with brick tiles placed over it in an inverted 'V' like this /\.  It's said that the plot was possibly donated by a fellow Christian.  Or perhaps? the plot was purchased after his arrest knowing where he would be executed?  

 With a major Christian persecution going on it seems to me that this might have been a covert operation perhaps done under cover of darkness?  And with the burial so close you might also assume that it would have been dangerous for anyone to transport a crucified Jew = dead Christian.

It just seems to me that St. Peter was buried in the closest convenient location?
  Or perhaps they wanted to bury him before sunset for religious reasons?

  In ~160AD a shrine is built over the grave (you will see a column of this shrine imbedded in a wall on the tour).   This shrine is modified and additions added for the next ~150yrs.

  ~315AD Emperor Constantine builds a new shrine over the older shrine and then builds (~324AD) the 1st St. Peter's Basilica around his shrine.

  In 1506 this Basilica is demolished (unsafe) and a new basilica and shrine is built over the older basilica and shrine. This basilica was completed in 1626 and is the one you see today.
  So today there is physical evidence that this grave's location was marked since 160AD with elaborately built shrines.

  And in the 96yrs from burial (64AD) to the 1st shrine (160AD) this grave was a highly revered site among the Christians and often visited.   

So this grave was *never* lost or forgotten by the Christians. (I'm 52 and as a young child I remember my Great Grandfather pointing out the house where he was born in the 1890's. So 96yrs isn't really that long for an oral tradition among a large group of a very popular physical site.)

Nor would they have made it up, if they did I'm sure they would have picked a much better location:).

  Also Pagan Romans were very superstitious about disturbing the already buried or entombed dead or messing with any God's shrine or temple. And it seems that this grave and the later shrine was never bothered by the authorities.
  I think if you look at all the evidence and have no bias either pro or con, it's hard IMO not to believe that this is the Tomb of St. Peter!

  One of the 'Con' arguments is; That this is a Pagan tomb because of the small animal bones found within the tomb.

  But remember this wasn't a very secure tomb originally, just covered by slabs.
  It was dug in the dirt alongside a road with a large Circus/racetrack visited by thousands just meters away.
 And centuries of people eating and picnicing in the area, heavy rains running downhill through this area (washouts) and later a small hole in the tomb where people could drop-in coins or anything else.

 Plus what was in the original soil when the grave was 1st dug. So it is easy to imagine how other small animal and human bones could get mixed in with St. Peter's.
 Even a simple hypothetical thing like some little 3-4yo in 280AD picnicing with the family at the family tomb and later running around and playing with a half-eaten rooster bone.   
Then he sees a hole in a tomb and like any kid that age just sticks it in because it's there (think electrical outlets & toddlers) :).

  Also a Circus where horses are often killed in the violent chariot races. I know in the animal hunts staged in the Colosseum and Circus' that the meat of dead lions, tigers, bears, etc was given to the common Romans thru a lottery.
  Meat was a very rare meal to the poorer Romans so I doubt that they would let a dead horse go to waste. Butcher it nearby and pay-off the winners.

  Then in the 20th Century scholars and archaeologists are scratching their heads wondering how the hell did these animal bones get into this tomb:).

  Although the Christians certainly didn't start the Great Fire, it's *possible* that a *few* of them might have helped it spread?    
We see this today and all through history of small groups of religious fanatics in all religions who think they are doing God's bidding, especially if they see what they think is a 'Sign from God'.

 And these early Christians had a major sign!   Because the astrological timing of the fire was just perfect to fulfull an ***ancient prophesy about the destruction of a 'Great Evil City', which is *exactly* what the early Christians considered Rome.

 History *does* record that there were various reports of men starting other fires and hindering others in their efforts to stop the fire while it raged.
 This Fire burned for 6 days and then reignited and burned for another 3 days.

***There was an ancient Egyptian prophesy that was well known at the time predicting "The fall of a great evil city on the day the 'Dog Star' (Sirius) rises".
  Sirius rose on July 19, 64AD which was the day the 'Great Fire' started.

  Also the early Christians had no love for Pagan Rome and according to Historian Prof. Gerhard Baudy they were preaching and passing out texts saying "That a
fire would reduce the city (Rome) to ashes" and this was well before the 64AD 'Great Fire'.

VIA TRIUMPHALIS NECROPOLIS TOUR   This is a new completely seperate Necropolis tour of another Roman cemetery that bordered another nearby ancient street called Via Triumphalis.

  It's located in a different section Vatican City and it just opened to the public in Oct '06 for limited tours.
 At this moment there is no booking info listed on the website but I'm sure that will change soon.
 But you can still book it with this info below, so far a couple of posters on the Fodor's Forum already have.

"The archeological site may be visited on Fridays and Saturdays in groups of no more than 25 persons (cost 5e). Reservation is obligatory and may be done by sending a Fax to Vatican Museums - Office for Special Visits (Fax no. 0669881573 Tel no. 06.69884947) or by writing to "

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