I planned my first trip to Italy in less than 10 weeks, from deciding to take a trip – with no idea where – to getting on the plane to go. Booking a vacation with that little lead time, and to some of Italy’s most tourist-ridden destinations (Assisi, Rome and the Amalfi Coast), put its own limits on my trip. Some hotels or B&Bs I’d otherwise have liked to stay in were booked up, for one. But I was most disapointed about not being able to see the Vatican Necropolis.
Also known as Vatican Scavi, entrance to the tombs under St. Peter’s Basilica is strictly regulated with only around 250 visitors admitted each day. You must email the Scavi office in advance with your requested day, language and number of people in order to get a reservation. No one under 15 years of age is admitted and no photos or bags are allowed within the necropolis. I emailed the Vatican Scavi office over a month in advance, after researching all there was to do in Rome and figuring out what I needed to plan ahead of time, but 30 days was not enough and my request was denied. I read later that 90 days advance notice is usually advised (thought not specifically necessary) for a reservation. Yikes.
That is the one major thing yet on my bucket list for Rome. Pope Pius XII gave the orders to have the necropolis excavated between 1940-1949 in an attempt to locate the burial site of St. Peter. Where St. Peter’s Square is today is thought to have been the site of the Caligula’s Circus in the early centuries A.D. Directly off of the Circus site ran Via Cornelia, along which were almost two dozen pagan burial sites. In the first few centuries after Christ’s death, over 1000 people are thought to have been buried there (burial sites were not allowed within city walls in those days).
Fun fact: the obelisk that now resides in St. Peter’s Square was originally brought to Rome by Caligula to stand in the center of the Circus, which became the site of the first organized, state-sponsored Christian crucifixions in 65AD. Two years later (give or take), St. Peter was crucified there and then subsequently buried along Via Cornelia.
In 313 AD Emperor Constantine signed the Edit of Milan, granting religious freedom throughout his realm. Shortly after, he decided to build a basilica, remembered now as “Old St. Peter’s”, on the site of the Apostle Peter’s tomb (Peter was not yet a saint). At the time the necropolis was still in use but Constantine leveled some land anyway, filling part of the necropolis with soil and debris to make room for his construction. In 1505 Pop Julius II, planning his own tomb site, ordered the destruction of the then decaying cathedral and the building of what we now know as St. Peter’s Basilica. By this time the exact location of St. Peter’s tomb had been lost, and was not confirmed again until the mid-20th century.
Till I can view the excavated site with my own eyes, tell me: has anyone else been? How was it?! What did you like? What was creepy? Inspiring? Any interesting historical or cultural tidbits from the tour? Interested minds want to know!
Or, at least, I do
The official site of the Vatican Scavi, which includes instructions for reservations can be reached by CLICKING HERE.
UPDATE June 22, 2013: I’m going back to Rome in December for Christmas and immediately came back to this post to remember how to request entrance to the necropolis. The problem? It’s closed December 24-27th – the exact dates I’m there! It was worth it to be to stay through the 28th to do this. So I emailed them in March to ask about tours the morning of the 28th. No answer. I emailed them in late April. No answer. On the Vatican site it says they only reply if they have availability, so I was fearing the worst. But I tried again in early June and – wallah! – this week I got my confirmation email! I have the first English tour on the 28th, after which I’ll leave Rome to continue my trip. I’ll be so excited to check this of my “list”!