One of the highlights to any visit of Rome: a tour of the excavations under St. Peter’s Basilica

I’m writing this over Easter, so I thought I would choose a Christian theme for this one. Whether you’re religious or not, if you’re going to Rome, this might be very important to your trip.

I had heard about and then read about this tour long before we visited Rome, however was very unsure of what to expect as there is very little information given on the Vatican website about the tour and they certainly don’t advertise. What we ended up with is what my girlfriend considers the absolute highlight of our trip… and she’s not even catholic.

As we always do, we had thoroughly looked through two of the major guide books to look at all possible tour options for Rome. As I’m a tour guide myself, I understand that sometimes it’s impossible to see something without a guide and even if it were possible, it’s better to have someone explain it to you and then later you can look everything up if you need clarification. In this case the only way you can see the excavations under St. Peter’s Basilica is to take the tour operated by the Vatican excavations office.

When I ask some people if they took the tour, they say “well, yeah, that’s how we exited the basilica”, which means they didn’t take the tour. To take the tour is not just a simple “Oh, I’ll show up that day if I decide I have time.”

St. Peter’s Basilica was built above the spot where St. Peter was buried. Below the main basilica today is the crypt where most popes are buried. Below the crypt is where you find the mausoleums of ancient Romans around St. Peter’s time which were built on a hill at the edge of the city of Rome. In this ancient cemetery is where St. Peter was buried, although not openly.

On the tour under St. Peter’s Basilica you see several of the mausoleums as well as what they believe to be St. Peter’s actual grave. This is, in fact, the only way to see St. Peter’s grave and an indescribable experience. It is completely different than seeing the catacombs and I believe different than any other experience you can find as your guide walks you through the ancient burial grounds and then up to the level of the crypt.

The tour must be booked weeks in advance. The tour can only be booked through the excavations office of the Vatican. Only groups of 12 or less are booked to go through the excavations and you must be over 15 years old as well. There is no photography allowed.

Follow the website’s directions and then on the day of the big event, go to the side of St. Peter’s Basilica (while looking at St. Peter’s from the front, go to the left side, outside the semi-circle of columns). Talk to the Swiss Guard in English, Italian, or German (they prefer German). The Swiss Guard will direct you to the excavations office. For me, just having to deal with the Swiss Guard and going where 99% of tourists don’t go was a highlight.

-Mike Richardson, The Professional Tourist

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  1. RJ says:

    My wife and I visited Rome over 30 years ago and still remember the overwhelming sense of history and romance the city brought to us. We visited St.Peter’s but didn’t take the tour you mention. Another reason to go back.

  2. betty midgett says:

    get it

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