A City Beneath the Basilica
Beneath the Basilica of St. Peter lies an ancient Necropolis. This was excavated in secret during WWII and is open to the public on a controlled basis. Visitors must request a spot on the tour in advance and hope for the best. This is our #1 choice of things to do in what we call Secret Italy.
This 90 minute tour is not for the claustrophobia. After looking at some models in a small museum setting, the small group is brought immediately down into the earth along narrow hallways and stairwells. Photography is prohibited, and bags are left behind to accommodate the safety of the site and others.
Some digging began during WWII and the archaeological site was discovered. The place was excavated, but the archaeologist needed a place to put the dirt. A plan was devised where the Vatican would officially build a garden behind the Basilica. Dirt by the piles would be scattered about the grounds as any large garden work would produce. Along with these piles, dirt from the excavation was added. Discoveries were well protected from falling into Hitler's hands who was known for collecting artifacts and art.
The site itself was originally on a slope, and the land was graded to make a flat area for construction. Tombs in the Necropolis dated back to the first century A.D. Remains were moved from the hill above, and remains were left in the tombs below. The tour dives down into the tombs that were buried during this time.
Like mentioned above, photographs are not allowed, so I am unable to share anything further other than a recommendation for this tour. You will see an underground city that once stood on a hill. Pottery, frescoes, statures, and paths are presented for the public to see. At the end is a set of bones that is suspected to be St. Peter's. Allow the guide to explain the clues that lead up to the conclusion. It is very interesting and very educational.
Signing up for the Tour
We certainly can not help you any further than to provide the information that we followed to do this tour. We went to this site: www.saintpetersbasilica.org to get some information, including a fax number and an email address. The actual site where we got the final information is: www.vatican.va.
Be prepared to provide the exact number of visitors in your group, your names, language desired for the tour, dates you are able to make the tour, and our email, fax, or full postal address. We provided our email address and received information that way, which was good because we were in Italy by the time we were accepted. We sent this information along with our request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Further Information and Photos
St. Peter's makes information available, including photos. Visit http://www.saintpetersbasilica.org/ and look for "Scavi" and "Necropolis". The most impressive site we have found to date: take an armchair tour on the Vatican website. Photos below are screen shots from that site.