WHEN IN ROME: Part #2 – The Pagan cemetery under St. Peter’s
In 2008 on our 9th trip to Rome, Jenny found out about a very special, unique, and exclusive tour which turned out to be probably the most interesting thing we’ve ever done (in a city where virtually everything you can do is interesting).
In 100 A.D. Emperor Constantine cut into Vatican Hill and moved half of it to cover a pagan cemetery and Caligula’s racetrack. After leveling it all out, he then proceeded to build the first of several St. Peter’s Basilicas on the site, the original of which (Constantine’s) is where many claim St. Peter is in fact buried. Now, after 70 years of excavation, if you do it right, you can go on a fabulous underground tour of the ancient family mausoleums which are more than 3 levels below the floor of the current St. Peter’s. It must not be confused with the other Vatican tombs where all the popes are buried (those are often called the Necropolis) nor some other excavations that are above ground. Then as you climb up you encounter the ruins of Constantine’s church and the site of St. Peter’s tomb.
There is only one way to see this place and that is through applying weeks, if not months in advance, to the Vatican Excavations Office. Below are some sites with instructions and insights. Note: this info is hard to find…the ONLY place to get access to these is through the Vatican excavations office – this is the key to figuring out how to do it. The first 2 websites talk about how to do this. there are only about 120 people per day allowed and in groups of 15 people. The last 2 web sites talk about the opening up of the pagan tombs 5 years ago.