Sacre Grotte Vaticane

Useful Information

Location: St. Peter dome, Vatican, Rome
Open: Sacre Grotte Vaticane: APR to SEP daily 7-18.
OCT to MAR daily 7-17.
Necropoli preconstantiniana: Only after appointment, by letter, 20 days in advance.
Fee: Sacre Grotte Vaticane: free.
Necropoli preconstantiniana: [2012]
Guided tours:
Bibliography: Francesco Maria Torrigio (1618): Le sacre Grotte vaticane, Viterbo 1618.
Address: Sacre Grotte Vaticane, Fabbrica di S. Pietro, Ufficio Scavi, 00 120 Città del Vaticano, Tel: +39-0669-885318, Fax: +39-0669-873017.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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The Sacre Grotte Vaticane (Holy Grotto of the Vatican) are also called Necropolis. The reason is the usage of the former church to bury the popes. The Grotto is located in the Vatican, in the center of Rome, below the huge dome St. Peter. It is entered down a staircase at the Longinus pillar in St. Peter, the visit is a one way trip, andd the Sacre grotte is left outside the church through a second entrance.

The Constantine church St. Peter was erected on top of an older church at the same place. This curch was not taken apart completely, its lower parts form the basement of St. Peter. The result is a crypt, three meters below the floor of church.

The first part is called Grotte Nuove (New Grotto), series of passages with frescoes on the walls. Several chapels branch of from this passage. One side branch offers a view into the Confessio with the grave of St. Peter. The first chapel on the left side contains the grave of pope Paul II, which was created by Giovanni Dalmata and Mino da Fiesole. It is considert one of the great artworks of the renaissance and was created in 1480.

The next part is the Grotte Vecchie (Old Grotto) which contains numerous other artworks. Some of them were relocted to this place during the construction of the church above. The grave of Bonifatius VIII. was created by Arnolfo di Cambio in the early 14th century. He also created a bust of the same pope. The grave of Kaiser Otto II. (983) is a simple sarcophagus. A Roman statue of a philosopher is today called a statue of St. Peter, to make it Christian the hands were replaced by blessing hands and other Chrstian attributes were added. The grottos contan the actual graves of various popes and important people, bt their graves are rather plain, while their mor baroque grave monuments were erected in the new church above.

The Necropoli preconstantiniana (pre-constantine necropolis) is located in a second cellar floor below the Sacre Grotte Vaticane. It was excavated under pope Pius XII., who was searching for the grave of St. Peter. The search revealed 22 mausoleums and two open graves. They were decorated with both Christian and Pagan symbols, and a rough inscription "PETRUS ROGAT...", which means Peter asks. Nearby a smal altar or monument was found, which orignates from the 2nd century AD. So while it is still unclear, if St. Peter was buried at this place, it gives some evidence that it might be the place.

The church St. Peter and the Sacre Grotte Vaticane are open to tourists and there is no entrance fee, as this is a church. But the necropolis is accesible only after appointment with a guided tour.