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Roma, non
basta una vita!

Visiting The Vatican

Papal Audiences, Gardens Tour
and Tours of the Necropolis (St. Peter's Tomb) Scavi

the Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museums,
St. Peter's Basilica
and Castel San Angelo (Hadrian's Tomb)

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Dress Code

Please remember hundreds of millions consider these sites quite holy. You will want to dress and act in a fashion  respectful of the sites and what they represent. No shorts. No tank tops. Women's shoulders must be covered.

Papal Audience

Public audiences are held (almost) every Wednesday morning. One must reserve (free) tickets for these and other papal ceremonies from the Prefecture of the Pontifical House of the Vatican City (phone: 011-39-06-698-83017.) The entrance is through the Bronze Door (at the right of the entrance porch to St. Peter's) and is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Catholic or not, you'll find a papal audience a quite special, memorable, experience.

The staff at the American Parish in Rome will reserve audience tickets by e-mail. They can also arrange for tickets for Papal Masses, except Eastertime and Christmastime services.

The Bishops' office for your country can also arrange audience tickets as well as tickets for Easter and Christmas Papal services. For US Visitors:

Directions to the North American Visitor's Office from the Trevi Fountain.
Looking away from the fountain locate the church of St. Vincent and Anastasio. Take the Via di San Vincenzo which is to the right of the Church, you will be walking away from the Trevi Fountain. Make your first right onto Largo Pietro di Brazza which becomes Via dell'Umilta. The NAV building is two blocks down on the left. The entrance is the second large door (#30) on your left near the corner of Via dell'Archetto and Via dell'Umilta.

Bishops' Office for U.S. Visitors to the Vatican
Attn: Rev. Msgr. Roger C. Roensch
via dell'Umilita, 30
00187 Roma
Ph: 011-39-06-690-011 Fx: 011-39-06-679-1448

Please note the Bishop's Office cannot arrange Scavi or Garden tours.

Vatican Gardens

Morning visits are possible through a guided tour. Perhaps our greatest regret of things undone over two dozen visits over 30 years to Rome is in not taking this tour until just recently.

Don't wait that long! There is a little bustle involved, since, for most of us, they can only be seen as part of a tour, but it's an interesting, relaxed and informative one. The tour operates Monday-Saturday, except Wednesdays, at 1000. You must be at the office by 0945, prior to the tour.

We had to wait four days for our tour during the shoulder season (May). You might be able to go without a wait off season, but expect a longer wait in peak.

You'll take a slow bus tour with several stops for history lessons until you reach the highest spot in Rome, the Papal helipad. From there you walk, slowly, back to the square, visiting as fine gardens as you'll find, and viewing superb architecture with commentary by a knowledgeable guide. (In English -- and possibly other languages.) It's a pleasant, peaceful and enriching ninety minutes.

You must reserve the tour in advance at the Tourist Information Office. It is relocated near the Post Office in Saint Peter's Square. Phone: 011-39-06-6988-4466 or 6988-4866. Fax 6988-5100. The cost is around $10 per person, perhaps ITL20,000.

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Tomb of St. Peter and
the Pre-Constantinian Necropoli (Excavations) (Scavi)

Almost anyone who has taken this tour counts it among the highlights of their Rome visit.

A typical comment after visiting the Necropolis:
"Our favorite part of the trip, we all agreed, was the Scavi Tour . Each one of us left the tour with mouths agape. "

Even if you've taken the tour in the past you may want to repeat. You will find vastly improved, technically advanced, lighting has been installed, and much restoration has been done in the time since our first visit 20 years ago. All in all, you'll see more than you've ever been able to see before.

Entering through a door on the south (left) side of the basilica you quickly leave the present and time-travel backwards 2000 or more years. You've entered a Roman 'city of the dead' (necropolis) underlaying the modern church. The passageway opens into the main street of what looks like a stage-set or Disney World ride.

Tradition has St. Peter crucified (upside down) at Nero's Circus (racecourse), and buried in a nearby cemetery. The first St. Peter's was built atop this cemetery. The present St. Peter's stands astride that.

Tradition further holds the altar of the first church was built directly over Peter's tomb. 20th century excavations, especially those initiated by Pius XII, have uncovered evidence supportive of tradition, though not providing proof positive. Two Thousand Years in Rome and When in Rome provide excellent and  understandable reporting of the findings, among other sources.

Unfortunately the excavations were conducted in a less than professional manner ... a quite interesting story by itself. In the end there's much reason to believe this may be St. Peter's tomb ... but absolutely almost as much reason to doubt. Pagan or Christian, Jew or Protestant, Catholic or Muslim ... you'll find this an interesting and memorable tour.

The sides of the streets are lined with two-story high mausoleums. The decor is faded, more indistinguishable even in the dim light. Clearly, though, pagan satyrs and Roman and Greek gods display themselves side by side with Christ, the Apostles and Christian symbols.

You'll find as well the remains of houses, shops and cemeteries ... and at the end you'll get within an eylash of what may well be Peter's tomb, directly below the high altar of the church.

The tours are in small groups (10-15) and last about one hour, sometimes longer, and cost ITL15,000.

You can apply for a tour by sending an e-mail to uff.scavi@fabricsp.va. It's a good idea to give a range of dates in your request as tour availability is limited. Tours run most Mondays through Saturdays. Make reservations as far in advance as possible.

While they usually respond to requests by e-mail promptly, it's not unusual to have problems.  Should you not receive a response to your e-mail request, make a new request by fax, as directed below.

warning.gif (151 bytes)No one under 15 is admitted,
and cameras and bags are forbidden.

You may have to pay a non-refundable deposit for your tours within ten days of confirmation or the reservation will be canceled. (Too many no-shows in the past have spoiled it for the rest of us. The Scavi office seems to relax and tighten regulations from time to time, so see what they say.)

swissgrd.jpg (12890 bytes)You will receive a  confirmation within two weeks or less, normally. If a deposit is required they'll send instructions. US dollar checks are usually accepted.

When in Rome you may apply for the tour at the Soperintendenza degli Scavi (Superintendent of the Excavations - "excavations office"). This office is through the Arch of the Bells to the left of the church as you stand facing it in the square; it's the archway you see guarded by the colorful Swiss Guards.

Please, don't be fussy about the time or date selected by the Scavi. There are many more who request tours than can be scheduled. The groups are small; tours are conducted in  one of several languages; there are few tours each day.
Taking the tour is a privilege, one that will be envied by many. Probably fewer than one in ten visitors to the Vatican take the tour, perhaps only one in a thousand. The situation of the excavations is somewhat tenuous ... ultimately these tours may be discontinued for the sake of preservation. Request your reservations as soon as you have firm dates for your visit to Rome. Make it a point to work your sightseeing agenda around whatever date and time you're granted. You'll be glad you did!

There's usually a wait of several days, often two weeks or more. In the past a small group of people have been added to a previously-planned tour leaving in just a few minutes. However the Soperintendenza appears to be 'encouraging' reservations by turning away folks with no reservations even when there is space on a tour.

When you reserve you'll probably have to leave a deposit against the total cost. Even if your time in Rome is short, it's worth the effort to check on the availability of a tour.

You can also reserve a tour by phone or fax.  Phone: 011-39-06-6988.5318; do not call from the US. From the US:
Fax: 011-39-06-6988.5518. They may send you a form to complete and send back to the excavations office. However, it is a good idea in your original fax to include the full names of all people, the language in which you request the tour to be conducted, and the name and phone number of your hotel in Rome. Failure to include any of this material, may cause your application to be turned down! You can then visit in person or have your hotel call after you arrive to see if your reservation was accepted.

Speak and understand more than one language? Let them know when you request your tour. They run tours in many languages and you'll increase your chance of getting a tour if you're multilingual.

When you've booked ahead from home you may have to go to the office prior to the tour to confirm your reservation and leave the deposit if you did not send one earlier. Again, you'll receive instructions as to "this week's" drill. smile.gif (93 bytes)

We've often been asked if the tour would be bothersome to claustrophobes, or whether there are extended stairs without railings, etc. The answer is a firm, "No". There's absolutely nothing about this tour that anyone we know would find scary. While the tour is technically "underground",   you'll be stunned by the size (including height) of the areas through which you pass. While there are some stairs, there is no significant amount of  "up and down", and there's little risk of falling, tripping, etc.

Be sure and see our information on
Visiting the Sistine Chapel, Vatican Museums,
St. Peter's Basilica,
and Castel San Angelo (Hadrian's Tomb)

as well as
Roof, Dome and Cupola

Pilgrims will want to know that the American Parish in Rome publishes on its website current information on operating hours for the several Basilicas as well as times of mass celebrations, hours of the Vatican Museums and the operating times of various catacombs.

Have you seen our
Introduction to Touring Rome's Sights?

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