History, Vatican City
The Scavi Tour is a tour of about twelve people, with limited tours throughout the day. You're led underneath St. Peter's Basilica to the excavated area below where they believe St. Peter is buried. If you're Christian, if you're spiritual, if you love the quiet sacred ambiance of holy places, if you like secret places, or even if you love history then you will love the Scavi Tour.
I am a Christian, not Catholic; I feel I am mostly spiritual rather than religious. I do have a fascination with Jesus and his disciples. It's hard to tell how much of what we read is true, yet still I am a believer. To be able to be at the final resting of someone who knew Jesus was nearly overwhelming for me. It was a very powerful feeling to attend this tour, so powerful I cried.
Also, the feeling of going underneath the space where most visitors flock, to see through the grating them milling about above you and to view Michelangelo's paintings on the Sistine Chapel beyond is just incredible! I love secret places. I wish I could show you through photos but they were banned and I was respectful of that, which is why you only see the photo of the gentleman at the door before we started. So you'll have to go see for yourself!
Tickets are currently 13€. I visited in 2012 and was able to get tickets right away by emailing the Vatican. They email back to let you know you'll be on the tour and provide payment instructions. Go to the Vatican's website listed below, then search for "Scavi". This will take you to a brochure with directions on ordering your tickets.
Photo: September 2012
The Basilica is named after St Peter, who was martyred in Rome in 67 AD. He was one of the two main disciples of Jesus Christ (the other being St Paul) Simon Peter, his real name, was a fisherman from Galilee. In the gospel of Matthew Jesus says of Peter-On this rock (petra in Greek) I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it."
One of the things you will often hear about is how St Peter died. He lived the last years of his life in Rome. He was crucified by the Emperor Nero and requested that he be crucified upside down as he felt he was unworthy to die in the same way as Jesus.
First we saw St. Peter's Dome, then we came to the walls that surround the Vatican, dividing it from Italy.
Vatican City is surrounded by a Fortress which over the years, protected the Pope from his enemies. A tunnel connects Vatican City to Castel Saint'Angelo and was used as an escape route during turbulent times.
Along the walls, are the coat of arms of many of the Popes.
The Apostolic Palace is the official residence of the Pope. It is also known as the Sacred Palace, the Papal Palace and the Palace of the Vatican.
The Papal Apartments is the non-official designation for the collection of apartments, both private and state, that wrap around a courtyard on two sides of the third floor (the top floor) of the Apostolic Palace. Since the 17th century the Papal Apartments have been the official residence of the Pope in his religious capacity (as Supreme Pontiff).
The Vatican is believed to take its name from the Latin word votes, a prophet or soothsayer, for on Mount Vaticanus once stood an Etruscan oracle which told the future. In the First Century, the Emperor Caligula built a race-course there and imported from Egypt the obelisk, which now stands in the middle of the Piazza di San Pietro, to mark the centre of the spina, the narrow central platform around which the horses and the chariots turned in their courses. When Nero became emperor, he chose this race-course as the scene of his hideous tortures of the Saints, when Christians steeped in tar were burned as torches in the arena. There, probably in the year 67 A.D., St. Peter was crucified.
The line of the Vatican walls was modified after 1929, when the Holy See became an indipendent state.
A new wall was built between Porta Angelica and St Peter’s Square and the wall leading to Castel Sant'Angelo was pulled down including Porta Angelica, named after Pope Pius IV (Giovanni Angelo Medici) and dedicated to the Guardian Angel.
Only very few remains of the original structure are left: two angels, a papal coat of arms and a Latin inscription reading "HE SENT YOU HIS ANGELS TO PROTECT YOU IN EACH OF YOUR STREETS".
The fragments are hung on the Pius Iv’s wall on the way to the entrance of the Vatican Museums.
My friend, Joe, and I spent a few late hours here as it was open in August until 1 a.m. - one could easily spend an entire day and evening.
After entering from the lower level, you wind up through the center of the building, on a giant corkscrew ramp of Roman bricks and wooden planks which served as drawbridges making invasion of the upper fort impossible for the enemy. There are many passageways and rooms - the tombs of the Emperor in a large vaulted area - the exhibit of Medieval and Renaissance weapons - Pope Paul III's apartments where you will see a temporary exhibit - Pope Clement VII commissioned a heated bathtub in a room exquisitely decorated by followers of Raphael (ask directions because it is difficult to locate) - elegantly appointed apartments on the two floors, which various Popes occupied over a period spanning the Middle Ages and the Renaissance - two “trompe l’oeil” paintings in the doorways of the big room are stunning. All along the ascent you will hesitate at beautiful views of Rome through the parapets - each offering a wonderful photo op.
Courtyard of the cannonballs - Vatican travelogues I and II
Passagetto from Vatican to Castle Sant Angelo - separate tip and Travelogues
Roof top of Castel Sant Angelo - Travelogues
St Michael the Archangel sculpture on top - Travelogues
Although you can clearly see the Passetto from the right side of Vatican Square, you cannot enter the Passetto from the Vatican side - only from Castel Sant 'Angelo.
Il Passetto di Borgo and The Leonine Wall was the Pope's escape route from the Vatican to Castel Sant Angelo - particularly interesting just after sunset or at night, given the extraordinary views of Rome and the Vatican. The entire Passetto is about 1km. 600 meters. The portion open to the public represents a short stretch of the passageway that has been restored because most of it is blocked by debris and too narrow to pass. Passing along the top of the wall, you are looking into homes of people who live in Borgo Pio. We were told that the tourists would sometimes start up a conversation of sorts with residents looking out their windows, yelling comments back and forth. Then neighbors would complain about all the yelling.
Stop and view the Angels at Ponte Sant 'Angelo Bridge.
Statues of St Peter and St Paul were erected by Clemens VII. The statues of the angels were commissioned to Bernini by Alexander VII. They were executed by Bernini's pupils from his designs and put in place in 1670. When considering placement of his angels, Bernini devised three points of view - mindful that people would be crossing the bridge from both directions. So in addition to the frontal view the statues can be seen also at a 45 degree angle and the angel's wings open so as to be seen frontally from these lateral views.
Photo 3 - Bridge of Angels at night from the top terrace of Castle Sant 'Angelo
Photo 4 - Here are the factual - and more reverent - descriptions of the Angels:
Two saints and ten angels holding elements of the Passion are depicted. Left side of the bridge starting from Vatican side: St Peter school of Lorenzetto, the scourge by Lazzaro Morelli, the crown of thorns by Paolo Naldini from an original by Gian Lorenzo Bernini now in S. Andrea delle Fratte, the dice by Paolo Naldini, the derogatory inscription I.N.R.I. by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the offer of vinegar by Antonio Giorgetti; right side of the bridge from Vatican to Castle: St Paul school of Paolo Taccone, the throne by Antonio Raggi, the poor vestment by Cosimo Fancelli, the nails by Girolamo Lucenti, the cross by Ercole Ferrata, the lance by Domenico Guidi.
Photo 5 - Although this angel appears to have a modern day swat-the-pigeon device, it might be a nice gesture to help the angels out here - swat a pigeon from their personage if you can.
The Castle - Originally built as a mausoleum by Emperor Hadrian (2nd century AD) wished to have a tomb for himself. Castel Sant'Angelo has undergone several changes: first a fortress against the attacks of the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths, then a prison and finally a magnificent papal residence.
Many additional photos and much more detail on our Castle Travelogues
Vatican City is the world capital of Catholicism and is also the world's smallest state. It occupies 43ha (106 acres) within high walls watched over by the Vatican guard. It was the site where St Peter was martyred in AD 64 and buried in a necropolis near the site of his crucifixion where the present day St Peter's Basilica now stands. It is also the residence of the popes who have succeeded him. The papal palaces are home to the Sistine Chapel and the wonderful collections of the Vatican Museums. Neighbouring Trastevere is quite different, a picturesque old quarter, whose inhabitants consider themselves to be the only true Romans.
The Vatican, a sovereign state since February 1929, is ruled by the pope, Europe's only absolute monarch. About 500 people live here and, as well as accomodation for staff and ecclesiasts, the city has it's own post office, banks, currency (even though it's still the Euro), judicial system, radio station, shops and daily newspaper.
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In the year 258, however, this protection was withdrawn. Christians from henceforth were specially exempted from the privilege which they had previously enjoyed on account of the use they had made of it to enable them to carry on religious worship. Hence it became necessary to remove the sacred relics of the two great Apostles in order to preserve them from possible outrage. They were removed secretly by night and hidden in the Catacombs of Saint Sebastian, though, probably the fact of their removal was known to very few, and the great body of Roman Christians believed them still to rest in their original tombs.
At a later date, when the persecution was less acute, they were brought back again to the Vatican and the Via Ostiana respectively.
When the Church was once more at peace under Constantine the Great, Christians worked towards preparing the places so long hallowed as the resting places of the relics of the Apostles into the sites of great basilicas. The emperor himself not only supplied the funds for these buildings, but actually assisted in the work of building with his own hands.
At St. Paul's, where the tomb had remained in its original condition of a simple vault, no difficulty presented itself, and the high altar was erected over the vault. The inscription, dating from this period, "Paulo Apostolo Martyri", may still be seen in its place under the altar.
At St. Peter's, however, the matter was complicated by the fact that Pope Anacletus, in the first century, had built an upper chamber above the vault. Even to the present time, in spite of the rebuilding of the church, the actual vault itself in which the body lies is no longer accessible and has not been so since the ninth century.
There are those, however, who think that it would not be impossible to find the entrance and to reopen it once more, but, so far, without result.
The history of the relics of the Apostles Peter and Paul is one which is involved in considerable confusion. There is no doubt where the bodies now are - in the tombs of the Vatican and the Ostian Way respectively - but there is another tomb at the Catacombs of Saint Sebastian which also claims the honour of having at one time received them. One of the assumptions on what really happened is as follows (but is viable for dispute as with all other cool theories :P ) -
There would have been no difficulty in obtaining the bodies of the Apostles after their martyrdom. The bereaved Christians seem to have followed their usual custom in burying both as near as possible to the scene of their sufferings. Each was laid in ground that belonged to Christian proprietors, by the side of well-known roads leading out of the city; St. Paul on the Via Ostiana and St. Peter on the Via Cornelia. In each case the actual tomb seems to have been an underground vault, approached from the road by a descending staircase, and the body reposed in a sarcophagus of stone in the centre of this vault.
These tombs were the objects of pilgrimage during the ages of persecution, and it will be found recorded in the Acts of several of the martyrs that they were seized while praying at the tombs of the Apostles. For two centuries the relics were safe enough in these tombs, public though they were, for the respect entertained by the Romans for any place where the dead were buried preserved them from any danger of sacrilege.
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The last part of the climb goes between the two superimposed round vaults which make up the dome, which curve little by little as they raise to the top.
A circular balcony from the lantern looks out onto the unforgettable panorama of the eternal city.
The greatest church in Christendom, St.Peter's Basilica, rises on the grandiose St. Peter's Square.
The Colonnade is Bernini's most beautiful work, and forms the solemn entrance to St. Peter's and the Vatican.
Until Michelangelo, then almost years old, began a succession of various architects, among them Raphael and Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, and different plans.
Aftter Michelangelo's death, the work went on according to his designs, which called for Bramants's original Greek cross plan, but under the papacy of Paul V (1605-1621), Maderno decisively adopted a Latin cross design for the new basilica.