For a tiny country, Vatican City certainly packs in an enormous list of things to see and do. Part of the reason for this is that some of their attractions are on top of other attractions – including sights that are underground. Perhaps the most famous underground attraction these days is the Vatican Necropolis. But there’s another underground spot you may have on your must-see list, and this one’s much easier to get into – the Vatican’s Sacred Grottoes.
The word “grotto” just means a type of cave, and while most of us know grottoes as natural caves in elaborate gardens, the Sacred Grottoes of the Vatican are neither natural or in the Vatican Gardens. They are a series of underground rooms under St Peter’s Basilica in which various kings, queens, and Popes are buried. Unlike the Necropolis, the Vatican Grottoes don’t require that you book a special tour months in advance – so while a visit to the Sacred Vatican Grottoes is less exclusive, it’s far more accessible.
Some of the Popes buried in the Sacred Grottoes are Pope Hadrian IV (12th century), Pope Boniface VIII (14th century), Pope Paul VI (20th century), and Pope John Paul I (20th century). Pope John Paul II had been buried in the Vatican’s Sacred Grottoes, but he was moved to the Chapel of Saint Sebastian after he was Beatified in 2011.
The Vatican thinks of the Sacred Grottoes as the Necropolis as essentially the same thing, in that both are burial sites, but you can see part of the former without needing to book a visit to the latter. The Vatican Grottoes are open every day. From April-September the open hours are 7am until 6pm, and from October-March the open hours are 7am until 5pm. Once inside St Peter’s Basilica, the entry to the Grottoes is from the right transept (to the right of the main altar as you stand with your back to the basilica doors).