An Ancient Roman Necropolis, Located Just A Few Feet Beneath St. Peter’s Basilica, Has Been Opened To The Public For Viewing By The Vatican, Featuring Carved Marble Sarcophagi And Tombs Filled With The Remains Of Ancient Romans

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The Vatican has opened an ancient Roman necropolis to the general public. The site is located a few feet beneath St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It contains carved marble sarcophagi, frescoes and mosaics, and tombs filled with the bones of everyday ancient Romans.

In the past, only certain groups of students and specialists were allowed entry into the necropolis. Now, the Saint Rose Gate overlooking Risorgimento Square has been opened, providing access to any individual who wishes to explore the site.

The Vatican decided to broaden access to the necropolis for its exhibition, “Life and Death in the Rome of the Caesars.”

The necropolis stretches across almost 11,000 square feet, and the tombs date back between the first and fourth centuries A.D. Archaeologists believe that the tomb of St. Peter himself is located in the area. But overall, the people who were buried there were ordinary folk.

“Here, we have represented the lower middle class of Rome’s population,” Leonardo Di Blasi, an archaeologist at the Vatican Museums, said. “They are essentially slaves, freedmen, artisans of the city of Rome.”

Some of the people buried in the graves served the emperor Nero. One of them was a man named Alcimus. He was the set director for the Theater of Pompeii. Another worked as a horse trainer for the chariot races.

According to the Catholic News Service, a young boy was also laid to rest at the burial grounds. His grave is marked with a sculpture of a boy’s head and a Latin inscription that translates to, “He lived four years, four months, and 10 days.”

At the request of the pope at the time, Pope Pius X, the Vatican began exploring the necropolis in the 1940s. The pope wanted to be buried near Peter the Apostle. Excavations revealed several mausoleums and tombs.

During construction work for a multilevel parking garage, the newest part of the burial site was uncovered in 2003.

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