I’m sure I’m not the only one who was disappointed to go to the Vatican and then find that I couldn’t get to the swell stuff beneath it (not all of it, anyway) … here’s some useful deets from the Irish Times (blame Virgin Mobile for getting that word ‘deets’ into my vocabulary):

NO TRIP TO Rome would be complete without a visit to St Peter’s Basilica. For total wow factor however, don’t look up, look down.

Excavations (scavi) under the Basilica by the Vatican during the second World War revealed an underground complex extending back almost two millennia.

Today, by contacting the Scavi offices, visitors can take a 90-minute tour of what lies beneath.

The current basilica was built on top of one created by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century. It, in turn, was built on top of a Roman necropolis.

Visitors can now travel via a spiral staircase back in time to a brick-built Roman street of mausoleums, each with the family plaque of those buried over the entrance.

Among the wonders inside is a funerary urn decorated with a Gorgon head to ward off evil, and a coffin with libation holes to allow food and drink be passed to the dead person, so that they too could enjoy their funeral.

For Christians, the most important element is, of course, the sacred Grave of St Peter.

Only 200 visitors a day are allowed on the Scavi tour. To be one of them, e-mail scavi@fsp.va up to three months in advance, giving the exact number of your party, your preferred tour language, and the dates you are visiting.

The Scavi office – which does not acknowledge such e-mails – may or may not get back to you with a time for your tour.

If you do get the green light, approach the Swiss Guard on duty at the Scavi entrance 10 minutes before the appointed time and show him your confirmation e-mail.

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