The Vatican is the smallest sovereign state in the world by both area and population and at the same time is considered a place of many mysteries.

Many movies contain episodes of a Vatican containing secret (hidden or otherwise not freely disclosed) rooms or passages for one reason or another. Moreover, some formally secret passages and/or rooms are now known to exist.

The Passetto is a passage that links the Vatican City with Castel Sant'Angelo. Pope Alexander VI crossed it in 1494 when Charles VIII invaded the city, and Pope Clement VII escaped to safety through it during the Sack of Rome, in 1527. - Secret passage (Wikipedia)

An example of one of the Vatican secret (private) rooms can be read about here:

Denied at first, Perrottet pleaded his case, and a bishop re-juggled the pope's schedule so that Perrottet could be quickly snuck in for a brief visit.

Perhaps the most intriguing secret of the Vatican is, surprisingly, a bathroom -- decorated in erotic frescoes -- in the papal apartments. According to Tony Perrottet, author of "A Journey Through the Historic Underbelly of Europe," this bathroom was painted in 1516 by the Renaissance master Raphael and is called the Stufetta Della Bibbiena, the "small heated room of Cardinal Bibbiena," the official who commissioned the work.

"It had been painted over and then restored. Its existence was denied. Art historians had heard of it, but photos of it from the 1930s were murky and dark," said Perrottet. Gaining entry to this bathroom was Perrottet's greatest challenge while researching his book, he said.

Denied at first, Perrottet pleaded his case, and a bishop re-uggled the pope's schedule so that Perrottet could be quickly snuck in for a brief visit.

"It was very exciting," he said. "One of the clerics took me in for five minutes. The room was filled with erotic frescoes. I saw Venus naked doing her hair by the lake, her legs akimbo, and I had to get to the monsignor to step aside to see the most famous one -- Pan pleasuring himself." Perrottet was not allowed to take photographs but made a few drawings.

But because access is only through the Vatican Secret Archives, very few outsiders get to set foot in there. - Secret Rooms, Passageways, Erotic Frescoes of the Vatican

I know other such passages and/or rooms within the Vatican do exist, but cannot find any references to them. In a biography of Pope Pius IX, I read (forgotten the title of the book, but it made reference to a secret passage), about how he wanted to avoid some visitors inside the Vatican and chose to go from one area and another within the Vatican by using a small, but secret passage to get from point A to point B. Unfortunately, he could not open the door from the inside and could only be let out with the aide of the Swiss Guards.

My question is quite simple: Are there any known references of other historically known hidden (secret or otherwise not freely disclosed) passages or rooms within the Vatican?

  • 6
    If they were known, how could they be secret? Note that having e.g. a private passageway to avoid annoying visitors isn't at all the same as that being a secret.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 22:53
  • @jamesqf - Perhaps "hidden" would be a better word?
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 14:48
  • 5
    Would be nice if the actual Pope made an account to answer this.
    – Brasidas
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 2:56
  • In 1939, workmen were [working] in the grotto under the main floor of St. Peter’s Basilica in preparation for the tomb of Pope Pius XI. Under the church, they discovered a brick wall which descended very deeply into the ground. After some initial excavations, they realized they had discovered a large pagan mausoleum. Since this was during World War II, Pope Pius XII authorized further “secret” excavations in hope that they would shed more light on the origins of the basilica and the tomb of St.. Peter. - THE VATICAN SCAVI
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Nov 10, 2017 at 15:15
  • I have heard that the Passeto is walled off but its door still exists. At least this was the roman gossip.
    – Luiz
    Commented May 10, 2018 at 16:46

1 Answer 1


I found a few..

  • Scavi A pagan Roman cemetery located beneath the Basilica of St. Peter. The Vatican Necropolis, or the "scavi," Known for its tombs and their beautifully preserved frescoes, sarcophagi and ancient Christian inscriptions. It contains the grave site for St Peter who died in Emperor Nero's circus/colosseum, as did many early Christian. Christians believed St Peter received leadership of the church directly from Jesus, from God. His grave site was one of the most secret locations for the persecuted christian community and a destination for early christian pilgrims from ~38AD when Peter died to after ~334 AD when Constantine legalized Christianity. When Pope Sylvester showed Constantine where the tomb of St. Peter was, he didn’t share with him where the actual remains were.. Pope Sylvester was still keeping the secret lest future Emperors rescind Emperor Constantine legal status for the religion. Today the Scavi tour is one of the most exclusive tours in the Vatican and only allowed via special permission.
  • Secret Archives, The entrance to the Archives, adjacent to the Vatican Library, is through the Porta di S. Anna in via di Porta Angelica (rione of Borgo). The translation of "Archivum Secretum Apostolicum Vaticanum" doesn't mean secret, but more accurately means the Pope's Private Library. Created in the 1700's, closed to outsiders until 1881, when Pope Leo XIII opened them to researchers, more than a thousand of whom now examine some of its documents each year. Still Parts of the Secret Archives remain truly secret, some materials are still prohibited for outside viewing, including everything dated after 1939.

  • Tower of the Winds, the Vatican's first astronomy tower. The 200-foot-high structure was built in 1578 so that the pope's astronomers could track the movements of the sun and stars and record the shifting directions of the wind. Because access is only through the Vatican Secret Archives, very few outsiders get to set foot in there. This one perhaps is not so secret, but hidden, or lesser known due to it's location. Inside is a fresco of St Paul's shipwreck on Malta. only St. Peter's Basilica stands higher than the tower. On the wall is a coin-size hole , every March 21, a ray of sunlight points to noon on an eight-pointed rosette in the floor to mark the spring equinox.

  • 5
    La Scavi is not a "hidden" Roman cemetery, but a fairly recently discovered one under Pope Pius XI. Anyone may visit La Scavi when at Rome. "Archivium Secretum Vaticanum" should really be translated as "Private Archives", so not really something that secret. The Vatican's "Tower of the Winds" is simply reserved for scientists.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Nov 10, 2017 at 3:45
  • the Scavi is too small.. There are too many tourists in the basilica, it would be impossible to keep its access open. Many priests and organizations in Rome know where to ask for a ticket, and some friends of mine went there (free of charge, but the ticket had a fixed date). BTW, it is quite probable that it is really St Peters tomb, as it matches descriptions from historical sources and the tomb in the focal point has an inscription related to St. Peter. And yes, the Scavi was buried under the old basilica and almost forgotten.
    – Luiz
    Commented May 10, 2018 at 16:43
  • I don't think there is much debate about it being St Peter's burial site. It's the reason the Basilica of St. Peters was built there. Even at the time of the building of the Basilica, his burial location remained one of the most secretive sites for christians in antiquity. The pope even demurred from sharing the exact location with Constantine the Great who sponsored the building of the Basilica. Yes recently rediscovered. ( last 70 years or so.)
    – user27618
    Commented May 10, 2018 at 20:08

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.