The famous Passetto di Borgo
Roman citizens know very well Passetto di Borgo, protagonist of important historical events in Rome and very important for the Popes used it. Passetto is an elevated corridor connecting the fortress of Castel Sant’Angelo and the Vatican apartments, where the Popes live, since 1400.
It is a place a few people know, except for the original Roman citizens who use to call it "er coridore", that is the corridor.
It actually is a very narrow passage, enlightened by the sun just in the first part, then covered by some arches.
History doesn’t tell details about the one who demanded its built. It is said it was Pope Niccolò III’s idea, when he ordered to build the walls and some arches and doors to go through the city, in 1227. He was the first to decide to leave the Laterano, the papal basilica where the Pope usually resides. The decision came from security needs, as Saint Peter’s Basilica was safer; it was more difficult to reach the Pope, even if there were no great differences concerning the structure of the building.
Other sources tell about the built of the Passetto as a commission by Baldassarre Cossa. He was the antipope elected during Pisa Concilium in 1406, then never acknowledged by the Church. He illegitimately took the name of John XXIII, same as a lawful Pope, then loved by Catholic believers, in the XX century.
The reason of the Passetto built was even clearer by the conflict affecting the Church at the time and the numerous opponents against illicit personalities.
The construction took place during Middle Ages so it was restyled a lot of times later on. The Popes who did it were Alessandro VI in 1492, Pius IV in 1562, till the fascist period restores, when the changes were made to open new passages and facilitate the circulation of the new cars and increased number of people around the city.
The function of the Passetto
Passetto del Borgo takes its name because it raises in an area formerly called Civitas Pia, that is the current Borgo Pio district.
The district took its name by Pope Pius IV, who demanded the built of the gardens and the area near the Vatican, where lots of clergymen lived.
Recently, before he was named Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger used to walk along the lanes surfaced by the famous Roman stones, the sampietrini, to reach the Vatican.
He chose Borgo Pio to be his residence.
The Passetto is 800 metres long, stretching till the strong walls of Castel Sant’Angelo. The one who demanded its built was very clever: the Pope of the time, could escape even inside the Vatican walls, but from Castel Sant’Angelo they could have a better control on the city.
The fortress actually was on a higher level and, thanks to the closeness of the river Tiber and the consequent smaller quantity of buildings,it was a great vantage point.
The question many people ask is whether a Pope has ever used it and why.
The Popes who used the Passetto
Yes, they did, because at least 2 Popes had to go through the 800 metres along Passetto del Borgo, to get safe, escaping from the Church and the city of Rome enemies.
The first was Alessandro VI, who had to leave the apartments in 1494, when Carlo VIII from France entered Rome with his army.
Alessandro VI resisted for 2 weeks only and had to surrender, in January 1945, swearing obedience to the sovereign and opening to him the doors of the city. He also offered his son Cesare to lead Carlo VIII to the Reign of Naples. Meanwhile, he got the help of other sovereigns, scared by the French advance, that conquered the south of Italy too.
He got Enrico VII and Emperor Massimiliano support, creating the Lega Santa.
The Pope had escaped to Orvieto and then Perugia, coming back to Rome later on.
In 1527, Pope Clemente VII had to hide himself in Castel Sant’Angelo, because of the Lanzichenecchi invasion and their Sacco di Roma.
Clemente VII resisted until the end of it, praying in his private chapel, but when he got the news about the disaster in Rome, escaped with his clergymen, protected by the noble guards. His defense caused lots of victims among the soldiers, but the Pope was anyway imprisoned from 5th June to 26th November during that year.
He had to pay 400 thousand ducats to be released, 100 thousand in advance and the rest later on. He had to cede Parma, Piacenza and Modena, but the conditions of the treaty were so hard he preferred to abandon Rome on 16th December 1527, to move to Orvieto.
He came back Rome after a while, when Carlo V said sorry to him and asked for peace to Germany, but the Pope didn’t accept it, scared by any repercussions.
The function of the Passetto was not only to save Popes, but it also was a private passage for important people arrested, that had to be anonymous, such as Beatrice Cenci, the popular hero who killed her father for incest, so imprisoned and then condemned to death.
Visit the Passetto
Today you can visit it just on some occasions, especially during the summer or in the night, during guided tours reserved in advance.
There is breathtaking view there, not only on the city, but also on Saint Peter’s dome.
During the night, it is even more suggestive thanks to the lights on the Vatican, creating the magic atmosphere of the eternal city.
Do you want to stay in Rome?
For this location we recommend Hotel Oxford, the ideal starting point to discover Rome!