part I

the Passetto and Borgo district

~ page 2 ~

We can now cross the square by the archways, and start walking along borgo St.Angelo, by the wall. The archways in the middle of the square are not original ones: they were opened for modern traffic, since only a single passage used to be here in older times, as can be told from old maps (like the one shown on the right).

The Passetto can be followed on its inner (southern) side, because due to alterations in time, the old houses of Borgo now lean against the outer side of the wall.

the Passetto reaching St.Angelo Castle (1551); notice
the early shape of the castle, and the name of
the wall, here mentioned as "Alexander VI's corridor"

As explained in The Passetto (in the Curious and Unusual section), during the years it underwent several alterations.

the hidden passage,
now closed to the public

By the first crossing we meet a double archway, now known as Porta Castello ("Castle Gate") [map ref. 2]; the actual Porta Castello, though, used to be the gate of Pius IV's wall by S.Angelo Castle, as shown in the previous page (click here to see again the picture). The archway through the Passetto was only a minor passage, whose central pillar shows interesting traces of the early stones belonging to the original wall of Leo IV (click here to see a picture of this archway).
By the end of the 15th century, pope Alexander VI had a double passage built along the wall: an upper footway, and an older gallery through the brick structure: from the outside, you can see the narrow windows which give light to the conceiled passage. This hidden "corridor" runs from the castle all the way down to the Vatican, as a real escape route; only a few years later, in 1527, pope Clement VII actually used it for this purpose, when Rome was sacked by the mercenaries sent by Charles V.

The passage, to which both names of the wall (Passetto and Corridore di Borgo) are referred, is presently under restoration; after a very long time, it should be partially opened to the public in year 2000.

Pius VI's crest,
with the six "balls"

Further down, by the crossing with each of the lanes running through Borgo Nuovo, the Passetto has other archways; Pius IV opened these simple passages, which were not real gates, when his own wall was built: the new district became more easily reachable from Borgo Vecchio. Above these arches hangs the pope's crest, featuring the six spheres of the Medici family, to whom Pius IV belonged; one of the archways in particular [map ref. 3] leads to vicolo delle Palline ("Small Balls Lane"), a name evidently referring to the Medici family's heraldic emblem.

a view of Borgo district's old houses;
the passetto can be seen in the background

By choosing either of these passages, spend a few minutes walking through Borgo Nuovo: the late mediaeval plan of these long and straight parallel roads (each of which called borgo = "suburb", whence the name of the district) has remained unchanged.
The many original buildings still look old, despite alterations, and looking through open windows you can see how most of their ceilings are still crossed by wooden beams.
As previously explained, for a very long time Leo's City was inhabited mainly by foreigners, such as merchants, students, pilgrims and, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries, by travellers.

Back on the original route, approaching the Vatican the name of the street changes to via dei Corridori, related to the name of the wall, and the enormous colonnade by Bernini comes into sight: the narrow space enhances the huge dimensions of the columns.

Just besides St.Peter's Square, there is another wide passage through the wall [map ref. 4]: as explained by the inscription above the left archway, Pius IV opened it in 1563 for the many pilgrims who reached the city along via Angelica, a long straight road which ran northbound, linking to the Cassian way at about 2½ Km. - 1½ miles off this spot. The other twin archway was opened in 1933, for the increasing traffic.

the Vatican end of the Passetto: in the center of the
picture is the passage opened by Pius IV in 1563
Here the Passetto meets the modern boundary of the Vatican City.

Porta Viridaria, as seen
through Bernini's columns
But if you walk beyond the large newspaper kiosk, in the very narrow area between the columns and the wall, just before the small Vatican Post Office you will reach a further gate, closed by a large door and overlooked on each side by a square tower: this is Porta Viridaria [map ref. 5].
In mediaeval years, this was the only official gate of the wall; its name comes from the Latin viridis ("green"), referring to the Vatican's gardens; it was also called Porta San Pellegrino, from the many pilgrims who entered the city on this side of town. Other names given through the years were Porta degli Svizzeri ("Swiss Gate"), from the nearby barracks of the Vatican's Swiss Guard and, incredibly, Porta Merdaria ("Shitty Gate"!), an infamous nickname chosen by the local common people. Above the archway is pope Alexander VI's crest, dated 1492, featuring the arms of the ill-famed Borgia family.

back to the MAIN INDEX the 'Passetto' and Borgo district - page 1 to the WALLS INDEX

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