The main attraction of the zone is St Peter's and the surrounding borghi, as they are known. Full of tourists and pilgrims and Vatican officials, the area is usually off-limits to cars, because of the liturgical events in St Peter's Square. The residential area is Borgo Pio, now a pedestrian precinct, which has been invaded by foreigners but some Romans still live and work here. Going towards the Tiber, you will see Castel S. Angelo, once fortress for the popes, now one of the few green parks in the centre. Here there is a good playground for children and a special area for exercising dogs. There is an interesting residential area behind S. Angelo, not quite the borghi, but not quite Prati either. The apartment buildings are of solid end-of-19th century construction.
THINGS TO SEE
Castel S. Angelo
Initially built as a mausoleum for the emperor Hadrian and his family, Castel S. Angelo was later used as a papal fortress and is connected to the Vatican via an 800-m long escape route called the Passetto di Borgo. It was used as a prison from Renaissance times up to the 19th century and today is a museum.
The original fourth-century church was built over the place where St Peter was thought to have been buried. It soon became the central place of Christian worship and pilgrimage in western Europe but by the end of the 15th century the church buildings were in a bad state of repair and were demolished. Rebuilding started under Pope Julius II and over the next century almost all the great Renaissance architects and artists – Bramante, Bernini, Maderno, Michelangelo, Raphael – had a hand in the new design. Today the square in front of the basilica is the scene of many papal events, from the Sunday Angelus to the weekly Wednesday audience, from special liturgies to papal funerals.
The Vatican Museums house not only the Sistine Chapel but also the Etruscan Museum, the Egyptian Museum, the Gallery of Tapestries, the Gallery of Maps and the Pinacoteca. There are also separate tours of the Vatican Gardens. Due to the large number of visitors it is recommended that tickets are bought in advance. For details see website www. museivaticani.va.
Via della Conciliazione
This wide thoroughfare connects St Peter’s Square with Castel S. Angelo and was constructed under Mussolini. The street was controversial from the outset as it required the demolition of whole blocks of houses and moving the displaced residents. During major Vatican events, such as canonisations, papal elections or funerals, the street acts as an extension of St Peter’s Square.