Late XVIth century section of Palazzo Apostolico
Towards the end of the XVIth century the popes were uncertain about where to place their residence; Pope Sixtus V built a large palace near S. Giovanni in Laterano, but at the same time he carried on with the construction of Palazzo Pontificio al Quirinale and he added a new building to the palace adjoining S. Pietro; eventually the popes decided to live in the Quirinale palace (until 1870 when Pope Pius IX retired to the Vatican).
(left) Logge di Raffaello; (right) the (open) window of the papal apartment from which on Sundays at noon the pope gives a short speech followed by the Angelus and ending with a blessing
The palace was completed by Pope Clement VIII; its western side looks on a large courtyard (Cortile di S. Damaso) which is surrounded by a series of loggias designed by Bramante and completed by Raphael; they were closed with windows in the XIXth century to protect their painted vaults.
The pope lives and works in an apartment on the top floor of the building; it is a relatively modest accommodation consisting of ten rooms; on the second floor the pope receives his guests. Pope Francis has chosen to live in a small apartment at Collegio di S. Marta, but he continues to deliver Sunday speeches from the window of the papal apartment.
Ceiling of Sala dei Santi, a room of Appartamento Borgia
The Appartamenti Borgia are only shown by a special permission, difficult to obtain.
Augustus J. C. Hare - Walks in Rome 1875
The apartments are a suite of rooms which were adapted for personal use by Pope Alexander VI and were decorated by Pinturicchio and a number of his assistants. The themes of the paintings included some pagan myths and suggested that the Borgia had a divine origin. After the death of the Pope in 1503 the rooms were no longer used by his successors. In the XIXth century, because of the subjects of the paintings, papal authorities were not keen on opening the apartment to visitors.
Amid the group on the left Pope Julius II is portrayed in his chair of state, attended by his secretaries. One of the bearers in front is Marcantonio Raimondi, the engraver of Raphael's drawings. Another man in this group was secretary of briefs at the papal court. The Pope watches the dramatic events which are depicted in the central and right sections of the fresco, but the chair bearers look on the viewer as if to say to him: Look at what happens to those who try to steal the riches of the Church!
A series of rooms above Appartamento Borgia were decorated by Raphael and his assistants for Popes Julius II and Leo X. The image used as background for this page shows a unicorn, one of the heraldic symbols of Pope Paul III, on a shutter in these rooms.
You may wish to see some other images of the decoration of the Raphael and Borgia rooms.
Cappella Sistina seen from the dome of the basilica and behind it a square tower built by Pope Alexander VI
Cappella Sistina seen from the outside has the appearance of a fortification; it was built in 1475-483 by Giovannino de' Dolci for Pope Sixtus IV. It is now the "must see" of Musei Vaticani and it is rarely used for ceremonies which were very impressive.
The music in the Sistine Chapel is unimaginably beautiful, especially the "Miserere" (by Allegri) and the so-called "Improperi" (by Palestrina), that is, the Crucified's reproaches to His people, which are sung on Good Friday. The moment when the Pope (Pius VI) is stripped of his pontifical pomp and steps down from his throne to adore the cross, while all the others stay where they are in silence, until the choir begins - "Populus meus, quid feci tibi" (My people, what I have done you?) - is one of the most beautiful of all these remarkable rites. (..) What most people call effect had none on me: I cannot say that I was personally moved, but I had to admire everything and admit that the Christian traditions have been carried out to perfection. At services in which the Pope takes part, particularly those in the Sistine Chapel, everything in the Catholic ritual which is usually offensive is done with perfect taste and dignity. But this of course, is possible only in a place where for centuries all the arts have been at the disposal of the Church. J. W. Goethe - Good Friday Mass on March 22, 1788 (translation by W. H. Auden and Elizabeth Mayer - Collins).
(left) Cappella Sistina seen from Piazza S. Pietro; (centre) a "serliana" window built by Pope Julius II; (insets) the white smoke which announced the election of Pope Benedict XVI on April 19, 2005
Many conclaves (and all those after 1870) took place in this chapel. Fumata nera (black smoke signal) is ordinarily used in Italian to mean a negative decision. The sentence derives from the traditional way the cardinals let the outside world know that a ballot did not lead to the election of the new pope. By converse fumata bianca (white smoke signal) means a positive decision. The ballot-papers after being opened and counted are burnt with such additives to make the smoke black or white and those waiting in Piazza S. Pietro learn from its colour whether they will soon see the new pope or not.
You may wish to see two pages on the papal transition.
Then we entered the Sistine Chapel, which we found bright and cheerful, and with a good light for the pictures. "The Last Judgment" divided our admiration with the paintings on the roof by Michael Angelo. I could only see and wonder. The mental confidence and boldness of the master, and his grandeur of conception, are beyond all expression. J. W. Goethe - November 22, 1786 - translation by Charles Nisbeth.
Detail of the Creation of Adam in the ceiling (1512)
On the 28th we paid a second visit to the Sistine Chapel, and
had the galleries opened, in order that we might obtain a
nearer view of the ceiling. As the galleries are very narrow,
it is only with great difficulty that one forces one's way up
them, by means of the iron balustrades. There is an appearance of danger about it, on which account those who are liable
to get dizzy had better not make the attempt; all the discomfort, however, is fully compensated by the sight of the great
masterpiece of art. And at this moment I am so taken with
Michael Angelo, that after him I have no taste even for nature
herself, especially as I am unable to contemplate her with the
same eye of genius that he did. Oh, that there were only
some means of fixing such paintings in my soul!
J. W. Goethe - November 28, 1786 - translation by Charles Nisbeth.
The Last Supper by Cosimo Rosselli
The upper part of the side walls is decorated by frescoes depicting scenes from the life of Moses on one side and from the life of Christ on the other, so that the old law might be compared with the new one. Pope Sixtus IV clashed with Lorenzo de' Medici and most likely was behind a plot to kill him in 1478. In 1480 the two sides came to an arrangement and Lorenzo, as a gesture of conciliation, sent Florentine painters to Rome to decorate the new chapel. The Last Supper by Rosselli was not highly praised by his contemporaries, but the three "window" paintings in the background (Christ Praying on the Mount of Olives, the Arrest of Christ and the Crucifixion) give it a sense of great modernity because they resemble film stills.
(left) Porta S. Pellegrino in an early XIXth century engraving; (centre) Porta S. Pellegrino (side towards Piazza S. Pietro); (right) coat of arms of Pope Alexander VI
The Vatican was not protected by the walls of Ancient Rome and in 846 the Saracens raided S. Pietro;
Pope Leo IV in 849-852 built walls which surrounded the basilica
and a narrow strip of land between it and Castel Sant'Angelo.
It is uncertain whether there were any gates in these walls when they were initially built; at one point the popes decided to
open a gate which allowed direct access to the Vatican to pilgrims coming from the north through Via Trionfale;
the street leading to the gate became
known as Via del Pellegrino (pilgrim) and eventually the gate itself was named after a church dedicated to St. Pellegrino, a IInd century Roman martyr.
The gate was also known as Porta Viridaria, after the viridarium, the papal garden which once was in the site now occupied by Palazzo Apostolico.
The gate was entirely rebuilt by Pope Alexander VI in 1492 (he rebuilt also Porta Settimiana and Porta Cavalleggeri). With the enlargement of the Vatican walls in the XVIth century, Porta S. Pellegrino lost its purpose and it was replaced by Porta Angelica; in the next century it was hidden by Colonnato del Bernini; today the gate is open only on very special occasions.
(left) SS. Martino e Sebastiano degli Svizzeri and above it the papal apartment; (right) façade with the coat of arms of Pope Pius V
SS. Martino e Sebastiano degli Svizzeri was built by Pope Pius V in 1568 to serve as chapel for the Swiss Guards, whose barracks were located next to Porta S. Pellegrino; the upper part of the church (which is inside the Vatican City State) can be seen from Piazza S. Pietro.
Return to page one.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Si crede da alcuni, che questo gran palazzo fosse eretto su quello degli orti di Nerone, e
poi da Costantino Magno donato al Pontefice s. Silvestro. Fu poi da varj Pontefici
ristaurato, ed accresciuto: ma Eugenio III. circa l'an. 1145. lo rifece dà fondamenti,
con tanta magnificenza, che Innocenzo III. vi albergò Pietro II. Re di Aragona. Dipoi è
stato talmente accresciutocresciuto e adornato di marmi, di pitture, e statue, che troppo
difficile sarebbe alme no accennare le sue rarità in questo breve trattato: m'ingegnerò
bensì per quanto si potrà di rintracciare le cose più insigni, potendosi ritrovare il
resto nel tomo impresso sotto nome dell'abate Taja ultimamente dato alla luce con somma
erudizione, ed accuratezza impareggiabile.