Castel Sant Angelo

Exploring Passetto di Borgo: Rome's Historic Escape Route

Castel Sant AngeloPassetto di Borgo

What is Passetto di Borgo?

The Passetto di Borgo is an elevated passage connecting the Vatican City with the Castel Sant'Angelo. Stretching approximately 800 meters, it served as an escape route for popes in times of danger. Most notably, this corridor was used by Pope Clement VII in 1527 to escape the sack of Rome by troops of Emperor Charles V. Its secretive and strategic nature, intertwined with centuries of papal history, makes it a captivating point of interest in Rome's vast tapestry of historical sites.

Passetto di Borgo Quick Facts

Passetto di Borgo - Castle Angelo
  • Official name: Passetto di Borgo
  • Address: Viale Giuseppe Ceccarelli, 00193 Roma RM, Italy 
  • Location: Connects Vatican City with Castel Sant'Angelo
  • Design: An elevated fortified corridor 
  • Length: Approximately 800 meters (or 2,600 feet)
  • Built by: Pope Nicholas III
  • Construction began: 1277  
  • Function: Escape route for popes during times of danger
  • Date of opening to the public: 1999
  • Historical significance: Used by Pope Clement VII in 1527 during the sack of Rome by the troops of Emperor Charles V
  • Cultural significance: A symbol of the Pope's temporal power and political influence in Rome
  • Public access: Limited; requires special guided tours

Why Visit Passetto di Borgo?

Passetto di Borgo - Castel Sant'Angelo - view from top
  • Architectural marvel: The passage is an engineering feat of its time - an elevated, fortified corridor providing a discreet and secure passage. It's a fascinating example of medieval architecture and urban planning.
  • Stunning views: Visitors can enjoy stunning views of Rome and the Vatican City from this elevated passage. 
  • Insider access: Tours of the Passetto di Borgo offer a glimpse into the secretive side of Vatican history, otherwise inaccessible. 
  • Historical importance: The walls of Passetto di Borgo have witnessed centuries of intrigue, power, and survival when popes needed escape routes. 
  • Photography opportunity: Its unique structure and vantage point provides an unusual perspective for memorable photos, a must-visit for photography enthusiasts.
  • Literary connection: Fans of Dan Brown's Angels & Demons will love the chance to see a real location from the novel, adding a layer of intrigue for visitors.

Plan Your Visit to Passetto di Borgo

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Passetto di Borgo

What to See at Passetto di Borgo?

Passetto di Borgo - unique archietecture

Unique Architecture

As an elevated, fortified corridor, it offers a unique architectural perspective, embodying a blend of practicality and design, from a time when such constructs were both a strategic necessity and a display of power.

Connection to the Vatican

Connection to the Vatican

Start at the Vatican, where you can explore the rich history of the Papal State, its intrigues, and the reason for the Passetto's existence. This context lends greater understanding and depth to your Passetto experience.

Connection to Castel Sant'Angelo

Connection to Castel Sant'Angelo

The route ends at Castel Sant'Angelo, a towering fortress filled with history. Apart from being a secure passage for popes, the Passetto was also used to transfer prisoners to their grim cells secretly.

Stunning Views from Passetto di Borgo

Stunning Views

Along the Passetto, especially from slits on the wall, you can enjoy unusual views of Rome. Plus, the unique sight of the eternal city from the fortified walls is breathtaking.

History of Passetto di Borgo

In response to the Saracen attack in 844, Pope Leo IV (790-855) commissioned a tall wall with a walkway around St. Peter's Church.  It bears his name, Mura Leonine. The enclosed area was named Civitas Leoniana or Citta Leoniana after him. In 1277, Pope Nicholas III transformed an 800-meter stretch of this wall, extending from the Apostolic Palace to St. Peter’s Basilica, into a covered rampart, thereby creating the Passetto di Borgo.

During the 15th century, the Passetto was further expanded under the patronage of various popes, most significantly Pope Alexander VI, who reigned from 1492 to 1503. He had the wall heightened and constructed a new rampart above the Passetto.

Architecture of Passetto di Borgo

Architecture of Passetto di Borgo

The Passetto di Borgo is roughly 800 meters long, raised to offer both security and discretion. From the inside, its passage being only 3.5 meters wide, meant that only two people could pass at the same time, making it safer for the popes to not be chased. 

If you leave Castel Sant'Angelo and head towards the Vatican, along the walkway that lies along the top of the wall, a narrow staircase takes you into the secret passageway. There are small slits on either side of the wall allowing the outside light in to help you navigate the serpentine walkway. 

Popes That Used the Passetto di Borgo

The Passetto di Borgo played a crucial role in two famous escapes. The first occurred in 1494 when Pope Alexander VI fled to safety from the French forces led by Charles VIII. The second, and perhaps most well-known, was in 1527 during the Sack of Rome when Pope Clement VII used the passage to seek refuge. Pope Clement VII was compelled to remain in Castel Sant'Angelo for approximately seven months as the Swiss, Spanish, and German forces under Charles VII wreaked havoc on Rome.

Passetto di Borgo Today

Passetto di Borgo Today

Initially, the Passetto di Borgo was a property of the Vatican City, despite a large part of it being situated in Italian territory. This changed when Pope John Paul II decided to hand it to the Italian Government, all except the first 80 meters of the corridor, located within the Vatican. 

Following several years of restoration work, the Italian Government successfully reopened the Passetto di Borgo to the public in 1999. Nowadays, visitors can experience the historic passage by visiting Castel Sant'Angelo and walking through the Passetto di Borgo.

How to Buy Castel Sant’Angelo Tickets?

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Frequently Asked Questions About Passetto di Borgo

What is the Passetto di Borgo?

The Passetto di Borgo is a historic elevated passage in Rome that connects Vatican City with Castel Sant'Angelo. It has served as a secure escape route for popes during times of danger.

Where can I buy Passetto di Borgo tickets?

Passetto di Borgo isn't open to the public regularly. It opens for special occasions or tours, organized by the Vatican or the city of Rome. Check the Castel Sant'Angelo tickets for the latest information. 

Can I visit Passetto di Borgo with Castel Sant'Angelo tickets?

Yes, you can visit The Passetto di Borgo with Castel Sant'Angelo tickets. However, it is best to check if it is included in guided tours. Also, check the timings before booking.  

Who built Passetto di Borgo?

Pope Nicholas III oversaw the construction of it in 1277, though sections of the wall had been previously established by Totila during the Gothic War.

When was Passetto di Borgo built?

The Passetto di Borgo was built in 1277 during the pontificate of Pope Nicholas III.

What's inside Passetto di Borgo?

Inside the Passetto di Borgo, you'll find an enclosed, elevated passageway, originally used as a secret escape route for popes. It also served as a secret passage to transfer prisoners to Castel Sant'Angelo prison.

What can I do at Passetto di Borgo?

Visitors can walk along the Passetto di Borgo, learn about its history, enjoy the unique architecture, and experience stunning views of Rome from various vantage points along the route.

What are the timings of Passetto di Borgo?

The Passetto di Borgo is not regularly open to the public, and visitors require special permission or book guided tours to visit. Keep in mind that this fortified passageway is open only on special occasions for a limited time.

Where is Passetto di Borgo located?

The Passetto di Borgo runs along the Borgo district, connecting the Vatican City with the Castel Sant'Angelo. The exact location is Viale Giuseppe Ceccarelli, 00193 Roma RM, Italy. 

Is Passetto di Borgo wheelchair accessible?

Due to the uneven terrain and narrow passageway, Passetto di Borgo is not accessible by wheelchair.

Is photography allowed at Passetto di Borgo?

Photography for personal use is allowed at Passetto di Borgo.

Is there a dress code for visiting Passetto di Borgo?

There is no specific dress code for visiting Passetto di Borgo. However, it is advisable to wear comfortable shoes as the passageway is dimly lit and the surface is uneven.