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New secretary of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life

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The Passetto di Borgo, secret passageway of the popes

2009-07-27

It’s old age splendor makes for great pictures. But few people that come here know the real history behind the Passetto di Borgo, and the centuries-old secrets it keeps about fleeing popes and sackings of Rome. 

Francesca d’Ottavio
Castel Sant’Angelo

It was an escape route that connected the Vatican with Castel Sant’Angelo, which was a safe haven. Several popes used the passetto for this reason.


Centuries later, Francesca d’Ottavio gives unofficial tours of the passageway that has become one of the largest tourist attractions in Rome. But it’s only open for a couple of short months during the summer.

For those that decide to walk in the footsteps of fleeing popes, the experience is two-fold, because not only are they walking on a piece of history, but they are doing so from up above.

Francesca d’Ottavio
Castel Sant’Angelo

When you find yourself between the angel on the terrace and the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica you find yourself in between two different things, and you don’t know whether to look ahead or behind.

Popes like Clement VII crossed the Passetto when his life was in danger during a sacking of Rome. An urban Roman myth was born as a result of the Passetto’s reputation as a path to safety that says that if a man walks 70 times along the passetto, all his problems will disappear.

Francesca says the most rewarding part of the walk is reaching Castel Sant’Angelo just like the popes did. Only today people enjoy a much more different kind of freedom than they did.

Francesca d’Ottavio
Castel Sant’Angelo

The terrace of the angel I think is the nicest part. It’s one of the highest terraces in Rome and you get a 360 degree view of Rome. A beautiful sight.

Romans and foreigners alike will continue to enjoy the passetto until summer’s end. Then they have to wait until next year to walk in the footsteps of fleeing popes.

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