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Rome Reports

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Secret passage that the popes used to escape the Vatican

When one thinks of the Vatican, the first image that comes to mind is St. Peter's Basilica. However, what many do not know is that down the street from the basilica is Castel Sant'Angelo; a fortress connected to the Vatican by a wall known as “passetto del Borgo.” This very corridor served as an emergency exit for the popes. 

This half-mile passage holds many stories, and it is known that some of Rome's most important people used it to flee the Vatican. However, it is most known for Pope Clement VII's escape in 1527 during the siege of Rome. Clement took refuge in the castle for six months. 

EDITH GABRIELLI
Director, Lazio's Museums
"This is one of the monuments that best represents the city of Rome. It is a monument of antiquity that, unlike others, has not been destroyed, but instead transformed. Whoever comes here can still see Hadrian's mausoleum."

The castle was built by the Emperor Hadrian in 1355 as a personal mausoleum. However, during the great plague that struck the city in 590, it was renamed Castel Sant'Angelo. 

It is said that Pope Gregory I saw the Archangel Michael on the top of the castle, symbolizing the end of the plague. This sculpture of the archangel that we now see was made by Raphael.

In 1277, the castle was connected to Vatican City with a corridor that was named "Passetto". This secret passageway is open everyday.

EDITH GABRIELLI
Director, Lazio's Museums
"The 'passetto' can be visited every day, and there are two guided tours. One is at 11 in the morning, and another is at 4 in the afternoon, and they are available in English and Italian. Through a program called the 'Secret Castle,' one will learn not only about this passage, but also the Castle's other hidden places, such as the prison or the room where Pope Clement hid. In summer, you can also visit in the evenings."

Whoever walks on the passetto can imagine how these people must have fled from the Vatican to the city's fortress just to stay alive

EDITH GABRIELLI
Director, Lazio's Museums
"Perhaps the most magical moment of the 'passetto' is when one walks through it and watches the city rise on both sides."

Castel Sant'Angelo currently ranks fifth on the museums that have an entrance fee. Its walls hide secrets that have never been revealed, but wait to be discovered.