Borgo District

Domus Carmelitana is located in Borgo, the 14th district of Rome. Let’s find out a bit of history about this area located  between the Vatican City and Castel Sant’Angelo…

The history of the district begins in ancient Rome, when the area, called Ager Vaticanus (name of Etruscan origin), housed villas and gardens, including the “horti Agrippina” and “Domitia Lepida”. Where now is the left side of St. Peter’s Basilica, the emperor Caligula built a circus, then completed and enlarged by Nero. The Circus welcomed horse racing and chariot: it was located at one end of the great Egyptian obelisk, the base of which is repeated on both sides with an inscription dedicated to Augustus and Tiberius, now at the center of St. Peter’s Square. Nearby, in the following years, the emperor Traiano ordered the construction of a Naumachia in order too represent the naval battles. The emperor Hadrian erected near the Tiber a great mausoleum, which in later centuries became Castel Sant’Angelo.

But the event that forever changed this area was the martyrdom of St. Peter at the foot of the Vatican Hill in 67, during the first persecution of Christians. The saint was buried nearby, and this made the Vatican a place of pilgrimage. On the tomb of the saint, Pope Anacletus I built an oratory, that in 324 emperor Constantine replaced with a giant basilica dedicated to the Prince of the Apostles. This church, the ancient basilica of St. Peter, became one of the centers of Christianity, until its destruction in the 16th century, when was built the new St. Peter’s Basilica.

During the Middle Age, the flood of pilgrims to the tomb of the apostle never stopped. Pilgrims of the same nationality gathered together in associations named Scholae, whose task was to host and to aid men and women of the same nation coming to Rome. The most famous were those of the Franks, Saxons, Frisians and Lombards. Each Schola had its own hospice and church. The German pilgrims gave the zone around their Scholae the name Burg (fortified town), which, italianised, became the name of the quarter, Borgo.

In 1586 , Pope Sixtus V declared XIV Borgo district of Rome . Even today, the coat of arms of the district is similar to that of the pope: a lion crouching in front of three mounts and a star.

In the 20th century, between 1935 and 1937, the “spina” of Borgo was demolished to make way for the current Via della Conciliazione which leads to St. Peter’s Basilica.

Currently the district has two distinct faces. The northern part of the Passetto (part of the wall connecting the Vatican to Castel Sant’Angelo), has until recently been able to maintain its popular character. Also several prelates are increasingly choosing to live in the Leonine City: Joseph Ratzinger before he became Pope Benedict XVI, has lived in Borgo Pio for more than twenty years. The area to the south of the Passetto (the one demolished in the first half of the 20th century) instead hosts offices, representative offices, the Auditorium della Conciliazione and the large hospital complex of Santo Spirito, born of the whole Schola Saxonum, one of the burgs born centuries ago in this beautiful district of Rome.