It’s not because of the German origin of the word ‘Borgo’ (burg means city in Old German) that Joseph Ratzinger, when he was not Benedict XVI yet, loved this neighborhood. It’s because for centuries this area of the town hosted pilgrims and the Catholic clergy.
With just 3,500 inhabitants, Borgo Pio stands right next to the Vatican, and looks like a small village with its quiet narrow alleys, low-rising buildings and a lovely pedestrian-only area. But for centuries it was populated by many different national communities of Catholic believers who had their accommodation beyond the river, on the other shore of downtown Rome. And one of the major buildings that you will admire while here, S. Spirito in Sassia, was actually meant to provide shelter to Saxon pilgrims.
Nowadays, the borough hosts a lot of leading figures of the Catholic church, as Ratzinger was before April 2005 when he became pope. Many of them still prefer to live here rather than within the Vatican, maybe to be in the middle of the people or more likely to be freer: if you enter or exit the Vatican between 10pm and 7am, you have to sign a register which is shown every morning to the Vatican’s government.
Borgo Pio was much bigger and more picturesque until 1936 when Mussolini demolished a good part of it to build a monumental road, Via della Conciliazione, that would better connect the city center with St Peter’s.
Here lived the executioner of the Popes, when the Vatican was a state and enforced the death penalty, and many prostitutes who wanted to be close to their best clients: the bishops and cardinals of the Roman Curia.
ENTERTAINMENT & SHOPPING
Our favorite food destination in the area is Velando, a restaurant with cuisine from the Milan area, where you can easily meet high-ranking people of the Vatican.
The most interesting shop is Euroclero which provides dresses and clothes to popes, like Benedict XVI.