Borgo District Rome

Rome‘s 14th rione is called Borgo. Its coat of arms contains a lion, three hills and a star. The star and the hills belong to the coat of arms of Sixtus V, the Pope who turned Borgo into a rione. The name Borgo derives from the word burg, the name used by German pilgrims.

Borgo District Rome (R. XIV)

What to see

Via della Conciliazione Rome
Via della Conciliazione

Borgo comprises the area between the river Tiber and the Vatican City. The southern border is formed by the Trastevere neighborhood.


Borgo Santo Spirito Rome
Stretch of the Borgo Santo Spirito

Unlike elsewhere in Rome, the main streets in the district are not called Via but Borgo. The Via della Conciliazione is an exception.

The word Borgo is of Germanic origin, “burg”, meaning a “small town”. The term was given to the complex of buildings that sprang up near St. Peter’s basilica from the late 6th century, including monasteries, guest houses for pilgrims and stores. century the scholae peregrinorum, colonies of foreigners who built houses and hospices for pilgrims of their nationality.


In the times of the Roman empire this area was called Ager Vaticanus, since the Etruscan soothsayers called vaticini used to practice their craft there.

A part of the area was also used as a burial ground and there were several big tombs and even a pyramid to be seen.

In those days two important streets started at the foot of the Vatican Hill, the Via Cornelia and the Via Triumphalis. In the early years of the Roman Empire several villa’s and gardens were constructed at the foot of the Janiculum Hill.

Caligola built a circus, which was extended by Nero. The obelisk that used to adorn this circo now adorns Saint Peter’s Square. Nero also replaced the former wooden bridge over the river Tiber by a stone one, which was however also destroyed over the years.

Adrianus had a gigantic mausoleum built. This mausoleum performed a great many functions in the course of the centuries, but is nowadays known as the Castel Sant’Angelo.

In the year 67 AD Saint Peter died a martyr’s death at the foot of the Colle Vaticano. His burial place became a destination for pilgrims and in the year 324 the Emperor Constantine ordered construction of the first version of Saint Peter’s Basilica.

The 7th century saw the first scholae peregrinorum, institutes of foreigners providing assistance to foreigners of their own nationality. The first one was the one of the Saxons, founded in 727 by King Ina of Wessex. In those days, the area between the basilica and the present Ospedale di Santo Spirito in Saxia was known as burgus Saxonum. The scholae of the Lombards, the Franks and the Frisians followed in quick succession.

Soon after, the first diaconie were built. A diaconia was a building near a church, used for the distribution of the church’s charity to the poor (and later also to pilgrims).

In 846, the area was sacked by the Saracens. A year later, a fire destroyed the scholae of the Saxons. A painting in the Raphael Rooms in the Vatican Museums depicts Pope Leo V in the act of stopping the fire, by making the sign of the cross.

In 852 AD, Pope Leo IV built walls around the district. One of the walls connected the Vatican to Castel Sant’Angelo and was meant to be a way of escape in case the Pope ever got attacked inside the Vatican. It actually came to be used that way by several Popes in future years. From the moment these walls were constructed until the election of Pope Sixtus V (1586 AD) Borgo was not considered to be part of Rome. It had its own government under the name Civitas Leonina (“City of Leo”).

During the Middle Ages Borgo‘s population dwindled, even though a small harbor was built near the Castel Sant’Angelo. This harbor was called the Porto Leonino.

Toward the 14th century, as a result of the Pope returning to the Vatican in 1378, this tendency was reversed. The Pope. Houses were constructed, although initially in a rather messy, haphazard way.

Wealthier families, tempted by tax exemptions, started moving into the area, which led to the construction of more beautiful palazzi and newer and better roads. Two of these roads were named after the popes who had them constructed, Sixtus VI and Alexander XI. The Via Sistina is now called Borgo Sant’Angelo and the Via Alessandrina is the present Borgo Nuovo.

In 1586, Sixtus V reorganized th city and made Borgo the city’s fourteenth rione.

Constantine‘s basilica was destroyed in the 16th century in order to facilitate construction of the present Basilica di San Pietro.

This lasted until the beginning of the 18th century when the wealthy families moved en masse to the rione Campo Marzio. As a result Borgo became more of a working class neighborhood, though of course many of its inhabitants worked inside or made their money in some other way through the Vatican.

In 1936, the Via della Conciliazione, which connects the Vatican to the Castel Sant’Angelo, the Tiber and thus the rest of the city, was constructed. In order to achieve this, the entire so-called spina del Borgo, between the Borgo Vecchio and the Borgo Nuovo, had to be destroyed.

Borgo District Rome

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