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)
The main streets in the quarter are not called Via but Borgo. The Via della Conciliazione is an exception.
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 a number of 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 a number of 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 67AD 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. Constantine‘s basilica was destroyed in the 16th century in order to facilitate construction of the present Basilica di San Pietro.
In 852 AD Pope Leo IV built walls around the rione. One of these 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 (1586AD) Borgo was not considered to be part of Rome. It has 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.
When the Pope moved from the Saint John in Lateran to the Vatican the rione Borgo gained in importance and pilgrims became the population’s main source of income. It also led to an increase of wealthy families in the area, which in turn led to the construction of beautiful palazzi and newer and better roads.
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 man’s area, though of course many of its inhabitants worked inside or made their money in some other way through the Vatican.
The 20th century saw construction of the Via della Conciliazione, which connected the Vatican to the Castel Sant’Angelo, the Tiber and thus the rest of the city.