Did you know that for a thousand years the seat of the Papacy was the Lateran Palace in Rome? And that only at the end of the 15th century did the Vatican become a citadel, set apart from the other city districts flanking the Tiber, to which only three bridges provided access until the 19th century? And that no Pope lived in the Vatican Palace, built in the 16th century, for over three centuries, and that many conclaves were held at the Quirinal Palace? Most people identify Papal Rome with the area “beyond the Tiber", but it was actually Italian unification that restricted the Popes’ territory to the Vatican palaces and gardens. Before then the Popes lived in many different places, both within and outside the city of Rome (and, since the 1600, increasingly in the town of Castel Gandolfo). The Papal residence has never been a mere living environment; it has always been a symbol that conveys the image of the Papacy. Today an unprecedented situation has come to pass: the current Pope and his predecessor are neighbours in the Vatican. In late antiquity and during the Middle Ages, Popes resided in marginal areas, such as the Lateran Palace, and moved often. This book accompanies the reader through the city venues that have been shaped by Popes and where, since the time of Constantine, the memory of the martyrs, first and foremost Peter and Paul, has been continually cultivated. For over sixteen centuries Rome has been inseparable from Papal patronage: the Lateran Palace, the Sistine Chapel, the new St. Peter’s Basilica, the Baroque city, the glare of the 19th century, and contemporary art.
Giovanni Maria Vian teaches Patristic Philology at the Sapienza University in Rome. He was director of the "Osservatore romano" (2007-2018).