Vatican: Distance Between Tourists and The Pope

Let’s say it’s an average weekday in Rome, and I’m a tourist. I’m at the Vatican, visiting the places where tourists are allowed (St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistene Chapel, and anywhere else they allow tourists).

Meanwhile, Pope Francis I is going about a mundane weekday as well; sitting in his apartment smoking a bowl, receiving some visiting Archbishop, or whatever the hell it is he does all day.

How close (as the crow flies) would a tourist and His Holiness be likely to get to each other? In other words, how close are the Pope’s quarters (to include his office, reception room, etc.) to the public areas of the Holy See?

Are you asking about this pope specifically, or typical popes? Francis has been known to sneak out at night to visit the poor of the city, so potentially “within arm’s reach”. Even absent that, he declines to live in the papal palace, instead remaining at the guesthouse the cardinals stay at when they’re in the Vatican (like for electing the new pope).

The current Pope has eschewed the Popemobile and such, so you could guess closer. But I assume you are asking about when he’s not actively meeting and greeting? He lives here. Certainly very close to all those places, but then the Vatican is small. The Basiliica is very close as the crow flies, but longer with an indirect walking route.

As Chronos said the current pope chose alternate living arrangements, but the papal apartments where the pope usually lives is fairly close to parts of the Vatican Museum - visitors of the museum can walk through the Sistine Chapel, which was built as the pope’s private chapel. Assuming he was “at home” (there are other papal residences throughout Italy) a visitor to the museum could easily be within a few hundred feet of him, although probably not in the same building. The apartments overlook St. Peter’s square, which isn’t part of the Vatican so you could actually get pretty close to him (within a few hundred feet) without leaving Rome.

That said, it’s not too difficult for a normal person to get quite close to the pope. They have papal audiences on Wednesdays that are free to the public, and he appears at his balcony on Sundays. Both will get a tourist within a few hundred feet of the pope.

It’s not even impossible to get a private audience with the pope. While on a vacation in Rome my family was able to attend an audience with John Paul II (we piggy-backed onto a group of about 25 pilgrims from his hometown parish in Poland). After being escorted into the papal apartments by Swiss guards, we lined up in this room, and JPII walked out, spoke to some of the pilgrims in Polish, then sat in a chair while we all filed past for a photo-op. Getting the audience basically boiled down to a little luck and my Mom asking really really nicely. As far as global leaders are concerned popes are generally pretty accessible.

To make things easier, let’s use this map from the official St. Peter’s website.

The current Pope lives in the Domus Sanctae Marthae (no. 57). That is immediately adjacent to the Sacristy of St. Peter’s (no. 58), which is partly accessible to tourists as it contains the Treasury. In fact, the Treasury is in the rooms on the northern side of the Sacristy and so are the bit nearest the Domus Sanctae Marthae. It also used to be the case that visitors to the crypt of the Basilica exited next to the Sacristy and then through the Piazza dei Protomartiri Romani (no. 59), although I suppose that may have changed over the past year.

Moreover, visitors to the Vatican Museums get not too far from the old papal apartments. Those are on the top floor of the Apostolic Palace (no. 5), with the rooms in which the previous Popes actually lived being those on the south side, overlooking the Piazza San Pietro. Visitors with any sense will visit the Raphael Stanze and so see the Sala di Constantino and the Sala dei Chiaroscuri, as well as the Sala dei Pontefici in the Borgia Apartments one floor below (no. 7). Those are all adjacent to the galleries on the west side of the Cortile di San Damaso. In fact, this creates a problem for the Vatican Museum, as the gallery on the level of the Raphael Stanze is the Raphael Loggia. Its art historical importance is such that they would almost certainly make a point of opening it to visitors were it not that it is so close to the Apostolic Palace, as well as being one of the main circulation routes through the closed areas of the building. Arguably, you can get closer to the Apostolic Palace by standing beneath the Colonnade on the north side of the Piazza, but as that’s at ground level it’s a bit of a toss-up whether you are then closer to the old papal apartments.

St Peter’s Square is part of the Vatican. The boundary follows the curve of the colonnade around its perimeter.

the last time I saw the pope “live” was Sept. 12, 2001(!). He could barely walk, so they drove his Mercedes limo up the steps and helped him walk to the seat on the porch of St. Peters. It was the weekly audience, every Wednesday. The front half of the great circle was blocked off and filled with folding chairs. (You get tickets for these from the various churches, we arranged ours by emailing the english parish in Rome).

We were about halfway back, so maybe 100 feet to 150 feet from JPII.

He weakly read a few bits of his speech in various languages, interspersed with various priests repeating the messages in translation. Then he blessed a statue for the Carmelite order, and a series of couples about to be (or recently?) married. (We recognized one couple from their photo shoot at the Trevi Fountain two days before, same tux and bridal gown)

When he was done, he was assisted to his car, an open-backed Mercedes limo, and drove down the stairs, down the center lane of the square/circle waving to the crowd - off to the castle in the hills, IIRC. I walked over toward the center, stood on a chair, and I have a photo from maybe 20 feet away as he went by.

Of course, I also have a picture of the Queen taken from about 30 feet away when she opened an exhibit in the Portrait gallery in London. She was walking back to the car from the entrance with her hubby and a very old Harold Wilson. Only the USA seems to make the random public keep a block or two away from the big shots…

Huh, I always thought it was part of Rome because you see Italian police patrolling the area, but a little research shows that you’re right. Ignorance fought.