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Not to be confused with Lateran Palace.
Apostolic Palace
Palazzo apostolico
0 Palazzo Apostolico - Piazza San Pietro (1).JPG
Alternative names
  • Palace of Sixtus V
  • Palace of the Vatican
  • Papal Palace
General information
Type Official residence
Country Vatican City
Coordinates 41°54′13″N 12°27′23″E / 41.90361°N 12.45639°E / 41.90361; 12.45639Coordinates: 41°54′13″N 12°27′23″E / 41.90361°N 12.45639°E / 41.90361; 12.45639
Construction started 30 April 1589[1]
Owner The Pope

The Apostolic Palace (Italian: Palazzo Apostolico) is the official residence of the Pope, which is located in Vatican City. It is also known as the Papal Palace and the Palace of the Vatican. The Vatican itself refers to the building as the Palace of Sixtus V in honor of Pope Sixtus V.[2]

The Portone di Bronzo at the Vatican Apostolic Palace entrance.

The building contains the Papal Apartments, various government offices of the Catholic Church and the Holy See, private and public chapels, Vatican Museums and the Vatican library, including the Borgia Apartment now used to house artworks.


In the fifth century, Pope Symmachus built a papal palace close to the Old St. Peter's Basilica which served an alternative residence to the Lateran Palace. The construction of a second fortified palace was sponsored by Pope Eugene III and extensively modified under Pope Innocent III in the twelfth century.[3]

Upon returning to Rome in 1377 after the interlude of the Avignon Papacy, which saw Rome subject to civil unrest and the abandonment of several Christian monuments, the Popes chose to reside first at Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere and then at Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. The Vatican Palace had fallen into disrepair from lack of upkeep and the Lateran Palace underwent two destructive fires, in 1307 and 1361, which did irreparable harm.[4] In 1447, Pope Nicholas V razed the ancient fortified-palace of Eugene III to erect a new building, the current Apostolic Palace.[5]

In the 15th century, the Palace was placed under the authority of a prefect. This position of Apostolic Prefect lasted from the 15th century till the 1800s, when the Papal States fell into economic difficulties. In 1884, when this post was reviewed in light of saving money, Pope Leo XIII created a committee to administer the palace.[6]

The major additions and decorations of the palace are the work of the following Popes for 150 years. Construction of the current version of the palace began on 30 April 1589[1] under Pope Sixtus V and its various intrinsic parts completed by later successors, Pope Urban VII, Pope Innocent XI and Pope Clement VIII. In the twentieth century, Pope Pius XI built a monumental art gallery and museum entrance.

Palace structure[edit]

A model of the palace in the Vatican Museums. The buildings are arranged around a central courtyard.

The Apostolic Palace is run by the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household. The palace is more accurately a series of self-contained buildings within the well-recognized outer structure which is arranged around the Courtyard of Sixtus V (Cortile di Sisto V). It is located North-East of St Peter's Basilica and adjacent to the Bastion of Nicholas V and Palace of Gregory XIII.

The Apostolic Palace houses both residential and support offices of various functions as well as administrative offices not focused on the life and functions of the Pope himself.

Borgia Apartments[edit]

Further information: Borgia Apartments

The Borgia Apartments are a suite of rooms in the Palace adapted for personal use by Pope Alexander VI (Rodrígo de Borgia). He commissioned the Italian painter Pinturicchio to lavishly decorate the apartments with frescoes.

The paintings and frescoes, which were executed between 1492 and 1494, drew on a complex iconographic program that used themes from medieval encyclopedias, adding an eschatological layer of meaning and celebrating the supposedly divine origins of the Borgias.[7]

The rooms are variously considered a part of the Vatican Library and Vatican Museums. Most of the rooms are now used for the Vatican Collection of Modern Religious Art, inaugurated by Pope Paul VI in 1973.

Clementine Hall[edit]

Further information: Clementine Hall

The Clementine Hall was established in the 16th century by Pope Clement VIII in honor of Pope Clement I, the third Pope. Like other chapels and apartments in the Palace, the hall is notable for its large collection of frescos and other art.

Sistine Chapel[edit]

Main article: Sistine Chapel
A tall, narrow room with a highly detailed painted ceiling depicting Bible scenes
Under the patronage of Julius II, Michelangelo painted the chapel ceiling between 1508 and 1512.

Perhaps the best-known of the Palace chapels is the Sistine Chapel named in honor of Sixtus IV (Francesco della Rovere). It is famous for its decoration that was frescoed throughout by Renaissance artists including Michelangelo, Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, Pinturicchio, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and others.

One of the primary functions of the chapel is as a venue for the election of each successive Pope in a conclave of the College of Cardinals. In this behind locked doors election, the cardinals choose a successor to the first Pope, St. Peter, who has traditionally set up residence within the Apostolic Palace.

Other uses[edit]

The term Apostolic Palace has been used in other contexts not directly related to the actual Palace of Sixtus V.

It has been used, for example, as a metonym for the papacy itself in the same way the term "White House" is used to describe the United States Presidential administration generally, rather than the physical building itself.

The term was also referenced in the video game Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword, where a player could establish an Apostolic Palace as the symbolic "home" of a civilization's state religion.[8] While the game's developers did represent the Apostolic Palace function with an image of St. Peter's Square (adjacent to the Apostolic Palace), the image, somewhat ironically, does not actually include a view of the Palace itself. Regardless, the in-game function of the Apostolic Palace is not religion-specific and the use of the term is representative of religious administration generally, rather than a specific reference to the Vatican.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b The lives of the modern painters, sculptors and architects - Giovanni Pietro Bellori
  2. ^ Vatican Press Office guide - buildings of the Vatican
  3. ^ "Le Palais du Vatican" [Palace of the Vatican] (in French). Rome Découverte. Retrieved 14 August 2013. 
  4. ^ Pedro Tafur, Andanças e viaje (in Spanish)
  5. ^ Müntz, Eugène (1878). Les arts à la cour des Papes pendant le XVe et le XVIe siècle (in French). Georg Olms Verlag. ISBN 9783487413006. Retrieved 14 August 2013. 
  6. ^ Levillain 2002, p. 1093-1094.
  7. ^ Krén, Emil; Marx, Daniel. "Frescoes in the Borgia Apartments of the Palazzi Pontifici in Vatican". Web Gallery of Art. Retrieved 14 August 2013. 
  8. ^ Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword Official Site


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43 news items

Thu, 14 Aug 2014 03:52:30 -0700

A major hint came from a change in tradition upon their arrival: The visitors didn't report to the Apostolic Palace, the Renaissance showplace where for centuries past popes had received visitors in high style. Instead they entered Vatican City on the ...
Fri, 15 Aug 2014 03:00:14 -0700

Whether it's eschewing the Apostolic Palace for a humble apartment, retiring the Popemobile, paying his hotel bill in person, praying with prisoners or going to confession in public, Francis has quickly earned a reputation as “the peoples' Pope.”.
Sun, 03 Aug 2014 04:00:01 -0700

Previous pontiffs lived here, at the Vatican's opulent Apostolic Palace. Eric Vandeville/GAMMA. Pope Francis lives here, in a small suite in the Vatican guesthouse. L'Osservatore Romano/AP. The message seems clear, no? But are American archbishops ...
Mon, 04 Aug 2014 17:33:15 -0700

But before his departure, Nicholson made a final visit to the frail pontiff at Apostolic Palace, which housed the pope's luxurious private apartments in the Vatican. The palace, construction of which began in 1589, consists of a series of buildings ...
Mon, 11 Aug 2014 11:54:10 -0700

Though private, it will be his first Mass in Korea. The Pope will encourage employees and give them papal rosaries engraved with the papal coats of arms. Pope Francis has stayed in a Casa Santa Marta guest house instead of the apostolic palace in Vatican.

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Wed, 06 Aug 2014 08:38:06 -0700

Pope Francis denounced unnecessary luxuries early on in his career, choosing to drive a humble Ford Focus rather than a more opulent car, living in the Vatican guesthouse rather than the Apostolic Palace, and famously declaring, "Oh, how I would like a ...

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Wed, 06 Aug 2014 14:00:00 -0700

He showed the way as head of the Catholic Church by moving from the Grand Apostolic Palace into a two-room suite. He carries his own bag and is driven around in an old car. Even Cardinal Timothy Dolan, in a mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral early this ...

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Sun, 27 Jul 2014 08:45:41 -0700

Pope appeals for peace in the Middle East, Ukraine and Iraq. 100th anniversary of the first World War remembered in the Angelus prayer. Pope Francis delivers his Sunday Angelus prayer from the window of the Apostolic Palace in Saint Peter's Square at ...

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