Key spots for Pope Benedict XVI's resignation
VATICAN CITY - From St Peter's Square to the Sistine Chapel, the locations where Pope Benedict XVI's resignation and the election of his successor will play out in the coming days are part of a rich artistic heritage.
Here are descriptions of the main spots to watch, starting with the pope's last Sunday prayers in front of crowds in St Peter's Square:
Architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini designed the famous Vatican plaza in the 17th century, which has a 4,000-year-old Egyptian obelisk in the middle.
The famous marble colonnades -- four columns deep -- are arranged in an elliptical shape. The square can fit tens of thousands of people on a busy day.
The pope will speak to the crowd on Sunday from the windows of his apartment in the Apostolic Palace.
For his final general audience on Wednesday, the outgoing pontiff will speak from the square itself.
- Castel Gandolfo -
This papal summer residence near Rome is where the pope will be taken to by helicopter on Thursday, just hours before he formally resigns his powers.
Benedict is expected to stay for around two months in the luxurious 55-hectare (136-acre) property, which is larger than the Vatican City itself.
The main structure was built in the 17th century.
The palace is surrounded by sumptuous gardens and looks out over a lake. The pope will be accompanied by his two secretaries and four housekeepers.
- Mater Ecclesiae Monastery -
This two-storey brick building on a hilltop inside the Vatican walls overlooking St Peter's will eventually be the former pope's permanent residence.
The structure was built on the spot where a fortress monastery had existed since the 9th century to protect against barbarian invasions.
The building has breathtaking views and is surrounded by manicured gardens, making it the ideal retreat for a life of quiet contemplation.
- St Peter's Basilica -
Cardinals will celebrate a mass in this landmark of Roman Catholicism on the first day of next month's conclave of cardinals to elect a new pope.
No date has yet been set for the conclave.
Following the mass, cardinals walk in procession to the Sistine Chapel singing the hymn "Veni Creator Spiritus" ("Come Creator Spirit") in Latin.
The basilica, one of the largest churches in the world, is a jewel of Renaissance architecture and contains the tomb of St Peter -- the first pope.
- Sistine Chapel -
Situated inside the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, this 15th-century chapel is world renowned for its spectacular frescoes by Michelangelo.
A special stove is installed in the chapel during the conclave where the cardinals' ballots are burnt after each vote until a new pope is found.
Black smoke indicates that the required majority for a new pope has not been found, white smoke that there is a new leader of the world's Catholics.
- Saint Martha's Residence -
A building completed in the 1990s just behind St Peter's Basilica, this is where the cardinal electors stay during the days of the conclave.
The cardinals previous slept in corridors and rooms of the Apostolic Palace itself. Their new lodgings include en-suite bathrooms and hotel service.
Every morning the cardinals are taken in a minibus with blacked-out windows to the sistine Chapel or make the journey on foot around the basilica.
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