VATICAN CITY — There may be a slight change in protocol tomorrow when Pope Francis makes his first official state visit to Italy.
The traditional visit is held at the Quirinale – the ornate Italian presidential palace in the heart of Rome that served for centuries as a papal residence until 1870, when the Papal States were overthrown and Italy was united.
The formal encounter is marked by colorful ceremony, pomp and pageantry.
The pope is typically escorted by Italian security from the border between Vatican City and Italy. A military band plays as the pope rides slowly in a motorcade through downtown Rome, past crowds of cheering Romans, his car flanked by a squad of helmeted carabinieri police on horseback and motorcycles. There’s a quick pit stop at city hall to greet the mayor before taking off again up the hill to the 16th-century (formerly papal, now presidential) palace to meet with the Italian president and other dignitaries.
Maybe to save money or to mirror Pope Francis’ more simple style, Italian officials said the motorcade will be significantly reduced tomorrow and the fancy plume-helmeted police will leave their horses back at the barracks. They also promised there would be some new features while still respecting the proper protocol for a visiting pope.
What’s interesting is the pope is the only head of state Italy still pulls out all the stops for.
When the fledgling republic was formed after 1946, Italy apparently drove every visiting head of state in a presidential vehicle, accompanied by police on horseback, for 12 miles from the airport to the Quirinale.
Over time the ceremonial motorcade was cut back to the last half-mile from Piazza Venezia, but even that got scrapped eventually because it caused (more than the usual) traffic snarls and irate commuters.