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Religion

'Cardinal hotel' offers eclectic mix of amenities

Cardinals continue to arrive in Rome to attend the conclave to elect the next pope. They will be staying at a "hotel" that's been tailored to meet the complex needs of a "prince of the church."

In Rome, hordes of Catholic pilgrims and media representatives are stretching the city's hotels to the bursting point.

Inside the massive basilica walls of the Vatican City, however, the tenor is more subdued: at 10 o'clock on a crisp sunny morning, the bells of St. Peter's ring out.

Within the walls of the Holy See, cardinals are gathering for the first round of meetings that will determine when they will hold a papal conclave to elect the successor to Pope Benedict XVI. The cardinals are also visitors to Rome, and like the tourists and pilgrims outside the walls of Vatican city, they, too, need somewhere to lay their heads at night.

They do so at a building called the Marta complex. The complex is where the 115 princes of the church, otherwise known as cardinals, will stay for the duration of the conclave. The long, low and rather plain edifice was constructed in the 90s under the pontificate of John Paul II.

"It was built for the conclave of 2005," says Benedikt Steinschulte, the grey-haired, yet robust guide for the Pontifical Council for Social Communication, the Catholic Church's media outreach arm. "I think it wasn't very comfortable for the conclave of 1975. For every ten men, there was only one bathroom."

Media blackout

Now, each room comes equipped with its own bathroom. In general, the building has the look and feel of a three-star hotel - perhaps four-star. It's nothing excessively luxurious, but does have amenities to keep cardinals happy.

Inside , a large dining room with a café gives cardinals the chance to have an espresso or cappuccino - all the better to keep them awake during long hours of voting. And, of course, for this particular crowd, the hotel includes one other essential amenity: a chapel.

Business travelers, however, would be sorely disappointed by the lack of other amenities. The rooms don't come with televisions or radios, Steinschulte says, since Vatican law dictates that during the conclave the cardinals must remain cut off from the rest the world.

When asked about beds, Steinschulte could not say for sure whether they were singles or doubles. One thing was certain, though: "These are single rooms for single people," the guide said.

(Photo: imago/Helge Sobik
Rom/Vatikanstadt)

The last conclave took place in 2005 and lasted one day, with white smoke signalling the election of a new pope

Conclave

On foot, it's an uphill walk to the Sistine Chapel. Dozens of cardinals will soon be making this walk.

Approximately three hundred meters from the Marta complex, a Vatican gas pump appears. Here, employees of the Vatican can fill up for cheap. After a round-about, the walk continues uphill.

For Steinschulte, it's the second conclave of his lifetime. As a German, he has fond memories of his first, the 2005 conclave in which the Bavarian-born Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope.

"I remember the cardinals walking to the Sistine chapel," he said. "Some walked on foot - the younger ones. The other ones [went] in a small bus. They blocked the traffic for half an hour. Then life was normal again."

At the Sistine Chapel, which Steinschulte describes as "a typical Italian chapel of the 13th century," the walk concludes. For the cardinals, however, there's still some climbing to do.

"They enter inside, Steinschulte explains, "and they have to walk up some steps because the chapel is not on the ground floor."

Since 1455 cardinals have been making their way up the five flights of stairs to vote in the famed chapel whose splendid ceiling was painted by Michelangelo.

Today, they also have the option of an elevator.

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