Inaugurated on 19 April 1973 by Paul VI, the core of the collection is constituted by the magnificent Grand Gala Berlin, constructed in Rome in 1826 by Leo XII. Also worthy of note are the nine ceremonial berlins belonging to Pontiffs or Princes of the Holy Roman Church, such as that of Cardinal Luciano Luigi Bonaparte, a gift from his cousin Napoleon III, emperor of France. Aside from the “protocol” carriages, two historic travelling berlins are also displayed, one used by Piux IX for his re-entry from exile after the revolutionary movements of the Roman Republic, the other for the final journey of the “Pope King”. All these carriages, including the sedan chairs, court livery and harnesses for the horses, provide historical evidence of papal mobility. Indeed, the collection also includes various automobiles, demonstrating progress in this field.
Although the entry into the Vatican of the first automobile, with the registration plate “Corpo Diplomatico 404”, occurred shortly after the beginning of Pius XI’s pontificate, when the Association of Catholic Women of Milan donated a Bianchi Type 15 to the Pope, it was only with the signing of the Lateran Pacts (1929) that the main international automobile houses began to compete to donate their best vehicles. And so there arrived the Graham Paige 837 and the purpose-built Citroën Lictoria C6, as well as the first Mercedes, the 460 Nürburg limousine designed by Ferdinand Porsche. The Vatican Museums “fleet” of automobiles also includes the Mercedes 300 Sel, the Fiat Campagnola linked to the assassination attempt against John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square in 1981, three Popemobiles (Land Rover, Toyota and Mercedes 230 GE), the last Beetle produced by Volkswagen in Mexico in 2003, and the Renault 4 donated to Pope Francis in 2013.