Pio IX train, the oldest train of Italy
Pio IX overlooking from the train in the station of Velletri (Roma archivio fotografico)

Pio IX train. Luxury is not a mere frill if the Pope hit the road

Efficiency must go hand in hand with holiness and beauty. The construction of the Pio IX train was thus entrusted to the Delettrez Company in Paris. It had all the features a Pope could need: a nice flat, a throne, and a consecrated chapel to say mass.

For the christian philosopher Giordano Bruno the highest and the lowest, good and bad, love and hate, all the opposites coincide in God, thus in the whole creation. In a much smaller scale, the prosaic world of science and the heaviness of the metal, coincide with the lightness of the spirit and the heavenly world of the angel in Pio IX train. It is the oldest train remained in the controversial and funny Italy. We can still admire this perfect balance between the efficiency of mechanich and the beauty of art, at Centrale Montemartini Museum in Rome.

Portrait of Pio IX train inspirer, Mr Giovanni Maria Mastai Ferretti that become Pope under the name of Pio IX. Public Domain Picture
Portait of Pope Pio IX

Mr Giovanni Maria Mastai Ferretti become Pope on the 16th of June 1846 under the name of Pio IX. He was the longest-reigning elected pope in the history of the Catholic Church, and the last to rule as the Sovereign of the Papal States before it fell to the Italian Army in 1870.

Railways were still a novelty at the time of Pio IX. Although the idea to use railway in order to transport heavy loads date back to ancient time, the world’s first steam-powered railway journey in the world took place only in the 19th century. In 1804 Mr. Richard Trevithick, son of a mining captain, bad student when young, and brilliant engineer once adult, built the first steam locomotive.

Portrait of Richard Trevithick, inventor of the first railway steam engine, few decads before the construction of the Pio IX train. Public Domain picture
Linnell, John; Richard Trevithick (1771-1833); Science Museum, London

On the 21 February of the same year the Trevithick’s steam locomotive hauled a train along the tramway of the Penydarren ironwork in South Wales. The whole world immediately understood the important role that railways were about to play in the future. The Pope made no exception. His mind, normally devoted to problems concerning the eternal life, planned an earthly project, a project gray of smoke and hard as iron.

1846 was a very special year. On the 19th of September de Virgin Mary appeared to two young shepherds at La Salette (France). 19th of June NY Nines defeat Knickerbockers 23 – 1 at Hoboken, New Jersey, in the first officially recognized baseball game. Pio IX ordered the construction of few railway tracks to connect the main cities of the Vatican State.

Old picture of Pio IX train in 1858. Public Domain
Pio IX train in 1858

Once the railway was finished, the Pope started to meditate about a train. It must be a special train, a train that could measure up to the holiness of the chieftain of the catholic church. Efficiency must go hand in hand with holiness and beauty. The construction of the Pio IX train was thus entrusted to the Delettrez Company in Paris. It had all the features a Pope could need: a nice flat, a throne, and, most of all, a consecrated chapel to say mass.

The first Pio IX train voyage took place on 3 July 1859. It was a short trip from Rome to Cecchina, a small village nearby. The Train departed, traveled and arrived down the shouting and clapping of thousands of curious.

Unfortunately, for the Pope, in 1870 the Italian Army captured Rome and Pio IX Train was taken away. Due to the fact that there was no real use for it, they simply forgot Pio IX train in a depot of Roma Termini Central Station.

Since then it was moved into different locations till it began to be considered an important heritage. Finally it found home in Centrale Montemartini, an old powerhouse converted into a Museum. The train is now showcased in what originally was the room nr. 2 of the boilers.

First wagon of the Pio IX train in present days. Creative Commons 4.0
Pio IX train – First wagon

The first wagon was a balcony used as a loggia for the papal blessing. It has three balustrades with golden spiral columns on the outside. The upper part is decorated with a frieze and a frame of oak and laurel leaves, topped by copper garlands of flowers with the papal arms in the center. The interior is decorated with gilt and velvet, a painted curtain sprinkled with stars embellishes the ceilings.

Pio IX train interior, the throne
The wagon of the throne

The second wagon is connected to the first by a small platform with wrought iron railings and gates. It consists of a throne room with a small adjoining flat (for the private use of the pontiff) covered with purple clothes. From the balcony the Pope entered the throne room through a double door decorated with crystals. The papal colors of white and golden yellow dominate the interior. Fabrics made of gold and silver threads cover walls, the upholstery of the big sofa, the throne, and the curtains.

Third wagon of Pio IX train. It is a consacreted chapel to allow the Pope to say mass during his journeys. Creative Commons 4.0
Third wagon, the Chapel

The third wagon is a consecrated chapel where the Pope could say Mass during his trips. The designer was Emile Trelat, professor at the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts. The constructor was the “Compagnie Générale de matériels of Chemis de Fer Paris” in Clichy. The outer decoration consists of a silver and gold-plated copper coating. On each side there are sculptures and reliefs with three angels representing the theological virtues – Faith, Hope and Charity – and four griffins at the corners. The interior was richly adorned by artists such as Gerome Cambon and others renowned craftsmen. The total cost of this wagon, including transportation by water, was fairly high for its time (about 140,000 francs).

As I entered the room  the beauty of the machine, the elegance of the decoration, and the flavor of the beauty of an older time captivated me. I wander around the wagon listening to the noise of the engine, the smell of coal and incense, and the crowd shouting their enthusiasm. How impressive was such technology for that time? The world was about to move with a speed never experienced before. Trains, cars, air planes were about to change the perception of distances and traveling. The reality was getting smaller… or wider?


Official website of the city hall where you can find updated information to plan your visit.

An original video recording the first voyage of  Pio IX train in 1858, courtesy of “Istituto Luce”.

Pio IX Train photogallery


I am Gabi, an itinerant traditional music player and storyteller, founder and content writer of OTW.

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