Benedict's future home: A haven of calm over Rome

Teams of builders are hard at work in an idyllic spot in the Vatican gardens: a monastery with a breathtaking view over the dome of St Peter's Basilica and the skyline of the Eternal City where Benedict XVI will live when he is no longer pope.

The Vatican has likened the pope's retirement on a hillside within the walls of the world's smallest state to the Biblical Moses interceding with God on a mountain while battles raged in the valley below.

His life in the two-storey brick building will set up an unprecedented arrangement in the Church's 2,000-year history -- a pope and his predecessor living within a stone's throw of each other.

The "Mater Ecclesiae" monastery used to be home to eight cloistered nuns from different countries and orders who supported the pope with their prayers.

Late pope John Paul II invited the nuns to stay there and had a special chapel built for them next to the main building, which was constructed near the site of an older monastery set up to defend St Peter's from Saracen invaders in the 9th century.

It is this haven of peace where the Vatican has said Joseph Ratzinger will live out his final days, together with his secretary Georg Gaenswein and a few housekeepers from a lay religious order that has looked after the 85-year-old pope until now.

Following his resignation on February 28, Benedict will initially live in Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence near Rome, but he is expected to move back inside the Vatican by the end of April or beginning of May when renovation work is finished.

The heliport from which his helicopter will take off for the last time on February 28 at around 1600 GMT is in fact only a few hundred metres from the monastery -- near a reproduction of the grotto in Lourdes, France where the Virgin Mary is believed to have appeared to a girl in the 19th century.

Situated in the heart of the Vatican and isolated from the rest of the world, this small residence is surrounded by blossoming flower beds and vegetable gardens and also has its own internal garden.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the Vatican's culture minister, who is leading a spiritual retreat for Benedict and the Roman Curia this week -- compared the pope's future life to Moses on a mountain.

The image and the unprecedented situation has raised concern among some Vatican officials, mindful of the precedent of two or even three popes at the same time and the divisions that caused.

While Benedict has said he wants to live "hidden from the world", the Vatican has emphasised he does not intend to live a reclusive life.

"I don't think he should be considered in any way a recluse," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said.

"He will have full freedom. Clearly this is unprecedented, we will see how he lives it.

"He has expressed several times his wish to spend his old age writing and doing research and I imagine that is what he will do," Lombardi said.