Amid pomp and ceremony, Benedict XVI left Vatican City Thursday for the last time as pope, ahead of his historic resignation as leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.
An honor guard of Swiss Guards, the soldiers who traditionally protect the pope, lined up to bid him farewell as he left the papal apartment, alongside senior Vatican officials and staff.
Applause swelled as Benedict, looking frail and carrying a cane, climbed into a car that took him to the helicopter that flew him to the summer papal residence, Castel Gandolfo.
The sound of bells from St. Peter's Basilica chimed across the city of Rome as the helicopter soared overhead, passing above landmarks like the Colosseum.
At 8 p.m. (2 p.m. ET), his almost unprecedented resignation takes effect.
Although Benedict will eventually return to Vatican City to live out his days, he will never again set foot there as pope