Castel Gandolfo, Italy: Summer Residence of the Pope
About Castel Gandolfo:
As anyone who has ever been to Rome in the summer time can attest, the city can be unbearably hot. This was certainly the case before air conditioning. No wonder then that the Popes chose to reside in the nearby town of Castel Gandolfo, about 15 miles Southeast of the city. Close to Rome, but averaging slightly cooler temperatures and mild breezes, the town made a perfect escape from the sultry Papal palace. Although the invention of air conditioning obviously makes things more bearable, most Popes have continued this tradition as a means of taking a bit of a break from their daily activities at the Vatican, although much work continues to be done at the summer palace. The first Pope to stay here was Pope Urban VI, in 1628.
If you happen to be in Rome in July or August…or any other month for that matter….we suggest you consider heading over to Castel Gandolfo.
Pope Francis has not continued the tradiation of staying here in the summer, so the schedule has been changed. The Holy Father normally would lead the Angelus from here instead of Saint Peter’s on Sundays in July and August. The Wednesday weekly audiences in Rome were usually cancelled from about July 7th through most of August.
However, the Pope occasionally has the Wednesday audience here at Castel Gandolfo. Be sure to check because if Wednesday audience is on the schedule during the summer it can be either here or in Rome. On occasions various Popes have been known to lead the rosary although not on a regularly scheduled basis.
The Holy Father would often come out to greet the pilgrims personally, as shown above, when now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI greeted a group of nuns who have traveled to Castel Gandolfo for the weekly Papal audience. It was a special treat to get to see him up close–ask anyone who has had that experience.
In addition to the Papal palace Castel Gandolfo raises much of its own food right here: milk from their own cows, chickens, vegetable gardens and olive trees that are centuries old. These are also delivered daily to the Vatican.
There are three tiers of gardens as well, known as the Barberini Gardens. The first is a floral garden, the second consists of what might be called a maze and the third is a citrus garden with lemon and orange trees.
Unfortunately there are no guided tours of the Papal residence itself; however, the Barberini Garden is now open to visitors six days per week. Since Pope Francis does not summer here, it has had a negative effect on the town’s economy, and so to compensate for that, the gardens and the new gallery are now open to the public. Guided tours are offered several times each day. Each tour requires a guide and there is a charge for the tour.
You may also visit the new papal portrait gallery in the Apostolic Palace. Click here for information concerning guided tours of the Barberini Garden.
Castel Gandolfo also houses the Vatican Observatory as well as a small farm and other residences. Overall, the Papal area at Castel Gandolfo is larger than Vatican City itself.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was in residence at Castel Gandolfo after renouncing his office, but has since moved to his new permanent place of residence, a small convent (Mater Ecclesiae) within the Vatican Gardens.
Traveling to Castel Gandolfo:
We feel that Castel Gandolfo is still one of the highlights for Catholic visitors to Rome, if you have the time………a place to see where so many Popes have spent their summers, wander through the gardens and enjoy a break from Rome.
There is bus service to Castel Gandolfo and train service from Roma Termini. The train trip is about 45 minutes and very scenic. However the train station is about half way up the slope to the town so it is a fairly strenuous climb up to the town square. You can get train tickets online here.
As of September 2015, on Saturdays only, you can now travel by train directly from the Vatican Train Station (Roma San Pietro) to Castel Gandolfo. Your ticket includes a visit to the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel and about one hour in the Vatican Gardens. You then leave the Vatican City train station and on to Albano Laziale, where you transfer by bus to Castel Gandolfo. Reservations and tickets should be arranged through the Vatican Museums website.
Want to know more about the Vatican State Railway? Click here for more information.
You can also arrange day trips through many tour companies in Rome. There is not a lot to see in the town itself, like most small Italian towns, it is an interesting trip and makes a nice overnight stay if you are looking for a break from the hustle and bustle of Rome.
Address: Piazza della Libertà, 7, 00040 Castel Gandolfo RM
GPS coordinates: 41° 44′ 48.5448” N, 12° 39′ 1.9188” E
Tel: +39 (06) 935 9181 (for the Commune of Castel Gandolfo, not the Papal residence)
Photos credit Prof. E. Lisot