After three trips to Rome over the past five years, there weren’t many memorable experiences. When I learned that I would be visiting the Pope’s Summer Palace–Castel Gandolfo, I was delighted to see this extension of the Vatican.
Although I didn’t know that the Pope had a summer palace, it is something I don’t believe to be true. This was confirmed when I arrived at Castel Gandolfo. It was a quiet town with local vendors and cobbled streets. It was not the serene scene I associate with any property associated with the Vatican.
Our Walks group of twelve was the only tourist to be seen in the town of 9000 people. We felt as if we were the only ones in the world when we entered the summer home. It was surrounded by 5 km of manicured gardens that housed the 200-year-old olive tree and two Sardinia white donkeys. These are just two of many animals donated to Pope Francis from all over the globe.
“Why would the Pope open this up for tours?” I asked myself. On the tour, I was told that Pope Francis wanted the retreat to be opened because he wasn’t able to spend enough time there to keep it for himself. The Vatican Management now has the grounds and home open to tours. This helps to maintain the Vatican’s infrastructure, which has been hampered by overtourism for many years.
The original owners of the property were the Barberini family. This is why the interiors and grounds are so lavish. Their connections to Pope Urban VIII in the 17th century influenced their importance. They were recognized as Italian nobility, which is why the Apostolic Palace was eventually transformed into the summer residence of the Pope.
Apart from their country home in Rome, Barberini also commissioned Bernini for the construction of their Rome city residence, Palazzo Barberini. You can still see the Barberini family crest, which is easily recognized by the bee in both properties. Keep an eye out for other bees throughout the property.
We were taken by golf cart through the Barberini gardens before we entered the Villa of Castel Gandolfo. This allowed us to get an intimate and in-depth explanation of the importance of the grounds. It is easy to see why the garden is so beautiful with 55 employees who are solely responsible for its upkeep.
Original Roman remains are an important part of maintaining the gardens. These include cobbled streets and steps, columns, columns, statues, and columns that transport you back to the past. Water is a key theme throughout the property, with fountains, aqueducts, and ponds serving to show wealth and irrigation for the lush greenery.
The Pope’s home allows you to see the inside of his daily life from a historical perspective. The Pope’s attire changed for different duties. Original portraits are a reminder of the historical significance of Popes.
There are also halls with gold-gilded ceilings and a large banquet table for Pope’s dignitary guests. The Pope’s simple bedroom is in contrast.
A lookout can be seen to the former helicopter pad where, for the first time ever in history, Pope Benedetto met Pope Francis.
It is full of history, cultural significance, natural beauty, and fresh air. I was able to escape the Roman crowds. Castel Gandolfo showed me that there are still parts of Italy to discover.