The secrets of Castelgandolfo. The Pope invites you to the pontifical villas

Bergoglio, who does not like to go on vacation, has thrown open the doors of his summer residence. And here are revealed places that were once very private: the chapel, the throne room, the gallery of portraits of the popes, the gardens and the bedroom of the Holy Father. Where Pius XII and Paul VI died. 40 children were born

  castel-gandolfo-today-33 We travel between the rooms and palaces of Castelgandolfo, the Pope's summer residence Photo

The pencil and the eraser remain on the desk. Of course, there is no shortage of books. In the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo, in the Castelli Romani, overlooking Lake Albano on one side and reaching out to the sea on the other, you can almost see Benedict XVI who moved here from the Vatican after his resignation from his pontificate in 2013. Pope Francesco, due to his habit of not taking holidays, has never stayed in the summer residence. Indeed, he decided to give up the 'palace' and to open the papal apartment of the Apostolic Palace to the public in 2016, after giving the opportunity to visit the Gardens of the Pontifical Villas in 2014 and the Gallery of portraits of the pontiffs, in 2015. - Photo

HISTORY PAGES - So those very private rooms offer themselves to the gaze of those who arrive in Castel Gandolfo not only with their furnishings, but as pages of history. Here, on the second floor, in the chapel of the papal apartment, on 23 March 2013 Benedict XVI and Pope Francis knelt in prayer next to each other: Bergoglio, a few days before the election, had gone to visit the Pope Emeritus delivering to the world the historic image of two popes, one next to the other. The private chapel has on the altar a painting of Our Lady of Czestochowa, a gift from the Polish bishops to Pius XI (1922-1939), who had been Visitor and Apostolic Nuncio in this country. And it communicates directly with the papal bedroom, which looks (on one side) towards the sea: it has a simple decor and contains a scenario of great history that also leads to the “sons of the Pope”. In fact, about 40 children were born here because during the Second World War in the Apostolic Palace and in the Pontifical Villas, at the behest of Pope Pius XII, thanks to the extra-territorial nature of the Pontiff's summer residence, more than 12,000 people found refuge.

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THE BIRTHDAYS OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR - The women ready to give birth were welcomed right into the bedroom of the Holy Father and the children born here were called for this 'sons of the Pope'. Even the names chosen, Pio or Eugenio, were a sign of thanks to Pius XII-Eugenio Pacelli, who died here in 1958. Like Paul VI, 20 years later, on August 6, 1978. The rooms and furnishings are not just environments and objects, but they tell stories, dramas, fragments of eternity. John Paul II spent the months of rehabilitation here after the attack on St. Peter's Square on May 13, 1981.

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THAT TERRACE THAT EMBRACES THE LAKE - Also on the second floor, in the papal apartment, the Hall of the Swiss, where the Pontiff's Guard served, the Sala del Consistoro, where on 29 October 1953 Angelo Roncalli, who later became Pope John XXIII, received from the hands of Pius XII the red galero as a cardinal (that wide-brimmed hat with tassels), or the Throne Room, where the Holy Father welcomed illustrious guests. From here you get to the terrace that embraces the lake, the Castelli Romani, the sea and on clear days even the Dome of San Pietro. The American President George Bush and his wife Laura also appeared here with John Paul II in 2001 (in those years Castel Gandolfo was baptized the Second Vatican). Then there is the library and the study of the Pope, the studies of the pontiff's secretaries (in the one used by Monsignor Georg Gänswein, secretary of Benedict XVI, there is still a small flag of Bavaria on a table).

FROM THE PORTRAIT GALLERY TO VILLA BARBERINI - The history of the Church, from 1500 to today, can be found in the Gallery of portraits of the popes: it goes from Pope Julius II, elected on November 1, 1503, to Pope Francis. In this section, on the first floor of the Apostolic Palace, there are also liturgical vestments, historical uniforms (including that of the marshal of the conclave, 'ancestor' of the clavigero), objects of the papal ceremonial. The itinerary of the Apostolic Palace is conceived, set up and managed by the Vatican Museums. «From the beginning of the year to July, 87,000 visitors have been welcomed. And the growing trend is higher than that of 2019, which had also been excellent, 'says Daniele Di Francesco, coordinator of the reception of the Vatican Museums since 2008 and of the pontifical villas since 2015.

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THE SMALLEST RAILWAY IN THE WORLD - At Villa Barberini, which is located near the Apostolic Palace, you get lost in the Italian gardens, in the labyrinth of hedges, in the citrus grove, between a centenary magnolia and an avenue of holm oaks, among statues and fountains. At the end of an avenue, in a sheltered area, a statue of the Madonna watches the fish and water lilies in the tank. Here Benedict XVI often stopped in prayer and then gave the fish the bread they left on a nearby wall. Here are the remains of the Villa of Domitian: the walls, the theater, the cryptoporticus where the emperor walked in bad weather, convened the Senate, hosted actors and singers. And the ruins, as claimed by Antonio Polucci, director of the Vatican Museums until 2016, coexist with nature in admirable harmony. Among the different types of visits to the Gardens of the Pontifical Villas and the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo (information on ), there is the one called Full day: it starts in the morning from the Vatican Museums (which every day welcome an average of 20 thousand people) and its Gardens (100 fountains, over 250 species of plants), continues with the train that leaves from the Station of the Vatican (the smallest in the world with its 250 meters of tracks), arrives at Castel Gandolfo and then returns to Rome in the evening.

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In the Vatican Gardens there are traces that lead to Castel Gandolfo. Here, in fact, two works created by Alejandro Marmo have found their place: the Argentine sculptor made them with waste materials from the pontifical villas. I am the Christ worker (i.e. worker) and the Virgin of Lujan (patroness of Argentina). Pope Francis wanted them in the shadow of St. Peter's. As a sign of his pastoral care of waste. In the name of faith and art.
Maria Giuseppina Buonanno