Overlooking the Alban lake, the town of Castel Gandolfo is probably the most famous of papal summer residencies. For centuries, popes have left Rome during the hottest days of summer to spend time in the Apostolic palace.
The first pope to pick Castel Gandolfo as a summer destination was Urban VIII who, after his election in 1623, ordered the construction of a residence near the location of the ruins of a villa that belonged to Roman Emperor Domitianius. The first Pope who actually stayed at the residence was Alexander VII. George McFinnigan|Wikipedia|CC BY-SA 3.0 Overlooking the Lake Alban, the town of Castel Gandolfo was chosen as the place where to build a summer residence by Pope Urban VIII.
For centuries, different popes made changes and restored the original structure built by Urban VIII. In the 18th century, Benedict XIV ordered new decorations, while Clement XIV expanded the gardens. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Popes Pius VII and Pius VIII ordered restoration works following damage from Napoleonic troops. It was then used as summer residence by Pope Gregory XVI and Pius IX until, in 1870, it was declared as part of the nascent Italian state.
It was only in 1929, with the creation of the Vatican State, that the estate was returned to the Vatican, becoming once again the site of popes’ summer residences — with Pope Pius XII and Paul VI both passing away at this peaceful estate. Read more: Pope Francis gives up papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo H. Raab | Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 4.0 Pope Francis broke with the tradition of a papal residence at Gandolfo by turning the centuries-old villa into a museum open to the public.
The current Pope Francis broke with this tradition by turning the centuries-old villa into a museum open to the public. In 2014, he opened the gardens to visits from the public. And
in October 2016, twenty rooms were opened to the public for the first time, including a study, a library and a chapel. As Dr. Sandro Barbaglio, curator of the historical section of the Vatican Museum, explained to CNN, the decision could possibly be reversed by future popes. “It is a decision that is permanent until the Pontiff wants it to remain as such,” Barbaglio said. This means a future pope can decide to take back the residence, making it private again.”
For the time being, anyone can set foot in the “popes’ summer residence” by simply booking a ticket (10 euros) via the
Vatican Museums website.