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, the 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.
The Holy Father normally leads the Angelus from here instead of Saint Peter's on Sundays in July and August and often comes out to greet pilgrims. The Wednesday weekly audiences in Rome are 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. We expect Pope Francis will no doubt do the same--he is definitely a "people person".
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.
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 that is currently being remodeled.
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 arrange day trips through many tour companies in Rome. There is not a lot to see in the town although, like most small Italian towns, it is an interesting trip if you are just looking for a break from the hustle and bustle of Rome.
Photos credit Prof. E. Lisot