Look inside the Pope’s summer home, now welcoming everyone

Instead of keeping his vacation apartment private, Pope Francis decided to share this sacred, historical site with the world.

Aerial view of the Apostolic palace in Italy. DeAgostini | Getty Images

Did you know the Pope has a lake home? Well, actually. it’s called a “summer apartment,” but both of those terms are a little misleading: as it’s really more of a stunning Italian castel. But many people don’t know about it because for hundreds of years only a privileged and papal few have been admitted behind its stone walls. This month, however, Pope Francis is changing that.

The Pope has decided to throw open the historical gates and transform his summer apartment into a museum. Located about 15 miles outside of Rome, the Apostolic Palace at Castel Gandolfo, as the papal apartment is known, overlooks Lake Albano. Now visitors will have a new reason to venture to this scenic volcanic crater lake: for the chance to enter 22 rooms never before seen by the public. It’s an historic event.

“Whoever crosses the threshold of the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo will encounter pure beauty,” wrote Director of the Vatican Museums Antonio Paolucci in an October 21 press statement.

So what is there to see at the Apostolic Palace at Castel Gandolfo today? First, there’s the view of the lake and the mountains and the gorgeous gardens. Inside, you’ll want to pay extra attention to the private chapel, the papal library, the papal study, and the papal bedchamber (which, compared to the ornate beauty of the sitting rooms is surprisingly modest). Throughout the villa, gold plating, marble floors, and Church art abound. You’ll see them as you wander through the various sitting rooms, and the Swiss Hall, the holding ground for the Pope’s Swiss Guard.

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But the stunning summer retreat isn’t just a sight to behold; it’s a site brimming with history. The petite palace occupies the same grounds as a garden that belonged to the Roman Emperor Domitian. Pope Francis isn’t the first person to live here. Actually, he hasn’t lived there at all. Though he has visited a few times, Pope Francis has reportedly never spent a night there. That’s quite unlike Popes Pius II and Paul VI, who passed away in its bedchamber, or Pope John Paul II who frequented the castel and even had a swimming pool built there. Twelve other popes have frequented the palace since the 17th century, though a total of 18 could’ve made use of it and chose not to do so.

What makes Pope Francis’ move unique is that he’s not only shying away from the luxurious home; he’s giving others a chance to make use of it. The decision echoes that of Pope Pius II, who offered the palace as a place of refuge during World War II. Back then, he provided sanctuary for Jewish women to hide from the Nazis and give birth in safety. About 50 babies were born at the palace during that time.

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Pope Francis first opened the palace gardens, called the Barberini Gardens, to the public in 2014. Since then, visitors have been able to tour the grounds by train. That’s right—the grounds are big enough for a train. The estate includes Pope Benedict’s organic farm, which raises cows, chickens, and bees. As such, the beautiful farm produces milk, eggs, and honey for employees, as well as for sale in the Vatican supermarket.

Are you planning your next vacation yet?

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