Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo
The Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo, or the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo from its Italian name Palazzo Apostolico di Castel Gandolfo, is a 135-acre complex of buildings in a garden setting in the city of Castel Gandolfo, Italy, including the principal 17-century villa, an observatory and a farmhouse with 75 acres of farmland. The main structure, the Papal Palace, has been a museum since October 2016. It served for centuries as a summer residence and vacation retreat for the pope, the leader of the Catholic Church, and is afforded extraterritorial status as one of the properties of the Holy See.
"The oldest parts of the castle date back to the 13th century," according to Saverio Petrillo, whose title is director of the Papal villas. "It was acquired by the Vatican in 1596 when the Savelli family, who owned it, were unable to pay a debt to the Papacy."
The gardens occupy the site of a residence of the Roman Emperor Domitian. The palace was designed by Swiss-Italian architect Carlo Maderno for Pope Urban VIII. Since then, about half of his successors have used the properties as a summer residence and vacation retreat, except for the years between 1870 and 1929 when the popes, in dispute with Italy over territorial claims, did not leave Vatican City. Pope Pius XI had the facilities modernized and began using the retreat again in 1934. In accordance with the Lateran Treaty of 1929, the palace and the adjoining Villa Barberini added to the complex by Pope Pius XI are extraterritorial properties of the Holy See.
During World War II, an unknown number of Jewish refugees took shelter at the palace under the protection of the Holy See and many people used the site as a refuge from Allied bombing raids in 1944, though more than 500 people died in one such attack.
Pope Pius XII died at the palace in 1958 as did Pope Paul VI in 1978. Pope John Paul II had a swimming pool built at the palace, which was criticized by some. Paparazzi used the opportunity to take photos of him.
Pope Benedict XVI flew to the palace at the conclusion of his papacy on 28 February 2013, was joined by Pope Francis for lunch on 23 March, and returned to Vatican City on 2 May. Francis visited the property twice more, but has never stayed overnight. In June 2013 Francis announced he would not spend the summer in Castel Gandolfo as many of his predecessors had, but would lead the Angelus there on 14 July. In retirement, Benedict used it at Francis' invitation for a two-week vacation in 2015.
On 7 December 2013, Pope Francis named Osvaldo Gianoli as the Director of the Pontifical Villas of Castel Gandolfo. In March 2014, the Vatican opened the Barberini Gardens to paid visitors on escorted tours during morning hours every day but Sunday. Beginning 11 September 2015, the public was able to travel from Vatican City to Castel Gandolfo by a train that had previously been reserved for use by the pope. Before the end of the year, products from the farm, previously only available to Vatican employees, were made available for purchase by the public.
On 21 October 2016, the palace was opened to the public for viewing without undergoing any structural changes. When asked if the building would again become a papal apartment, Castel Gandolfo mayor Milvia Monachesi said: "the fact that the palace is now a museum will make a reversal in the future difficult".
Pursuant to the Lateran Treaty of 1929, the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo is Italian territory, but owned by the Holy See and equipped with extraterritoriality comparable to that of diplomatic missions. It is exempt from Italian taxes and expropriations, and Italian authorities are prohibited from entering it without the consent of the Holy See..
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According to Saverio Petrillo, director of the villa, about half the popes since then have followed Pope Urban's lead. Over the centuries, war, political turmoil, illness and just plain not liking the setting accounted for some pontiffs renouncing use of the villa, Petrillo wrote.
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- Lateran Treaty, Article 15 and annex II.
- Additional sources