In this episode of Vatican Unseen we move to Castel Gandolfo where the summer residence of the Popes is located.
The Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo, which is just a 10 minute helicopter ride from Vatican City, has been a papal favorite for hundreds of years. It's a perfect summer retreat because of the cooler temperatures and beautiful views of Lake Albano.
Pope Urban VIII had the palace built in the first half of the 17th century. For more than 200 years, most Popes visited the area several times during their pontificate.
The tradition ended in 1870 because of a dispute between Italy and the Vatican. However, since 1929, the palace grounds, and some adjacent properties, have officially been under control of the Holy See. Since then, it has become the de facto vacation home for almost every Pope.
But the property has served as more than just a place for leisure. Popes continued to pray the Angelus and go about other normal activities while staying there. One Pope even released his first encyclical from the summer residence. The Vatican's Astronomical Observatory conducts research from there, as well.
The Vatican housed Jews in the palace during World War II, and others stayed there to find shelter from bombing raids. Dozens of babies were born inside the papal apartment during the war.
Pope John Paul II spent more than six years at Castel Gandolfo, and Pope Benedict XVI was known to spend two to three months there every year. In fact, some Popes have even died at the site, the most recent being Pope Paul VI in 1978.
But the current Pope hasn't taken to Castel Gandolfo like his predecessors. He has only been four times during his papacy and has yet to spend the night. He told Benedict XVI during their June meeting that he prefers to stay at the Vatican during the summer. He added that he relaxes simply by changing his routine.
The papal residence and its nearby gardens are only open to visitors on Saturdays until December, although that date may be extended.
Inside, visitors can see the famous Gallery of Popes. It includes portraits of Popes from the last 500 years, from Pope Francis back to Pope Julius II, who commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
Also there is the no-longer-in-use ceremonial throne, on which the Pope was carried on shoulders for important celebrations.
The inner courtyard has more historically significant items, like a BMW that Pope John Paul II used for travel. There's also a beautiful papal garden, where Pope Benedict XVI took walks.
The Castel Gandolfo residence itself is full of stories. For example, thousands of people were brought there to avoid Nazi persecution during World War II.
There are two options available for visitors. A short visit costs only 16 Euros and includes a stop at the palace in Castel Gandolfo. The longer tour costs 40 Euros but allows visitors to also see the Vatican Museums and the gardens in Castel Gandolfo. In both cases, visitors will ride a train from inside the Vatican directly to Castel Gandolfo. Reservations can be made online at the Vatican Museums website.
If you want to know more about the Vatican from the inside , don't forget to check out the first three episodes: