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See Inside Pope’s Lavish Palazzo… Now Open to Public

The villa has opened to the public after the frugal Pope Francis decided not to use it, judging it too luxurious and grandiose.

Stairs lead to the pope's private apartment at Castel Gandolfo near Rome on Oct. 21.

In 2014, the gardens at the palazzo were opened to the public, but now visitors can tour the never-before-seen private apartment of the palazzo itself. 

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The grooms' room in the papal apartment at Castel Gandolfo. 

Pope Francis has declined to use the palazzo, preferring to spend his summer downtime at home in the Vatican hotel suite where he lives. 

Alessandro Di Meo / EPA

Lake Albano is seen through the window in the grooms' room.

The lake-front town has experienced a decline in visitors since Francis decided to stay put in Rome. Last year, in part to help offset the economic downturn, the Vatican inaugurated weekly train service so visitors can see both the Vatican and the leafy hill-top refuge in one day.

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A room features statues and paintings of former popes.

The Vatican has owned the estate since 1596. The first pope to use it as a summer residence was Urban VIII in the 17th century. About half of some 30 popes since have used it to escape the heat of the Roman summer.

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The simple pontifical bedroom, see here, was used as a delivery room during World War II. 

The Alban region saw bloody fighting and residents fled toward the pontifical villas seeking sanctuary. Pius XII opened the doors to more than 12,000 people until Rome was liberated on June 4, 1944.

As the Vatican tells it, some of the displaced were pregnant. And an estimated 40 women gave birth on the pope's bed itself; bearing offspring now affectionately called "the pope's children."

Pius resumed spending summers there after the war and died in the same bedroom in 1958. Pope Paul VI also died in the room in 1978.

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An egg icon with Virgin Mary and Child sits on a desk in the pope's bedroom.

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The clock parlor. 

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The throne room. 

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The gallery of Alexander VII is one of the 20 marble-floored rooms in the private apartments. 

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A bust of the late Pope John Paul II is on display in the gallery of Alexander VII.

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Hedge mazes surround a fountain in the gardens of Castel Gandolfo in 2013.

ALESSANDRO DI MEO / EPA

The Apostolic Palace and the Pontifical Villas of Castel Gandolfo loom on the hillside in 2013.

At more than 130 acres, the residence, which includes several buildings, elaborate Renaissance-style gardens, a forest and a working dairy farm, is larger than Vatican City.

Franco Origlia / Getty Images