What to do in Rome

The Two Popes: Tour the Set of the Netflix Sensation

Created by director Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardener) and award-winning screenwriter Anthony McCarten, The Two Popes was one of the biggest breakout films of 2019. It went on to win several accolades, including the Hollywood Screenwriter Award for the sometimes whimsical, sometimes serious dialogues that make up Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce's captivating performances. 

The story is relatively straightforward, focussing on the transition between the papacies of Pope Benedict XVI (Hopkins) and Pope Francis (Pryce) in the twilight of 2012. Part biopic, part drama, the plot is peppered with comedic exchanges between the outgoing traditionalist and his progressive replacement. It's worth stressing that the movie's dialogues are almost entirely fictitious, however, with embellishment the the price to pay for not being privy to what went on behind closed doors. 

For anyone interested in history, politics, or religion, The Two Popes is remarkably entertaining - taking audiences of all ages and creeds on an immersive journey spanning decades and continents.

Where was the The Two Popes filmed? And how can you visit the sets?

Read on and we will reveal all.

Where was The Two Popes filmed?

The Two Popes is set in several locations - including Rome, the Vatican City, Castel Gandolfo, and Argentina. 

All scenes in Pope Francis' native Argentina and Buones Aires were shot on site, capturing the vibrancy, colour, and authenticity of everyday life in Latin America. 

What's surprising is that many of the scenes in Rome were artificial - shot not in the Vatican but on full-scale sets recreated elsewhere in the city. Fortunately for Meirelles, Italy is a country where no problem can't be overcome with the right contacts. And Meirelles with a little help from some friends, Meirelles was able to assemble a patchwork of rooms from the Royal Palace of Caserta, the former papal retreat of Villa Mondragone and Villa Farnesina among others.

 Photo Credit: Peter Mountain

One of the most impressive recreations was the Sistine Chapel. Production designer Mark Tildesley applied a process akin to temporary tattooing to the walls and celings of an almost full-scale replica. I say almost because The Two Popes' Sistine Chapel was in fact five centimetres longer than the Vatican's - making it the longest (albeit temporary) Sistine Chapel in the world

But while the Sistine Chapel and Saint Peter's Basilica were off bounds, another Vatican territory allowed filming - at the Pope's summer home in the surrounding Roman hillside.  

Where is the Pope's summer home?

The Pope's Summer home is situated in the town of Castel Gandolfo, about a 45-minute drive southeast of Rome.

Founded in the 17th century, on a site once occupied by an Imperial Roman villa, the Apostolic Palace served as the popes' summer residence right up to 2014. In that year, the more progressively-minded Pope Francis decided to open the papal summer residence to the public, converting the palace into a museum and the landscaped Boboli Gardens into one of the most stunning attractions in Lazio. 

Image courtesy of Netflix

Several scenes give you an idea of Castel Gandolfo's grandeur. *spoiler alert ahead*

From the moment the convoy of Cardinal Bergoglio (the future Pope Francis) starts creeping up the Roman hillside towards to the moment it arrives in the center of Castel Gandolfo's sleepy town square, you sense something special about the environment.

Its exclusivity is confirmed when Bergoglio, awaiting the Pope, talks to one of the estate's gardeners. He tells him that the Pope only consumes food that's cultivated on the estate, and that every day a basket bursting with fresh produce is delivered to the Vatican for the papal breakfast. 

→ Discover more about what to do and see in Castel Gandolfo 

Photo Credit: Susan Wright

Bergoglio and Ratzinger (Benedict's birth name) finally meet in a secluded section of the Boboli Gardens. Caught up in a sometimes heated debate about the direction of the Catholic Church, they wander through its labyrinths and groves, before Ratzinger retires to his apartments where he traditionally dines alone.

Visit Castel Gandolfo today and you can explore the once private Papal Apartments, the ground floor of which has been converted into a small but interesting museum. It's really the top floor, though, that holds the most interest. This is where the popes lived; where they slept. Where they dined, prayed and welcomed their guests.

The scene when Ratzinger and Bergoglio are discussing music, football, and their non-theological pastimes takes place here, in the apartments of the Apostolic Palace. Or at least in a purpose built set purporting to be the palace.

Visiting the Pope's summer residence at Castel Gandolfo

Walks Inside Rome run a series of trips to the Pope's summer residence at Castel Gandolfo.

To the left of your sceen you'll find a list of our most popular tours. For the complete package, you might want to check out our full-day Sistine Chapel and Pope's Summer residence itinerary. It even includes a cooking class on the papal estate, using the same ingredients Pope Francis and his predecessors have long enjoyed.