One of the most scenic Roman villages, Castel Gandolfo’s crescent shape wraps around the unbelievably blue waters of Lake Albano.
Surprisingly, this quiet Roman village is home to another piece of Vatican territory. The territory inhabits the pope’s summer residence, inclusive of the apostolic palace, Barberini Gardens, organic farm, and papal apartments.
Everyone needs a vacation, even the pope. The blue lake, clear skies, and quiet atmosphere is an ideal escape from the busy streets of Rome and the crowds at the Vatican.
Castel Gandolfo took its name from the Gandolfi family of Genoa. It was later passed to the Savelli family, a wealthy aristocratic family from Rome. However, in 1596 the Apostolic Camera, otherwise known as the Papal Treasury, purchased this Roman village due to amounting debt from the Savelli’s.
Pope Clement VIII was the first to visit Castel Gandolfo during his papacy, sometime between 1596, the year it was purchased, and 1605, the year of his death. The restoration of the castle, itself, was not until 1626 by Pope Urban VIII.
Though more of a small tourist destination and local Roman village today, the castle has a strong history of safeguarding during times of war. Roughly 900 citizens from Velletri fled to Castel Gandolfo, resisting the siege by Joachim Murat during the Napoleonic Wars. The castle was used yet again during World War II; Pope Pius XII opened the doors of Castel Gandolfo to refugees escaping the battles surrounding Rome. The numbers added to an astounding 12,000 people - mostly Jewish or non-Catholic – who brought with them their livestock. The Pope even turned his apartment into a nursery for the 36 children that were born during that time.
As a territory of the Vatican, Castel Gandolfo has two sister cities – territories outside of Vatican City. The first is Chateauneuf-du-Pape in southeastern France and the second is Curepipe on the island of Mauritius.
A number of celebrations are held in Castel Gandolfo. One such is the feast of the patron saint, St. Sebastian, on the first week of September. The Roman village is as lively as ever, filled with people, food, and fun activities. The feast ends with bright fireworks over the cerulean lake. Another similar celebration is the Festival of Peaches. It’s held on the last Sunday of July, filling the streets with entertainment and sports.
What might be considered the town’s claim to fame is the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo – 17th-century, 135-acre papal palace. Throughout its conception, the palace acted as a summer residence and retreat for the pope. Carlo Maderno, a Swiss-Italian architect, designed the palace for Pope Urban VIII. One pope even added a swimming pool, to some controversy. In October of 2016, however, it became a museum for public viewing.
The Pontifical Villas of Castel Gandolfo make up a whopping 55-hectares. That’s 55,000 acres of land. These villas even contain their own drinking water that originates from the springs of Palazzolo.
Of the 55-hectare estate, 30 hectares are dedicated to the beautiful Barberini Gardens. These gardens lay on the archaeological site of Emperor Domitian’s residence outside of Rome. This area of the estate has been opened to tourists since 2014, just a couple of years before the palace, itself.
The other 25 hectares are used for farming. The estate has a well-maintained organic farm, full of livestock, groves for fruit and olives, and even a vineyard.
Castel Gandolfo and its papal estate is a close getaway from the hustle and bustle of Rome’s busy streets. From farm and gardens to papal apartments – or even just a stroll down the town’s streets – this Roman village is a sight to behold and worth a day wandering through its nooks and crannies.
Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo
8:30AM - 1:00PM Monday - Friday, 8:30 - 4:30PM Saturday, 10:00AM - 2:00PM Sunday
Can only be viewed from booking a tour
NEARBY: Lake Albano, Bernini fountain at the entrance to Vatican territory, Chiesa di San Tommaso da Villanova