Castel Gandolfo - The Papal Residence: A Story of Neglect

September 08, 2018

The pontifical palace of Castel Gandolfo has a long history, explained Osvaldo Gianoli, the director of the domain, in the Italian issue of L’Osservatore Romano on August 31, 2018.

In his article, he retraces the history of a site that became a papal residence in the 17th century, and that is now open to the public. The palace is now situated in the heart of Albalonga, the ancient city connected with the foundation of Rome eight centuries before Christ. In the first century A.D., the emperor Domitian had a vast villa built there, and around the fourth century the villa was completely abandoned.

It rose from its ashes in the 11th century, when the Gandolfi, a Genoese family that came to Rome to serve the pope, decided to build a castle on the site and gave it the name it still bears today. Later, another pontifical family, the Savelli, became the owners of the property until 1596, when the Apostolic Chamber of the Holy See bought it.

In 1623, with the election of Pope Urban VIII, the site’s vocation changed radically, explains Osvaldo Gianoli: “On May 10, 1627, the pontiff inaugurated Castel Gandolfo as the pope’s summer residence.” It offered an alternative to the Roman summer heat. A new palace was built under the direction of Carlo Maderno.

With the occupation of Rome by Victor Emmanuel II’s troops on September 20, 1870, the residence was abandoned for a period of 60 years. It only came back to life in 1929, when the Roman Question was settled by the Lateran Agreements signed between Pope Pius XI and Benito Mussolini’s government.

Osvaldo Gianoli reveals that from the 17th century to our days, less than half the popes have gone to Castel Gandolfo.

During World War II, the Germans set up a defense line on the hills of Albano that went “just by the palace.”

On January 22, 1944, the allied troops landed in Anzio. The pontifical Villas were the first to see the soldiers on the beach and immediately reported the news to the pope – remember that Marconi had set up the first radio for communications between the castle and the Vatican. At the time, Pope Pius XII had opened the Villa’s doors to welcome everyone without distinction. There were about twelve thousand refugees.

A new era began for Castel Gandolfo with Pope Francis’ pontificate. He has only visited his residence very rarely and each time it was only for a couple hours. In 2014, he decided to open the gardens and the main rooms of the castle to the public.

“The lack of the papal presence can be felt,” says Osvaldo Gianoli. “Nothing can replace the presence of the pope.” Fortunately, Francis’ personal decision will not be binding on his successors...