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Religion

Papal residence Castel Gandolfo opens to visitors

Visitors have been taking a look around the summer residence of Pope Francis, after the pontiff decided Castel Gandolfo was too grand for him. The property, east of Rome, is larger than Vatican City.

Private rooms at the pope's official summer residence, the hilltop Castel Gandolfo, opened to the public on Saturday.

The opening came at the request of Pope Francis, who has never holidayed there in more than three years as pontiff.

Visitors are able to see the Papal bedroom, where more than 15 popes have slept since the 17th century. The Argentine pope, who has eschewed many of the traditional trappings of his office - including the official papal residence in Vatican City has decided to stay away from the 55-hectare (135-acre) site.

"Here, the grand events of history mix with personal histories," said Osvaldo Gianoli, director of the pontifical villas. "The opening of the private apartments has a symbolic value which reflects the pastoral beliefs of Pope Francis," Gianoli said on Friday, during a ceremony to inaugurate the palace as a visitor attraction.

Italien Palast in Castel Gandolfo (picture-alliance/dpa/EPA/A. Di meo)

A view of the gallery of Alexander VII, part of the area now open to the public

A home to refugees

The Vatican has owned the estate since 1596, with the first pope to use it as a summer residence being Urban VIII, in the 17th century. During the Second World War, the residence - 24 kilometers (15 miles) southeast of Rome - was opened to refugees and some 40 children were born there.

Italien Teleskop in Castelgandolfo bei Rom (picture-alliance/IMAGNO)

The estate housed the Vatican's main telescope, until light pollution became too bad

At one time, the papal court moved there for the summer, bringing hoards of devoted followers with it eager to see regular Sunday blessings by the pontiff from the residence. Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned in 2013, was the last to use it and stayed there in the wake of his shock departure from the papacy.

Although the opening of the apartments might bring more tourists in the short term, some locals fear it might mark the end of an era.

"We fear it will be a tombstone for us if future popes follow his example," Castel Gandolfo mayor Milvia Monachesi told the Reuters news agency. "The fact that the palace is now a museum will make a reversal in the future difficult," she said.

Italien Palast in Castel Gandolfo (picture-alliance/dpa/EPA/A. Di meo)

The palace overlooks Lake Albano, and is situated in the breezy Alban Hills

Special territorial status

Set in the Alban Hills, and overlooking Lake Albano, the residence has extraterritorial status as a property of the Holy See, and is not under Italian jurisdiction.

Attractions now open include a papal portrait gallery and papal artifacts, such as intricately embroidered ceremonial garments and elaborate thrones. Among the exhibits - several pair of papal slippers, including those worn by Pope Pius V, who died in 1572.

Francis opened the Castel Gandolfo estate in 2014, for organized group tours. Since last year, tourists have been able to clamber aboard a special white train for a tour passing an organic farm that is home to cows, hens and bees.

The estate is also home to the headquarters of the Vatican's observatory, although most scientific work now takes place using a telescope in Arizona.

rc/jlw (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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