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Papal Palace opens to visitors

by ANDREW MEDICHINI THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | June 12, 2021 at 3:58 a.m.
A view of the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy -- As covid-19 restrictions are lifted in Italy, thousands of people are heading to see the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome.

Built on a hilltop above Lake Albano, Castel Gandolfo was for centuries the retreat for popes seeking to escape Rome's sweltering summer heat. Pope Benedict once strolled past well-groomed hedges, lemon trees and rose bushes. John Paul II prayed by a statue of the Madonna overlooking a pond with lily pads and goldfish.

Yet unlike his predecessors, Pope Francis has avoided the palace, preferring to stay at the Vatican throughout the summer.

In 2014, Francis decided that the 135 acres of gardens should be opened to the public. In 2016, the palace itself followed suit, with visitors allowed into the former papal bedroom, private chapel and personal study. A surprisingly simple brass-frame bed is one of the few furnishings in the bedroom. An exhibit shows portraits and paraphernalia of former popes, from thrones to gilded stools.

The palace was built above the villa of the Roman Emperor Domitian and remains of the ancient theater and the Roman walls can be seen in the gardens between flowering pink azaleas.

The Vatican employs roughly 150 people to take care of the gardens and palace, a help to the local economy. Visitors have also provided a boost to local businesses in the small town of Castel Gandolfo, which used to rely on the hundreds of thousands of faithful arriving for papal audiences in the summer.

After a long pandemic closure, the gardens and palace reopened to limited numbers of visitors in May with mask requirements. Vatican Museum officials say they lost 86% of their income in 2020 and are hoping that Castel Gandolfo ticket sales will help recuperate those losses.

Castel Gandolfo had 269,000 visitors in 2019 and since reopening a few weeks ago, the gardens and museum have been attracting up to 1,500 people a day.

Castel Gandolfo is also the location of the first-ever meeting between two popes: When he resigned in 2013, Pope Benedict XVI went to Castel Gandolfo where he waited to see who would be elected to replace him. Once elected, Pope Francis immediately went there to pay his respects to Benedict.

A worker waters flowers in the section of the gardens of the Papal Palace where Pope John Paul II used to gather in prayer, next to a statue of the Madonna, in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to see the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
A worker waters flowers in the section of the gardens of the Papal Palace where Pope John Paul II used to gather in prayer, next to a statue of the Madonna, in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to see the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Visitors take selfie photos in the gardens of the Papal Palace, in Castel Gandolfo, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to see the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Visitors take selfie photos in the gardens of the Papal Palace, in Castel Gandolfo, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to see the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
A view of the gardens of the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
A view of the gardens of the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Visitors walk in the gardens of the Papal Palace, in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to see the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Visitors walk in the gardens of the Papal Palace, in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to see the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
A view of the pond with a statue of the Madonna where Pope John Paul II used to gather in prayer in the gardens of the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
A view of the pond with a statue of the Madonna where Pope John Paul II used to gather in prayer in the gardens of the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
A view of the gardens of the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
A view of the gardens of the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Visitors tour the gardens of the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Visitors tour the gardens of the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
A guide, center, accompanies visitors in the gardens of the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
A guide, center, accompanies visitors in the gardens of the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Visitors take photos of the gardens of the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Visitors take photos of the gardens of the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
A view of the Albano lake as seen from the gardens of the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
A view of the Albano lake as seen from the gardens of the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
People visit the Pope Alexander VII gallery in the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
People visit the Pope Alexander VII gallery in the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Visitors look at paintings in the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Visitors look at paintings in the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Photos of Pope John Paul II are displayed at the balcony window from where he used to hold general audiences during his stay at the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Photos of Pope John Paul II are displayed at the balcony window from where he used to hold general audiences during his stay at the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
People visit the apartments of the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to see the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
People visit the apartments of the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to see the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Flowering pink azalea bushes line the perimeter of the villa of the Roman Emperor Domitian, dating back to the 1st century AD, in the gardens of the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Flowering pink azalea bushes line the perimeter of the villa of the Roman Emperor Domitian, dating back to the 1st century AD, in the gardens of the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Visitors walk by a papal faldstool bearing the coat of arms of Pope Pius IX, 1846-1878, in the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
Visitors walk by a papal faldstool bearing the coat of arms of Pope Pius IX, 1846-1878, in the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
A visitor looks at the pope's bedroom inside the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
A visitor looks at the pope's bedroom inside the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
A visitor takes photos of the popes' private chapel, where Pope Francis went to pray with Pope Benedict XVI just after being elected in 2013, inside the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
A visitor takes photos of the popes' private chapel, where Pope Francis went to pray with Pope Benedict XVI just after being elected in 2013, inside the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
A waiter serves clients at a restaurant in front of the Papal Palace, in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
A waiter serves clients at a restaurant in front of the Papal Palace, in Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
People walk in Piazza della Liberta', the central square of the town of Castel Gandolfo, in front of the Papal Palace, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
People walk in Piazza della Liberta', the central square of the town of Castel Gandolfo, in front of the Papal Palace, some 30 kilometers southeast of Rome, Saturday, May 29, 2021. As Covid-19 restrictions are slowly being lifted in Italy, thousands of people are returning to visit the extensive gardens and apartments at the Papal Palace of Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills near Rome, that for hundreds of years have been the summer retreat for Popes seeking to escape the suffocating heat of Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
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Entry to the gardens costs $12.15 and it’s an additional $13.38 to visit the palace.

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