It’s Castel Gandolfo for a while for the retired Pope-A A +A
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
ROME -- When Pope Benedict XVI leaves the Papacy, he, unlike many of us, will not have to worry where he’ll reside.
Where does he live when he is no longer Pope?
Writer Abby Ohhseir writes: “When his resignation becomes official on Feb. 28, 2013, Benedict will start with a stay at Castel Gandolfo in a small town outside Rome. From there he’ll eventually make his way to the Vatican where he’ll stay for as long as he likes. A still unnamed monastery in Benedict’s native Bavaria in Germany is an option.”
(Reuters reported that Pope Benedict XV1 has decided to live in monastery Mater Ecclesiae in Vatican after he resigns.)
NBC News announced on Feb. 24 that Benedict XVI will stay at Castel Gandollfo for as long as two to three months immediately after he leaves the Papacy before returning to the Vatican.
For the meantime, what would be life like up there?
It wouldn’t be just another castle! It sits atop Lago Albano, towering above a serene lake formed centuries ago by the joining of two volcanic craters. It’s 40 kilometers southeast of Rome. Secretaries and a good number of household staff working under the direction of the director of Pontifical Villas will serve the retired pope.
Little was known about the Pope’s summer villa (the locals interchangeably call this place “villa” or “castel”) outside Europe until May 5, 1938 when Adolf Hitler visited the Fascist leader Benito Mussolini in Rome to celebrate their alliance.
The Fuhrer wanted to visit the Vatican the following day hoping to see the museums and the Sistine Chapel. The Vatican Museum has the world’s most priceless collections of religious artifacts known to Christianity.
Hitler, it seemed, was interested in them. But Pope Pius XI closed the museums and then left for Castel Gandolfo. The Papal snob, staged at the summit of Alban, was news heard around the world.
During the months of August and September every year, when the worst heat of summer is upon Rome, the Pope stays in Castel Gandolfo. At high noon once a week, he blesses the crowd of people, including a steady stream of tourists, who come to hear mass at the Church of St. Thomas (Tomaso) of Villanova fronting the castle.
On August 6, 1978, Pope Paul VI died of a heart attack while in Castel Gandolfo.
My wife and I visited Castel Gandolfo very recently. The drive from downtown Rome to the castle begins slowly. Road repairs and construction work in and around Rome doesn’t seem to stop thus slowing traffic in some parts here. Then there are the big tourist buses, like the one we’re on board, the aggressive motor bikers and cars add to the clogging of the streets of Rome. It’s only when you get farther away from the metropolis when driving begins to make sense.
The countryside becomes an escape from the Roman Forum, the Roman Colosseum, the statues, St. Peter’s Square, the Trevi fountain, the Sistine Chapel, the Tiber river and the restaurants.
The trip takes you past ancient towns, sunflower farms and summer homes. The ascent to the Alban hills is dotted in myths, legends and beauty. I wanted to look for centuries-old aqueducts the Romans built to move water from one place to another, many of them, amazingly, are still working to this day. Construction engineers from all over the world study them. There was none near the route we took.
Our bus crept up the hills through a winding road that ends at the castel’s parking place by the side of the village. From there, it’s a brief walk to a narrow lane of cobblestones that gets into the square fronting the castle.
The Pontiff’s residence faces a cluster of well-kept apartments that seem to flourish in the shadow of Castel Gandolfo. A few of this town’s 9,000 residents live in these tenements. They’ll be Benedicts’ next door neighbors.
From his window, Benedict, born Joseph Aloisuis Ratzinger, will have a good view of a water fountain that stands at the center of the square where it easily draws visitors for that requisite picture-taking with the castle as background. Again, the fountain, you’re told, is by master Bernini who’s works dot Rome. The photos, from the cameraman’s position, would show the Papal door, and above it the Holy Father’s coat of arms and on top of the Castle, a huge clock with a flagpole.
When the Pontiff is in Castel Gandolfo, the residence flies his flag. Since Benedict will no longer be a Pope by then, that is if he goes up here after Feb. 28, the papal flag won’t fly.
Yet the spectacular side of the castle is from a point astride the edge of the lake. It reveals itself lodged safely at the summit of a huge mountain pushed upwards by the force of a volcanic eruption that happened centuries ago.
From the castel, the former Pope will have an expansive view of some 16 other towns that are strung along its brim. He’ll have some of Italy’s rich and famous as “neighbors” living in sturdy villas built on the sides of steep ridges. Here, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Maseratis and other Italian sports cars line up the sides of the narrow road.
Lake Albano is the site of the Vatican Observatory, as well. Like the castle, it has extra-territorial rights.
The history of the castle is linked with the wealthy Gandolfo family who owned vast tracts of lands in and around Lake Albano as early as the 12th century. The clan donated portions to the Holy See in 1608 and built the castle in the 17th century.
If the former Pope would allow visits, he’ll receive them in a large reception hall with marble floorings. He could opt to meet them at the terraced garden overlooking a gym and a swimming pool. Entry into Gandolfo is restricted.
There are souvenir stores that sell the usual stuffs for tourists like books, postcards, candies and pictures of the castle and the lake. One of two outdoor coffee shops is just a few steps to the castle where one can have soda, coffee and Italian sausages and pastries with the view of the, well, Papal residence. The atmosphere is sedate, and visitors feel the serenity that pervades this village that has the leader of nearly 900 million Catholics, and the ordained successor Peter, for its premier resident.
The inhabitants here don’t see the Pope everyday even when he’s staying in the castle. It would probably be the same thing with the resigned pope who, according to the Vatican Household announcement, will be up there for a brief but intense stay for prayer and study. It’s here that the retired pontiff plans to complete some of his works before returning to the Vatican.
My wife, this was before the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, asked an elderly resident whether he would expect to bump into the Holy Father in the courtyard during one of his walks. He said the residents always anticipate meeting with the Pontiff and to beseech his blessings but the chances are rare and, besides, he said, they like him to enjoy solitude he deserves when he’s in the castel. He said there were a few times in the past when the Pope strolled in the square.
Visitors walk to the verge of the castle’s premises to get a breathtaking view of the lake. It’s 931 feet above sea level and has an area of two square miles. From its rim, one sees the clusters of villages on the hills that overlook the sylvan lake. The villagers are known for their wines, peaches, vegetables. The town of Nemi near Lake Nemi is known as the strawberry capital of Italy. Many of them like to fish in the lake which has become a favorite destination of kayakers from all over Europe.
It would be a good idea to let the former Pope know that down north, in the town of Frascati that’s noted for its wine, is a restaurant that overlooks the southern edges of Rome. Visitors come for the excellent food, wine and the music of the troubadors. Our tourist guide said the famous Italian song “Arrivedercci Roma” was composed in this restaurant. By request, the troubadors would repeatedly sing this love song to tourists who drop in by buses by the hour. After sips of wine, the tourists sing the song themselves.
The whole of the lake region is one of the most majestic sites in this part of Italy, but it’s the Pope’s castle on the summit of Lago Albano that awes!
(Cris D. Kabasares is a retired journalist. He and his wife Nora live in San Francisco, California. They are currently travelling in Europe)
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on February 28, 2013.