|Palatial retreat for the pontiff
Once he steps down tomorrow, Pope Benedict XVI will begin his retirement in the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, a sumptuous villa outside Rome with ornamental gardens, breathtaking views and its own farm.
Benedict will spend two months in the palace, perched high on a rocky outcrop above Italy's Lake Albano, before withdrawing to a monastery within the grounds of the Vatican, AFP reports.
The villa and gardens, owned by the Holy See since 1956, expanded over the centuries to include other properties and now sprawl over 55 hectares, making the site some 11 hectares bigger than the Vatican, the world's smallest state.
One wing of the palace looks out onto the main square of Castel Gandolfo, a medieval town listed among Italy's most beautiful, and it is from one of those windows that Benedict will wave goodbye just before resigning and retreating to a life of prayer and academic research out of the public eye.
Inside the grounds, there are views down to the lake or glimpses of the sea beyond gardens decorated with sculptures, with orchards of apricot and peach trees and greenhouses of ornamental flowers.
The residence has long been a favorite with popes hoping to escape the infernal heat of a Roman summer and, at 426 meters above sea level, the palace is a cool oasis.
“The pope, who usually visits at Easter, has brought his stay forward by a month,'' said Saverio Petrillo, director of the Pontifical Villas.
“The situation is routine in terms of logistics, but exceptional considering the circumstances,’’ he said.
Benedict will be accompanied by two private secretaries and four lay women and is expected to spend most of his time in his private apartment, which has a view of the sea.
The pontiff said in 2011 that at Castel Gandolfo, “I find everything: a mountain, a lake, I even see the sea,’’ a phrase immortalized in a plaque on the town hall opposite the palace.
It was pope Urban VIII who first decided in 1626 to establish the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, which is 30 km from Rome and also houses the large telescope of the Vatican's Observatory.