Known as the Barberini Gardens, the historic area of Castel Gandalfo has been declared open to the general public by Pope Francis, with tours available for those who are interested. Located roughly 20 miles south of Rome in the Alban Hills, the gardens surround the Papal Summer Residence at Castel Gandolfo and include the remnants of a Roman Villa, a 62 acre farm, and the ancient papal palace. According to a March 4 article published on Vatican Radio, director of the Vatican Museums Antonio Paolucci explained that it was the Pope himself who made the decision to open the gardens of the Pontifical Villa, “where the splendor of art and the glory of nature co-exist in admirable equilibrium.” Having officially opened on March 1, the gardens lay on an ancient Villa built by Emperor Domitian, who was both the third and last ruler during the Flavian dynasty. With a view overlooking Lake Albano and beyond, as well as the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea, visitors are now free to stroll throughout the ruins of the imperial theater and covered passageway where the emperor himself and his guests would walk when trying to escape from the heat. A favorite summer getaway for Benedict XVI during his pontificate, the villa was conceded to the Holy See as one of their extra-terrestrial possessions under the Lateran pact of 1929. Following major restoration efforts, the Villa has served as the Papal summer residence since the pontificate of Urban VIII during the 17th century, and has a small farm created by Pope Pius XI, which produces eggs, milk, oil, vegetables and honey either for local employees, or for sale in the Vatican supermarket. Among the other secret treasures the gardens hold, visitors can also enjoy a magnolia garden, a path of roses as well as one of aromatic herbs and one of lilies, a square of holly oaks and the breathtaking Belvedere garden, from which there is a panoramic view over Latium, out to the coastline. Pope Pius XII, who offered war refugees sanctuary in the Villa, died there in 1958, as did Pope Paul VI two decades later. The gardens are open to the public in the mornings from Monday through Saturday, with bookings available for either individuals or groups on the Vatican Museums website. Individual tickets cost 26 euros, while group costs vary, with a beginning rate of 450 euro for a group of 1-15 people.
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