Popes’ summer residence
The works commissioned by the Popes defined the current structure of the town center. They re- housed the square and the Papal Palace and built the Church of St. Thomas of Villanova on a Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s project. He, also, projected the fountain in the main square, inspired by St. Peter Square’s design.
The two paths were transformed into tree-lined streets, called “Galleries” covered by holm oak
trees. The “Gallery Above” links Castel Gandolfo and Albano to the west edge of the lake, while the “Gallery Below” leads to Via Appia, Albano and other towns in the valley.
Then, they rearranged the gardens and the walls of the Papal Palace while Bernini designed the portal made of travertine, surmounted by Urban VIII’s coat of arms.
At the entrance of the French troops in Rome in 1798, the Albanense Republic was established. It was affiliated with the Roman Republic, and also joined by Castel Gandolfo. Local people rose up against the French, but were defeated at the Battle of Frattocchie and the French army sacked the Papal Palace. Later the castle returned to the Popes, until 1870, when, with the end of their temporal power, was the time of abandonment and decay. After the Concordat with the Italian State in 1929, the Popes returned to spend their holidays in Castel Gandolfo.
Since 1984, Castel Gandolfo is included and protected by the Regional Park of Castelli Romani.
The historic center of the old village has basically remained as it was in the Seventeenth century, except for some modernization and the recent repaving of the roads. On both sides of the Corso della Repubblica, there are the parallel Via Roma and Via di Vigna di Corte, marking the border with the Vatican City. On these streets there are numerous shops offering local products, bars, restaurants and craft shops. A little further there is Piazza Cavallotti. Closes the village a beautiful bridge or viaduct, commonly called the Colonnade, because of a double set of lava stone’s columns (in the last century, for safety reasons, the columns on the right were replaced with a wall of blocks of lava stone). Those on the left have been replaced by white travertine columns.
This viaduct was built in 1773 to pass the deep ditch that existed between Villa Barberini, the village and the Papal Palace. From here starts Via Rosselli, who later became via Pope Pius XI a: it is also called “Galleria di Sopra” or via dei Cappuccini because of the two Franciscan convents which were at the start and end of the path.
The Square and the Fountain
This is the heart of Castel Gandolfo, filled with works of art, such as the fountain attributed to Gian Lorenzo Bernini and the Apostolic Palace, designed by Carlo Maderno, which houses the Holy Father when he stays here. Overlooking the square you see the Town Hall and the church of St. Thomas of Villanova, built by Bernini in 1661. On the right of the Papal Palace, a terrace- belvedere allows you to admire the lake nestled in the green vegetation.
The fountain bears the imprint of different styles in the tub, the stalk and calyx. It reminds the three artists who worked on each one: Maderno, Bernini and Borromini. The design, inspired by the plan of S. Peter, is similar to the fountain of St. Andrea della Valle in Rome.
Walking by Via dell’Oratorio you reach the lookout point: do not miss the wonderful views of Lake Albano and Monte Cavo. It is the ancient Mons Albanus on whose summit stood the temple of Jupiter Latialis. On the mountain’s slopes there is Rocca di Papa, and in front of you see the Battiferro’s caves, inhabited during the Iron Age. On the right side there is Palazzolo’s monastery.
The first mailbox in the world
It was here that in 1820 was born the first project for the modernization of the postal service, which organized the collection of mail, transport and delivery to the recipients. Earlier the correspondence was entrusted to the town crier, a person generally illiterate, which is why the post office most of the time was lost or exchanged. It was then hired the first postman and instituted a cassette in p.zza della libertà, with a slot in which they were introduced letters to send. The deliberation of the Municipal Council of Castel Gandolfo on 23 November 1820 conserved in the Museum of the Post Office in Rome, to witness of the realization of the first mobile mailbox craft.
Church of San Tommaso da Villanova
This is the main place of Catholic cult in Castel Gandolfo, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, commissioned by Pope Alexander VII (whose coat of arms overlooks the facade) and built between 1658 and 1661. The model is that of a typical Sixteenth-century church with a Greek cross plan, adapted to the canons the Baroque. Inside, soaring Doric columns supporting the thin dome 50 meters high. Also, works of many famous artists, such as the stucco decorations by Antonio Raggi and the altarpiece of the Crucifixion by Pietro da Cortona.
The Papal Palace
The palace is an integral part of the area of over 55 hectares. It constitutes the complex of the Pontifical Villas. The old facade by Maderno was later taken up by Bernini; the great rusticated portal is surmounted by the coat of arms of Pope Alexander VII – Chigi. Moreover, the Loggia of the Blessings (with paintings by Ghezzi) topped by a clock of precious mosaic (Sixteenth century). The building is habitually the residence of the Popes during resting periods.
When the Pope is in the Papal Palace, visitors can access the inner courtyard, known as the Courtyard of the Hearings. In the upper floors of the building, rich in works of art, there is the Pope’s private apartment, the service rooms and three chapels. The original entrance gate’s design of the Palace’s Gardens, surrounded by walls, was made by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
The Pontifical Villas
After the Concordat between the Italian and the Vatican countries, signed in 1929, the Pontifical Villas with the Seventeenth-century Villa and the Palazzo Cybo, the Villa and the Palazzo Barberini, were all connected by a flyover to the climb of St. Anthony, to the Papal Palace and to the “Garden of the Moor.”
The Pontifical Villa, which enjoys the extra- territoriality and property of the Vatican City, is composed of: • Villa Barberini: it was built by the nephew of Pope Urban VIII, Maffeo Barberini. Its Italian style gardens are built on the ruins of the Roman Emperor Domitian’s Villa.
• The Papal Gardens: they constitute the core of the original historic Papal Villa and organized at the time of the Pope Urban VIII‘s residency on the back of the Papal Palace.
• Villa Cybo: it was built by Cardinal Camillo Cybo and attached to the complex of the Pontifical Villas by Pope Clement XIV, who bought it in 1774 from the Duke of Modena. It houses a large auditorium given by Pope Paul VI to the Focolarini Movement, who have equipped it for Marian pilgrimages and other religious events.
It is also joined to the park a farm. It provides highest quality food to the Holy Father, including milk, used and sold from the bars of the old town. To visit the Gardens you must apply for a special permit from the Vatican offices.
The Vatican Observatory
It is one of the oldest astronomical research institutions in the world (1789-1821) and has its headquarters at the Pope’s summer residence at Castel Gandolfo. His telescope was placed at first in Rome, on the top of the ancient tower of Leo IV in the Vatican. For nearly forty years the main work of the Observatory consisted in collaboration with an international initiative: the Photographic Paper Sky and Stellar Catalog. In the early ‘30s, due to the lights pollution of Rome’s sky, it was decided to transfer the Observatory in Castel Gandolfo’s Papal Palace.
The new institute, with three new Zeiss telescopes and a modern laboratory based on spectrochemical analysis, allowed a substantial development in various research programs on variable stars. Today the Observatory organizes a series of conferences and training courses. It has a library with about 22 thousand ancient astronomy volumes, most notably the works of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Clavius, etc. and a vast collection of meteorites, with more than 1,200 pieces. Among them, there is a precious piece of lunar rock collected by the Apollo XVII mission donated by President Nixon to Pope Paul VI in 1973.
The Albano Emissary
The Emissary is a fascinating work of hydraulic engineering (originally also composed of three mills), which consists of an underground channel dug by the Romans in the mass of lava stone in 398 BC to adjust the water level of Lake Albano and, according to the legend, to propitiate the defeat of Veii with which Rome was at war. As told by Livy in his chronicle, the work was ordered by the Roman dictator Furio Camillo and completed in a record time of 100-150 days – about five months – between the years 398-397 BC. About 30 thousand men worked there (200 per day). They dug a tunnel 1425 meters long, 1.20 meters wide and 1.60 meters high.
Around 1790 the Emissary was used to macerate flax and hemp and in 1800 the Duke of Gallese, who then owned the lake, restored the Emissary and used the old tanks for fish farming, as documented by some beautiful engravings by G. Battista Piranesi.