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Go inside the the ornate residence of the Popes.

October 24, 2016

The Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo, a lakeside retreat 15 miles outside of Rome, has been the private escape of the papacy for centuries. The elaborate villa has been continuously restored and updated since the leadership of Pope Urban VII during the 17th century, with its organic farm and gardens open to the public in recent years. But the interior of the papal apartment has remained closed to visitors—until now.

The opening of the once-private villa is an “unexpected gift from the Pope,” Vatican Museums director Antonio Paolucci said in a statement. The tours—which cost about $10 per person—include visits to the throne room, the pope’s own bedroom and library, and a private study and attached chapel. More than just an opulent palace, this getaway perched on the edge of Lake Albano has a rich history of its own: during WWII, it functioned as a refugee shelter during the Nazi occupation of the surrounding area. Pope Pius XII opened the grounds to some 12,000 locals seeking shelter, including Jews hiding from persecution. More than 50 babies were born in the Pope’s own bedroom during that period, the Catholic News Agency reports. (Two popes also passed away while in residence.) Dignitaries like President George Bush have also visited.

Apparently Pope Francis is not a huge fan of the villa, however, as he has never spent the night inside—although he’s stopped by a handful of times. Pope John Paul II felt differently: he built a swimming pool on the grounds. Tour tickets can be booked through the Vatican Museums website.

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