If you’ve ever wondered where the Pope sleeps, you would probably have imagined something quite decadent. But the papal bed is simple – a queen size rather than king-sized. A brass-coloured frame with a quilted blanket, two bedside tables – and that’s it.
Rarely has anyone except the head of the Catholic church seen the inside of Castel Gandolfo, the papal second home 24 kilometres south-east of Rome. But now anyone can stroll through the place, which has been the country hideaway of dozens of popes.
The apostolic palace on Lake Albano is being opened to the public, as current Pope Francis does not need it to escape the stress of Rome.
The papal bed at Castel Gandolfo, now open to tourists on the outskirts of Rome. (File photo: Annette Reuther / dpa)
Traces of the previous pontiff, German Pope Benedict XVI, are still in the building, as his portrait hangs in the private secretary’s room, opposite a blue and white checked flag – that of his home state of Bavaria in southern Germany.
This is where he departed to in a helicopter after he resigned the papacy in 2013.
His successor, 79-year-old Argentinian Pope Francis, once visited Benedict here and they prayed together.
But Francis, who lives in a former guesthouse inside the Vatican compound, doesn’t do relaxation. And the fact that he has now opened the doors of this private place reflects the anti-privilege line he has taken as a Pope for the people.
“This used to be a closed universe – maybe now and then a head of state or a cardinal would come in, but it was only the Pope here,” says Antonio Paolucci, head of the Vatican Museum. “Now it’s open to everyone.”
Visitors can see the library and study as well as the brocade on the walls, baroque furniture, papal statues and paintings. And the slippers of past popes are on display too.
The farm inside the compound, which is bigger than the Vatican, sends milk and eggs from peaceful cows and hens to Francis in Rome.
The palace has belonged to the Vatican for around 500 years. It’s where Pope Pius XII is reputed to have hidden Jews during World War II. Dozens of women gave birth in the papal bedroom – around 40 babies are thought to have been born in his bed.
It’s where a paparazzo once snapped fitness-conscious Pope John Paul II in his swimming trunks in the grounds.
It’s ‘no big scandal’ that Francis has chosen not to come here, Vatican Museum curator Sandra Barbagallo says. There have been other popes who didn’t leave Rome. And if the next pope decides he wants to take the residence back, he’s entitled to do that – and this is something the residents of the town of Castel Gandolfo might welcome.
Stefano Carosi, who owns a cafe by the gate of the palace, says: “Tourists are still coming, but not as many as when the Pope was actually here.”
And the mayor of the town is holding out hope that Francis might change his mind.
“He asked me if I’m angry at him because he doesn’t come. Of course I said no,” Milvia Monachesi told La Repubblica newspaper. “But we still hope he will come back.”