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Pages of history open to all

· Interview with the Director of the Pontifical Villas ·

From the time that the Pontifical Villas were opened to the public in 2014, the number of visitors annually rose from ten thousand to one hundred and ten thousand, and this year, 2018, the numbers continue to increase. This important fact confirms the sense of Pope Francis’s decision who, throwing open the doors of the palace and gardens at Castel Gandolfo “wanted to make an important gift: a treasure so precious to the Holy See has been made available to all”. Osvaldo Gianoli, Director of the Pontifical Villas, explained this to L’Osservatore Romano in an interview. He recalls how at the beginning, there were only a few spaces that could be visited, while now it is possible to access the Papal apartment as well, both the public and the private sections.

In the Vatican, they are simply called “Castello“ [the Castle]”. Their history dates back to the end of the first century, when the Emperor Domitian chose the location to build his villa.

The place in which the villas are located has a long history. The present site of the Papal Palace was the heart of Albalonga, the historic city which gave birth to Roma. Immediately following, in chronological order, it was the center of the villa built by Emperor Domitian. A few traces of this imperial past remain: the Emperor’s personal theater, which could hold about a hundred people, and a cryptoporticus that served as an entrance and welcoming area for senators and magistrates, when Domitian still exercised political power. There are also other parts which we are still studying. We think about just how immense this villa was: it extended over an area of fourteen square kilometers, from the via Appia all the way to the lake at Castel Gandolfo. The central nucleus, however, was where today’s Papal Palace is.

Nicola Gori

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St. Peter’s Square

Sept. 23, 2018

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