Even though Pope Benedict XVI will be officially stepping down as leader of the Holy Sea today, he will remain in the plush and luxurious surroundings to which he has become familiar since assuming the papacy in 2005.
Until sometime in April, he will retire to Castel Gandolfo, a small town of about 8,000 people a few miles southeast of Rome that has been the summer residence of popes for almost four centuries.
The place is magnificent, dwarfing Vatican City by nearly 400,000 square feet. According to NBC News, the complex, which overlooks Lake Albano and what’s left of the enormous villa of the first-century Roman Emporer Domitian, comes with landscaped gardens, an arboretum, natural conservatories, museums and fish ponds- so much for the priestly commitment to poverty.
But Benedict will not remain there for long. In April, he will shack up permanently in Mater Ecclesiae, a modest convent for cloistered nuns at the Vatican. The former pope will reside at Castel Gandolfo only because the convent is under renovations.
The town is named for the castle of the Gandolfi family of Genoa, which was built around 1200, according to NBC News. It was originally designed as a fortress against marauders, hence the high walls and ancient barriers.
The Catholic Church, under Pope Clement VIII, seized control of the complex in 1596, from the Savelli family because of unpaid debts, according to the Vatican’s official history. The Vatican only gained official control of the property in 1929 under the Lateran Treaty, which formalized relations between Italy and the newly recognized Vatican City.
The complex is now home to the Apostolic Palace and Vatican Observatory, where visitors can see a moon rock collection that was collected during the Apollo XVII mission. The complex also houses apartments for 21 employees and the Pontifical Church of St. Thomas of Villanova.
Benedict XVI, soon to be Cardinal Ratzinger, will retire to a spiritual life of prayer after leaving Castel Gandolfo once renovations at Mater Ecclesiae are complete.