Vat­i­can launches public train ser­vice to Cas­tel Gan­dolfo gar­dens


CAS­TEL GALDOLFO, ITALY — With a deaf­en­ing whis­tle and a plume of smoke, an an­tique train de­parted from the Vat­i­can rail sta­tion to in­au­gu­rate a weekly train ser­vice to the pa­pal sum­mer es­tate in Cas­tel Gan­dolfo now that Pope Fran­cis has de­cided to open it to the public.

The public can now visit both pa­pal es­tates — the Vat­i­can Mu­se­ums in Rome and the gar­dens and a new pa­pal por­trait gallery in the Apos­tolic Palace of Cas­tel Gan­dolfo — thanks to the Satur­day ser­vice just launched by the Vat­i­can and Italy’s rail­way, Ferrovia dello Stato.

The por­trait gallery fea­tures oil paint­ings of popes dat­ing back to the 16th cen­tury and their vest­ments, thrones and even the enor­mous slip­pers of Pope Cle­ment XII.

It also boasts mod­els wear­ing the fancy cos­tumes of the one-time pa­pal court — of­fi­cially abol­ished by Pope Paul VI in1968 and now ex­iled for good to Cas­tel Gan­dolfo by the sim­plic­ity-lov­ing Fran­cis.

The rail ser­vice will fea­ture mod­ern trains and tour pack­ages, which must be booked online in ad­vance through the Vat­i­can Mu­se­ums and run from 16 to 40 ($24 to $60).

For the inau­gu­ral press run, Ferrovia pulled out its cen­tury-old, coal-burn­ing lo­co­mo­tive to pull his­toric pas­sen­ger cars.

One was the car in which St. John XXIII trav­elled to Loreto and As­sisi on Oct. 4, 1962, on the eve of the Sec­ond Vat­i­can Coun­cil. John’s trip, im­mor­tal­ized in photos of the smil­ing “good pope” wav­ing from the train win­dow, was his­toric, mark­ing the first time a pope had left the Vat­i­can since 1857, when Pope Pius X de­clared him­self a “pris­oner” of the Vat­i­can af­ter the loss of the pa­pal states.

Sub­se­quent popes con­tin­ued Pius’ self­im­posed iso­la­tion, un­til John be­gan what be­came the globetrotting pa­pacy.

Luigi Can­tamessa, head of the Ferrovia foun­da­tion that owns the his­toric train, said the new run is the first reg­u­lar train ser­vice be­tween the Vat­i­can’s tiny sta­tion and Cas­tel Gan­dolfo. In the past, trains have only car­ried popes around Italy on one­off trips, or spe­cial events such as bring­ing sick chil­dren to the Vat­i­can to visit the pope.

The Vat­i­can Mu­se­ums, home to the Sis­tine Chapel and other pa­pal trea­sures, runs the Cas­tel Gan­dolfo es­tate, which at 55 hectares is big­ger than the Vat­i­can City State (44 hectares).

Popes past have al­ways used it as a sum­mer get­away, and Emer­i­tus Pope Bene­dict XVI fa­mously closed out his pa­pacy there on Feb. 28, 2013 when the big wood and bronze doors on the main palazzo slammed shut af­ter he left the Vat­i­can for the last time as pope. Fran­cis, a worka­holic and home­body who hates be­ing alone, has de­cided not to use Cas­tel Gan­dolfo, pre­fer­ring to spend his sum­mers at the same Vat­i­can ho­tel where he lives.

Last year, he de­cided to open Cas­tel Gan­dolfo’s gar­dens to the public, in part to help off­set the eco­nomic down­turn the town has ex­pe­ri­enced now that the pope is not hold­ing weekly Sun­day prayers there in sum­mer.


Smoke bil­lows from a lo­co­mo­tive be­fore leav­ing the Vat­i­can’s train sta­tion.

A worker shov­els coal into a lo­co­mo­tive’s steam en­gine.


Pas­sen­gers sit on a train to the pa­pal sum­mer es­tate in Cas­tel Gan­dolfo.

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