A Tunnel with a History

As I posted recently, I had an opportunity to visit the Gardens at the Pontifical Villas of Castel Gandolfo this past Saturday, which are now open to the public (for a price, and currently only in Italian if you want to go in a group of less than 15). The section that we visited represents a small portion of the gardens and the larger property upon which the Pontifical Villas (and farm) are situated.

A large part of the gardens are built on what was once the summer villa of the Emperor Domitian (AD51-96), and so there are interesting archaeological remains, including an ancient theatre, a large retaining wall, and… this interesting tunnel, with a history:

It is about 900 feet long currently, but was originally a little more than twice that.

This tunnel is called a cryptoportico, a compound Greek and Latin word basically meaning “covered passageway”. They used to construct these in ancient times to provide a cool place to stroll during the summer.

It is well-known that during World War II, Pope Pius XII hid many Roman Jews on the Vatican property at Castel Gandolfo, to protect them from being deported to concentration camps and eventually being put to death. They stayed inside the Apostolic Palace and also camped-out in tents in the gardens. But at a certain point shortly before the Liberation of Rome and the end of the war, there was a terrible bombardment of this area south of the city of Rome. And at one point most of the townspeople were staying on the papal property – and hiding out in this passageway.

Their hideout lasted for a good while and during that time about 40 babies were born – inside this tunnel! It seems reasonable to speculate that many of those people are still alive today.

In the picture above you can see vaguely that there is something at the end of the tunnel. Here is a closeup:

Presumably a Mass is still celebrated there every now and then. The guide did not say, however.

Finally, here is a view of the area outside this tunnel or “cryptoportico”:

The cryptoportico is down behind the stone/brick wall to the right side there.

More photos to come as I have time – this is a very busy week!

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