Headquarters

Poster at entrance

    In 2009, the headquarters of the Vatican Observatory moved from the Summer Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo to a new site in the Papal Gardens, specifically remodeled with the needs of the Specola in mind. The Observatory space is divided into three areas. The ground floor by Albano’s Piazza Pia is our public area and workspace: our offices, libraries, and labs. It also houses a small museum of historic scientific equipment and a valuable meteorite collection. Beyond this museum is the area used primarily by the Vatican Observatory Summer Schools. This includes the Aula Gabriele Buffetti, the classroom used by the summer school (as well as seminars during the year); the Sala Capriotta, where students can work and relax; and the kitchen area where meals for the students are prepared. Finally, upstairs is the living area for the Jesuit astronomers, including the community chapel. Though the interior is completely new, the building itself dates back to 1631 – the same year that Galileo was finishing his book on the Two World Systems – when Princess Caterina Savelli of Albano built a convent for the Clarisse Sisters (also known as the “Poor Clares”) on this site. During the Napoleonic wars (sometime between 1791 and 1810) this building was sacked by French troops. Then, with the unification of Italy in 1870, the convent was closed and the sisters moved into the Papal Palace in Castel Gandolfo, along with a community of Basilian nuns who had been exiled from the part of Poland then controlled by Russia. But in 1929, with the signing of the Lateran Treaty, the two groups of sisters were able to move back into their old quarters, now incorporated within the Papal Gardens. The southwestern end of the building (which now houses the Specola) was given over to the Basilian nuns, separated by a wall from the cloister of the Clarisses. The building again was subject to the ravages of warfare in 1944. Following the invasion of Anzio by the Allies and their slow march up the coast to Rome, the building was hit twice, on February 1 and February 10, 1944. After the war, Pope Pius XII approved the reconstruction of the Convent. The building was also damaged during an earthquake in 1989; repairs and restructuring of the building were completed in 1998. With a diminished number of vocations, the Basilian sisters moved out of their part of the building around 2005. In 2007, work began to completely restructure their end of the building to match the needs of the astronomers of the Specola Vaticana. After two years of extensive work, the new Specola headquarters was dedicated by Pope Benedict XVI on September 16, 2009. The Clarisse sisters continue their prayer and work in the northwestern end of the building.