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TOWN TOUR

Thursday - 2/28/2013, 4:20am  ET

Nuns hold prayer cards with an image of Pope Benedict XVI during a Mass at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, to pay homage to Benedict a day before he goes into retirement. Benedict made his final public appearance in St. Peter's Square Wednesday. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

The Associated Press

The town where Benedict is spending his last hours as pope and his first hours as the first pontiff in 600 years to retire is one of several picturesque "castle towns" known as the "Castelli," less than an hour's drive from Rome. Nestled in the Alban Hills, southeast of Rome, it is an area that is volcanic in origin. One of the volcano's old craters became Lake Albano, whose shores include Castel Gandolfo.

The volcano's no longer active, but the Castelli area gets its share of earthquakes, generally fairly mild and doing no damage. The rich volcanic soil helps produce inexpensive white wines that are a favorite in local trattorie as well as in restaurants in Rome.

The town is older than Christianity. The papal residence grounds include ruins from an imperial Roman villa, which itself had been on the site of ancient temples built several centuries before the ancient Romans came to check out the cool breezes and views.

The sprawling papal grounds, which as Vatican property enjoy extraterritoriality, include a working farm. Coffee bars in town have been known to serve milk from the farm's cows. (Yes, it's already been said: "Holy Cow.")

-- Frances D'Emilio -- Twitter http://twittter.com/fdemilio

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"Pope Live" follows the events of the final day of Pope Benedict XVI's papacy as seen by journalists from The Associated Press around the world. It will be updated throughout the day with breaking news and other items of interest. Follow AP reporters on Twitter where available.


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