The Palazzo dei Papi (or Palazzo Papale) is the most impressive monument in Viterbo. It is in the auditorium of this palace that the very first conclave was held. Another highlight is the Loggia delle Benedizioni.
Palazzo dei Papi Viterbo
Address, openings hours and entrance fee
The address of the Palazzo dei Papi is Piazza San Lorenzo, 1 – Viterbo (tel. +39 0761341124). The palace can only be visited when accompanied by a guide. The tour lasts 45 minutes. Entrance fee: 9 Euro (discount: 7 Euro); children under 12 years and disabled people can enter for free. Winter opening hours: 10.00 to 13.00 and 15.00 to 18.00. Summer opening hours: 10.00 to 13.00 and 15.00 to 19.00. Opening hours August: 10.00 to 13.00 and 15.00 to 20.00. Closed: Never. A visit to the Museo del Colle del Duomo is included in the price.
The Papal Palace was built between 1255 and 1266 by the then Capitano del Popolo, Raniero Gatti.
In those days the popes sometimes had to flee Rome and when this happened they usually came to Viterbo. The first time this happened was in 1257, when Alexander IV had come to the city to organize the Guelphs.
Evidently Viterbo was already a pleasant place to stay at that time and the popes spent more and more time there, which even earned the city the nickname Città dei Papi (“City of the Popes”). .
In the 15th and 16th centuries several renovations took place, but a restoration in 1897 returned the building to its medieval appearance.
An unusual impression is that the building looks more like a palace on the piazza side and more like a fortress on the Valle Faul side.
It is in the huge auditorium of the Palazzo Papale that the very first conclave was held. Light enters this hall through 12 biforas. The benches are made of stone. In those days (1270) the popes were always of noble birth. The families of noblemen used to lobby the cardinals continuously to get one of their own elected. When the cardinals did not reach an agreement, the inhabitants of the city decided to keep them all locked up in the auditorium until they chose a pope. (This is also where the word “conclave”, cum clave, comes from.) After several days of no decisions, the roof was removed, but after protests and threats it was put back and finally Pope Gregory X was elected. The papal seat had then been empty for 33 months.
This Sala del Conclave is not always open for viewing as the palace is often closed. However, a famous antique market is held there every year.
Nowadays, the Palazzo dei Papi is also called Palazzo Vescovile.
The Loggia delle Benedizioni
However, through a gate to the right of the entrance door, one can reach the Loggia of the Palazzo dei Papi. From this elegantly decorated terrace the popes used to bless the faithful in those days, giving it the name Loggia delle Benedizioni.
In the middle of this Gothic-style loggia is a fountain attached to a column. This was built in the 15th century and decorated with the coats of arms of the Gatti family.