The picturesque village of Castel Gandolfo is well used to popes: it has been their summer retreat for over 400 years.
“Thank you, Benedict, we’re all with you!” read the message in large silver letters hung below the balcony where the outgoing Pope greeted the crowd.
He is no newcomer having spent an average of five weeks a year at the Apostolic Palace since he became Pope in 2005.
Benedict is expected to remain in the country retreat, which is some 30 kilometres from Rome, until his permanent residence in the Vatican is ready. It has been undergoing renovation work.
“We know that this is a very sensitive moment for the Holy Father. As citizens of Castel Gandolfo we are honoured to have him here. We will be close to him with our prayers but also with our silence,” said one local woman.
“I think this will be a huge thing for him and for all of us. We are fortunate to be here,” added another.
Benedict once said he found everything at Castel Gandolfo: a mountain, a lake, even a view of the sea.
The walkways, ponds, gardens and museums all cover a larger surface area than Vatican City itself.
It amounts to a suitably tranquil environment for Benedict to make the transition – in his words – from pope to simple pilgrim.