Pope Francis has burnished his credentials as the people's pontiff by decreeing that the gardens of the papal summer residence outside Rome should be thrown open to the public.  The sprawling gardens surround Castel Gandolfo, a ridge-top castle about 20 miles from the Italian capital, in an area known as the Alban Hills.

Until now they were rarely used, even by popes. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI used to spend his summer holidays in the castle, but his successor has indicated that he would rather remain in Rome, working on his campaign to reform the Holy See. The estate includes ornamental gardens, terraces with views of the sea, the remains of an imperial Roman villa built by the Emperor Domitian and a small farm, complete with a herd of cows that supply milk and butter to the papal dining table.

The farm also produces eggs, olives and honey, some of which is sold in a supermarket in the Vatican City State.  Pope Francis, who has called on bishops and priests to reach out more to ordinary Catholics and to engage with the "periphery" of society, ordered that they should be made accessible to the general public. Antonio Paolucci, the director of the Vatican Museums, said that "it was Pope Francis himself" who decided that the gardens should be enjoyed by ordinary people.  Visitors will be able to stroll through the giant covered passageway where the emperor and his retainers would amble after dinner.  The tradition of popes escaping the summer heat and chaos of Rome was established by Pope Clement VII in the 16th century.