By Ben Wedeman

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (CNN) - The reign of Pope Benedict XVI is about to come to an end. He will begin this Thrusday as the head of state and leader of the Roman Catholic Church, and end it simply as "Pope Emeritus."

Benedict spent the morning greeting all of the cardinals individually, as he did earlier this month.

Later, he will stay at the Pope's summer residence until his successor is named.

The massive doors of Castel Gandolfo have opened for popes since 1626. Pope Benedict once wrote only here could he escape the pressures of the job that was Pope Benedict XIV in the 1700s.

Benedict XVI, as Pope Emeritus, will spend several months in this traditional summer residence of popes before returning to the Vatican to a live in a convent being specially prepared for his retirement.

"Going back to Roman times these hills south of the city have been popular with the rich and powerful. It's a good place to go to escape the heat and humidity of the roman summer," said Saverio Petrillo, Director of Pontifical Villas.

It's comprised of 55 hectares, almost 136 acres, of manicured gardens, olive groves, orchards and pastures, in the Alban hills, home to Frascati wine.

History runs deep here, with an ancient tunnel dating back to roman times.

From more recent times, you can still see the damage from allied bombing during WWII. The staff recount that thousands of local residents took refuge in Castel Gandolfo during the war, and the papal bedroom was converted into a delivery room, where as many as 50 babies were born.

Petrillo says he doesn't expect the 85-year-old former pontiff to spend much time outside. The Holy Father takes short strolls, he says. He isn't one to go on long walks like John Paul II. He is by nature a reserved man, a man of study, he doesn't like to stay out in the open.

He's more likely to pass his days in his private apartments, not shown to visiting journalists, or in the reception area, a relatively spartan set of rooms with little decoration but for a fairly vivid painting depicting the martyrdom of Vietnamese Christians in the 17th century.

The view, not surprisingly, is stunning. A residence, albeit temporary, fit for a newly retired pope.

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