Rome – Day 3

Our final day in Rome and we saved the best until last. Our original plan had been to visit the Vatican museums on the first day however that plan had soon be quashed when we’d seen the length of the queues thanks to us not pre-booking tickets. So, having pre-booked we took ourselves off on the little walk from our hotel to the Vatican and managed to skip the lines before the official opening times stated on the website.

Let me tell you – those halls were empty. And it was utterly glorious as we made our way as quickly as we possibly could to the part of the Apostolic Palace that had been one of the main reasons for our visit to Rome.

The Borgia apartments.


Early morning in the Vatican’s Hall of the Maps. It felt like we had the place to ourselves. A very blurry photo by me.


The disputation of St. Catherine. Photo by me.


Borgia coat of arms above a fireplace. Photo by me.


Pope Alexander VI kneeling. Photo by me.


The name Borgia carved into a fireplace. Photo by me.

The moment that we stepped foot inside the Borgia apartments and my eyes fell upon the Disputation of St. Catherine, particularly the figure of Lucrezia Borgia, my eyes welled up with tears. It was an incredibly special moment walking into that set of rooms and being completely and utterly alone. In a way it was almost as if, when you closed your eyes, you could imagine the family within the rooms as they spoke amongst themselves in the Valencian dialect. It took me a while to compose myself, let me tell you.

These apartments were build following Pope Alexander VI’s election in 1492 for his personal use and the frescoes that adorn the walls were completed by the Umbrian artist Pinturicchio in around 1493. The Hall of the Saints holds the most famous of the frescoes – the Disputation of St Catherine, which shows the members of Alexander’s family, whilst other rooms such as the Hall of the Mysteries of the Faith include the Adoration of the Magi and the Resurrection (in which Pope Alexander can be seen kneeling before the Risen Christ).

Below is a video I took whilst within the apartments, and whilst the place was still so incredibly quiet.

We spent a good hour sat in the apartments just drinking the whole thing in. Literally everywhere you look whilst in there you can see the Spanish influence – from the tiles on the floor to the pomegranates carved on the ceiling. It’s almost like you’ve walked into a Muslim influenced palace, such as the alhambra, and it is truly breathtaking. The second you walk through the door you know you are in the room of a Spanish family, and you know that these rooms are all about showing just how powerful the Borgia family were.

Of course, once we were done drinking in the solitude of the Borgia rooms we had an entire museum to look around. And we spent probably eight or nine hours wandering the corridors of the Vatican museums. Below are a selection of my favourite photographs from our visit.


Photo by me


View of St. Peter’s. Photo by me.


This acorn was originally at the front of old St. Peter’s. Photo by me.


Photo by me


Anubis. Photo by me.


Laocoon and His Sons. Photo by me


Photo by me


Photo by me


Photo by me


Photo by me


Photo by me


Photo by me


Medici crest. Photo by me.


Jesus bursting out of his tomb – gallery of tapestries. Photo by me.


Ceiling of the Gallery of Maps. Photo by me.


Gallery of maps. Photo by me.


Gallery of maps. Photo by me.


Borgia coat of arms. Photo by me


Mini Cesare chilling on a game board in the Borgia apartments. Photo by me

We spent hours and hours walking around the museum, happily getting lost in various galleries and gazing at treasures from so long ago. The amount of history they have in those halls is honestly just mind-blowing and, despite spending so long there, I honestly think we missed parts.

It just gives us an excuse to go back though, right?

After leaving the Vatican museums – and me spending far too much time in the gift shop – we headed for St. Peter’s Basilica…

And then we saw the queue…


The queue just kept going….and going…

So we decided to do something else. I’d seen signs dotted about for a Raphael Exhibition at the Palazzo Farnesina so we decided to hunt it down. We walked…and walked…and walked some more…only to find out that the place had closed earlier on in the afternoon. Back to the hotel it was, one last casual stroll back through the streets of Rome, so we could rest up before heading out for another fantastic meal.

The three full days we spent in Rome were honestly crammed full of activities – each day we walked well over ten miles but it was well and truly worth it. Every ache at the end of the day was worth it. We had an absolutely phenomenal time and although we saw loads, there’s still SO much more left to see. So there will be another trip to Rome on the cards at some point in the (I hope) not too distant future.

One thing’s for sure, though – this trip has given me so much inspiration for my next book! Let the writing commence!





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Rome – Day 2

Our second day in Rome wasn’t as intense as the first, at least in places visited. However my feet certainly felt the strain. As did my general health, it seemed. It’s become a little bit of a pattern that I’ve noticed whilst on holiday, that on the second full day I tend to end up feeling completely and utterly rubbish – I’ve no explanation for it but one thing was for sure, I wasn’t about to let it ruin the day.

For the first part of the day we decided to head back to somewhere that we had been before – the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. Upon our last visit, we cut the trip to the Forum short due to the fact that it was seriously hot. And when I say hot, I mean 40 degrees centigrade which made it practically impossible to wander around the place. Thankfully for us, this time it was raining. Though it didn’t keep the crowds away.

We also discovered that it’s possible to walk from our Vatican City hotel to the Colosseum. It took a while but it’s possible! Who needs the metro, eh?


View of the Colosseum. Photo by me


Colosseum. Photo by me


Colosseum. Photo by me


View of Rome from the forum. Photo by me.


Headless guy by the Farnese gardens. Photo by me.


View of the forum. Photo by me.

We spent a good couple of hours in the forums, much of which was incredibly quiet thanks to the sheer size of the place as well as the weather. Occasionally we came into contact with huge crowds, particularly down towards the exit. But it was lovely to soak up the vibe of the place, to walk in the footsteps of the ancient Romans who once lived and worked there.

After the forums, we wandered off in search of more Borgia places. The Salita dei Borgia are within walking distance of the Colosseum but are quite easy to miss. We ended up walking straight past it the first time and found ourselves in some quaint little back streets. Thankfully we found what we were looking for…


Salita dei Borgia. Photo by me.

The Salita dei Borgia, or Borgia steps, is the area said to be the very last place that Juan Borgia was seen alive before his murder in 1497. Cesare and Juan had spent the evening having dinner with their mother and following the dinner, Juan split away from Cesare with a strange masked man on a horse. He was never seen alive again.

We sat beneath the tunnel for a while as the rain fell and I couldn’t help but think of Juan Borgia leaving his brother on this spot. Had he decided to head back to the Vatican with his brother then the history of the Borgia family would have taken a very different course.

Rumour took hold across Italy and in Rome that it was Cesare who murdered his brother – he was incredibly jealous of Juan after all, and desperately wanted what his brother had. However Cesare did not benefit from his brother’s death for over a year and the first rumours started over a year later in Venice. I’ve written about Juan’s death in detail both here on the blog and there’s also a chapter on it in my book ‘Cesare Borgia in a Nutshell‘ – the evidence points to it being the Orsini family who did the deed.


View of the Salita dei Borgia. Photo by me.

Just at the top of the steps is the basilica of St. Peter in Chains where Pope Julius II is buried in his magnificent tomb, created by Michelangelo. However when we got up there, they were closed. So rather than wait we decided to head back to the hotel – via the wonderful ossuary of the Convento dei Cappuchini, near the Barberini metro station. This is another place that we had visited the last time we were in Rome but it has lost none of its charm – it was rather busy when we were there this time which was a shame, but I suppose that’s what happens when it ends up on the internet on every single ‘top 10 secret places in Rome’ list. I’ll write more about the Convento and the Ossuary on another occasion as it does deserve a HUGE post all of its own, but in the meantime do have a read of the post I wrote on it back in 2012.

Following our time at the Convento, pondering our own mortality, we headed back to our hotel. We were far too footsore to walk so hopped on the metro.

After a bit of a rest we took a walk in the rain and headed across the river to the Piazza del Popolo to visit the little church of Santa Maria del Popolo. Our main reason for the visit was because this is the church in which Vanozza Cattanei and Juan Borgia are buried. However there are no grave markers for either of them within the church – Vanozza’s gravestone is now in San Marco but there is absolutely nothing to say where Juan is buried. I found it rather sad that Juan, 2nd Duke of Gandia, had nothing to mark his final resting place in the sweet little church – but at the same time it was a rather strange feeling to know that two people who I have spent so long researching that I feel as if I know them, were buried in the soil beneath my feet.


Santa Maria del Popolo. Photo by me.


Grave on the floor of Santa Maria del Popolo. Photo by me.


Santa Maria del Popolo. Photo by me.


Della Roverre chapel in the Santa Maria del Popolo. Photo by me.

And whilst in Rome, you have to have pizza. So dinner that night involved an absolutely delicious Buffalo Mozzarella and seasoned ham, along with a bottle vino bianco. An absolutely perfect end to another busy day.


When in Rome, right? Photo by me.

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Rome – Day 1

This trip to Rome had been a long time coming, let me tell you. And the aim of it all was to visit as many places related to the Borgia family as we possibly could, for research reasons. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see everywhere that we wanted to but we crammed in so much over the three days that we were there that I honestly don’t think we could have walked another step! It just means that we’ll have to go back one day – and that certainly won’t be a hardship.

Our plan for our first full day in Rome had originally been to visit the Vatican museums however in our infinite wisdom we hadn’t booked our tickets in advance. When we arrived – well before opening time, mind you! – the queues were horrendous so we made the decision to book tickets online when we got back to the hotel and go do something else for the day. So off we toddled to the Castel Sant Angelo, both a stones throw from the Vatican Museums and our hotel.

The Castel Sant’ Angelo was originally built by the Emperor Hadrian to serve as a mausoleum for him and his family but later become a fortress and palace for the Popes. It’s somewhere I have wanted to visit for a very long time and last time we were in Rome we missed out due to running out of time.

We paid for a special tour of the secret parts of the Castello and let me tell you – it is worth every single penny. We were taken on a tour of the Passetto di Borgo, the Pope’s secret walkway, as well as the dungeons of the Castello. Seeing the Passetto had to be one of my favourite bits of the tour and the trip in general – Pope Alexander VI ran along this passageway to escape Charles VIII’s invading French troops in 1494 and Clement VII also used it during the Sack of Rome in 1527. I honestly never ever thought I would get to see this wonderful piece of history.


View of the Castel Sant Angelo. Photo by me


Panorama of the Castel Sant Angelo. Photo by me


The Passetto di Borgo along which both Pope Alexander VI and Pope Clement VII fled. Photo by me.


View of St Peter’s from the top of the Passetto di Borgo. Photo by me


The end of the Passetto. Photo by me

After following in the footsteps of two pope’s, we continued on with our tour of the Castello. As we wandered around we saw a few Borgia coat of arms dotted about the place which was seriously exciting for me.


Borgia coat of arms. Photo by me


Shackles down in the dungeons. Part of the secret tour. Photo by me.


Oil storage. Part of the secret tour. Photo by me


Pope Clement VII’s bathroom. Photo by me


Medici coat of arms. Photo by me.

The tour of the dungeons was wonderful – we had to wear hard hats down there which to start with seemed a little odd. But when we saw the doors we had to walk through? It all became very very clear. The doors to the cells are so small that you have to crouch to walk through them and it’s very very easy to hit your head! This, along with the Passetto, was an absolutely amazing experience and one I would highly recommend – you get to see where the enemies of the Pope were held and the sort of conditions they were kept in. And some very high-profile prisoners were kept down there – Caterina Sforza ring any bells?

After seeing Pope Clement VII’s bathroom, the tour finished and we were free to spend as much time in the museums as we wanted. The tour finished in a courtyard called “Pope Alexander VI’s courtyard” and in the corner of this courtyard was a well emblazoned with the Borgia coat of arms.


Pope Alexander VI’s courtyard. Photo by me


The Borgia coat of arms. Photo by me


My tattoo and the Borgia coat of arms. Photo by M. Bryan

We then slowly made our way through the remainder of the museum right up to the top of the fortress where we saw some absolutely amazing views. And as expected, the inner rooms are absolutely stunning with beautiful ceilings and fireplaces emblazoned with the names of various Popes.


Fireplace showing Pope Paul III’s name. Photo by me


Carved ivory triptych. Photo by me.


Ceiling baring Pope Clement VII’s name. Photo by me


Photo by me.


Photo by me.


Photo by me.


Photo by me.


Beautiful pistol. Photo by me.


Photo by me.


Crossbow. Photo by me.


Stunning ceiling. Photo by me.


It’s said that this is the original burial chamber of Hadrien’s mausoleum.


The statue atop the Castello. Photo by me.


View of St Peters. Photo by me.


Pope Paul III’s bedroom. Photo by me.


Ceiling of Pope Paul III’s bedroom. Photo by me


View of the Castel Sant Angelo from across the Tiber. Photo by me.

After we finished at the Castel Sant’ Angelo we took a wander over the Ponte Sant’ Angelo and ended up at the Piazza Navona. We had a brief stop there to admire the fountains (and get directions from a tourist office) before heading to the Piazza Venezia. And yes, we walked it.


Piazza Navona. Photo by me


Piazza Navona. Photo by me.


View up towards the Capitoline. Photo by me.

After a quick spot of lunch we headed into the Capitoline museum. This was another place we didn’t get to visit on our last visit and let me tell you, from the moment we stepped inside I was seriously impressed. The place is HUGE and split over two buildings – that in itself caused a bit of confusion when we were done with the first as we didn’t realise there was an underground tunnel connecting the two buildings and ended up going outside only to be turned away by the security guard. But let me tell you – this museum is worth a visit. It houses SO much from Ancient Rome all the way up to more modern-day things – my favourite parts had to be the ancient Roman funerary Stele. Although I’m rubbish at Latin and couldn’t read a word of them, I remember seeing the fantastic Mary Beard look at many of the same stele on one of her documentaries.

Below are a few of my favourite pictures from our visit to the museum.


Unhappy Roman Dude on the walls. Photo by me.


Scary face. Photo by me.


This bronze horse was found near complete in a tomb. Photo by me.


Beautiful statue of a lion taking down a horse. Photo by me.


Marcus Aurelius on a horse. Photo by me.


Giant head. Photo by me


Snake. Photo by me.


A very proud dog. Photo by me.


Check out that Habsberg jaw on Charles V. Photo by me.


We saw this demon dog after a coffee…photo by me.


Goat. Photo by me.


Centaur. Photo by me.


Small Roman Child. Photo by me.


Venus. Photo by me.


This gargantuan fountain was in the main courtyard. Photo by me.

We ended up staying at the Capitoline until quite late so made the decision to find the nearest metro station. On the way there we walked back past the Basilica San Marco which is right by the Piazza Venezia – we’d walked past it on the way however the gates had been closed, which had upset me greatly given as Vanozza Cattanei’s gravestone is there. For those of you who don’t know Vanozza is the mother of Cesare, Juan, Lucrezia and Joffre Borgia. But as we were heading back I spotted that the gates were open and I ran to them, determined to see the gravestone of this most wonderful woman, no matter how tired and footsore I was.

And it was worth it.

The moment I saw it, I welled up. This is a woman who birthed some of the greatest and most infamous people in Renaissance History.


Vanozza’s gravestone – a very fuzzy photo by me.

After that we dragged ourselves footsore and weary back to the hotel, ready for the next day. Which would involve the Roman Forum!


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[Review] The Colour of Murder by Toni Mount


London is not safe for princes or commoners.

In February 1478, a wealthy merchant is killed by an intruder and a royal duke dies at the Tower. Neither case is quite as simple as it seems.

Seb Foxley, an intrepid young artist, finds himself in the darkest of places, fleeing for his life. With foul deeds afoot at the king’s court, his wife Emily pregnant and his brother Jude’s hope of marrying Rose thwarted, can Seb unearth the secrets which others would prefer to keep hidden?

Join Seb and Jude, their lives in jeopardy in the dangerous streets of the city, as they struggle to solve crimes and keep their business flourishing.

I’ve read and reviewed Toni Mount’s works before, so when I had the latest instalment in her Sebastian Foxley mysteries delivered to my kindle on release day, I knew I’d have to do the same. My previous reviews have been absolutely glowing and the previous four mysteries really set the bar high – I honestly didn’t think Mount could do any better than the previous books.

But she’s set the bar even higher and this book has to be the best in the series so far.

As with the previous instalments, I absolutely devoured this novel. It truly was a page turner and I found myself reading late into the night just to find out what was going to happen next. Books that have me feeling that way are rare indeed but it’s something I’ve come to expect from Mount. The way she weaves the scenery together is truly exceptional and yet again it feels as if you are wandering the stinking streets of London, or in the Foxley’s kitchen as Emily is having yet another breakdown. Add that in to the utterly brilliant characterisation and you truly do have the perfect historical novel.

The Colour of Murder is once more set in medieval London before Richard Duke of Gloucester becomes King Richard III and this time involves the death of multiple people – a merchant and the Duke of Clarence. And once more the Foxley brother’s try to get to the bottom of the mysteries surrounding these deaths, however all doesn’t go well for poor Seb. Not only must he deal with the mysteries, but also a commission from Gloucester (who I absolutely adore! Mount makes him a really likeable fellow), his workshop and his pregnant wife but also something particularly nasty happens to him whilst he’s trying to escape from the Tower of London…

I won’t say any more on that side of things due to spoilers. But all I will say is holy crap, that part of the story is awesome.

Mount effortlessly twists together fact and fiction in this wonderful piece and the tapestry is only made more beautiful by the fantastic characters. Sebastian and Jack Tabor remain my favourites whilst (as I mentioned in a previous review) I found myself hating Emily more and more. Her whole attitude towards poor Seb just stinks – although I suppose you can blame that on the pregnancy in this case – although you can tell that she does love him…she just has a bit of a funny way of showing it sometimes. But Jack…oh Jack. That poor sweet little lad with his inability to speak difficult words and needing to ask so many questions. He deserves all the happiness in the world and really needs a hug. So many characters within this work evoke a sense of sympathy from the reader and sometimes even more than that, love and even hatred at times. You feel like you know them and you want to make sure that they’re going to be alright. It takes a master wordsmith to make any reader feel that way.

The whole novel is electric and so incredibly emotionally charged. I would highly recommend this book to anyone with any sort of interest in historical fiction, whether they know anything about the history of the era or not.

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On This Day In History – February 1, 1587


On 1 February 1587 Queen Elizabeth I of England signed the death warrant of her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, after months of deliberating on the matter. Mary, who had at one point been Queen of France and the daughter in law of Catherine de’ Medici, had been tried and found guilty of taking part in the Babington Plot – Elizabeth deliberately held back on having the verdict announced and more so at having the death warrant signed. Mary was an anointed Queen, after all. Having her executed would be regicide.

Elizabeth finally made her decision and called her secretary, William Davison, and asked that she be brought the death warrant. She duly signed the document but still her conscience in the matter got the better of her – she asked Mary’s gaoler, via a letter from her spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham, to kill Mary in some other way however he promptly to do so, utterly horrified that he would be asked to do such a thing. Instead the death warrant stood, condemning Mary Queen of Scots to be executed – the deed was kept secret from Queen Elizabeth, who was only advised that the execution had taken place after Mary had lost her head.

Mary, Queen of Scotland and one time Queen of France was executed at Fotheringhay Castle on February 8, 1587, in a private execution.

Mary Queen of Scots was mother to King James VI of Scotland and I of England, and grandmother to King Charles I of England.


Mary Queen of Scots by François Clouet 

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