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.

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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.

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The disputation of St. Catherine. Photo by me.

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

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Pope Alexander VI kneeling. Photo by me.

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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.

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Photo by me

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View of St. Peter’s. Photo by me.

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

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Photo by me

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Anubis. Photo by me.

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Laocoon and His Sons. Photo by me

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Photo by me

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Photo by me

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Photo by me

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Photo by me

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Photo by me

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Photo by me

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Medici crest. Photo by me.

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

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Ceiling of the Gallery of Maps. Photo by me.

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Gallery of maps. Photo by me.

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Gallery of maps. Photo by me.

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Borgia coat of arms. Photo by me

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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…

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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!

 

 

 

 

[Looking Back] The Borgia Apartments, The Vatican

Due to a bit of writers block I thought I would share a post I did a while ago, all about my trip to the Borgia apartments at the Vatican.
The Disputation of St Catherine – Pinturicchio
After Rodrigo Borgia became Pope in 1492, he planned a whole new set of rooms for his personal use. These rooms still exist today, and in them survive a fascinating insight into the Borgia mindset. The walls are covered in frescoes of the Borgia bull, and the entire set of apartments show the Spanish roots of the new Pope – the floor tiles were imported especially from Spain, giving the rooms a completely Spanish look, and mixed in with the frescoes of the Borgia bull are are representations of the Aragonese double crown, to which they added sun rays or flames mixed in a grazing bull.
The Borgia Bull, Borgia Apartments (picture by me)
The Borgia Bull and the Aragonese Crown, Borgia Apartments (picture by me)
Spanish Tiles, Borgia Apartments (picture by me)
Borgia Coat of Arms, Borgia Apartments (picture by me)
As can be seen from the pictures above, Pope Alexander made sure the family device was everywhere – gilded Borgia bulls on the ceiling in a repeated pattern with the Aragonese arms, Spanish tiles all over the floors as well as gilded stucco frames around the frescoes. The entire space was created to reflect the pride Alexander felt in his family name, pride at their Spanish origins and the huge ambition that he had for himself and his family.
Quite possibly, the most impressive monument to the Borgia family surviving in those set of rooms hidden away in the Vatican (and used to house a contemporary art gallery, I wasn’t too impressed with that!) are the frescoes that surround the walls of the main room.
The Disputation of St Catherine, Pinturicchio (Picture by me)
After his election to the Chair of St Peter in 1492, Pope Alexander hired Bernadino di Betto di Biagio (better known as Pinturicchio) to paint his new apartments. Pinturicchio was an incredibly talented artist from Sienna, and one of the most sought after artists in his day and had even assisted in the painting of the Sistine Chapel. And whilst some weren’t all that impressed with his works, the Pope certainly was.
The most famous fresco is the one shown above: The Disputation of St Catherine. And it is the biggest testament to the Borgia family in the room, simply because it contains images of the Borgia family. Most are dressed in the Turkish fashion whilst St Catherine (Said to be an image of Lucrezia, and I have to say I agree wholeheartedly) argues against the Pagan emperor. 
The entire image is full of imagery – in the centre stands a triumphal arch based on the Arch of Constantine and sat atop it is the Borgia bull. The arch of Constantine is an incredible monument to Christianity – the arch itself (still standing outside the Colosseum) was built as a celebration of Constantine’s victory at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge which established Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. In essence, it’s place in the painting is saying that the Borgia family are as important to Christianity as Constantine was – reinforced by the Borgia bull sat right on top of said arch. And not only are members of Alexander’s family depicted (Lucrezia, Cesare, Juan, Joffre and Sancia) but also other members of the papal entourage and it is said, though I haven’t yet found a source for this and will update as and when I do, that the man sat in the chair is actually a self portrait of Pinturicchio himself.
As for the imagery of the family, the main figure in the painting is St Catherine. She is portrayed as blonde, the known hair colour of Lucrezia Borgia, and this image has long been traditionally held as an image of Lucrezia although there is, of course, no certainty of this.
Detail of St Catherine showing the supposed figures of Lucrezia and Cesare (Picture by me)
The figure behind her, dressed in Turkish robes and glaring out, is said to be an image of Cesare Borgia while the figure on the left hand side (the right as we look at it) is traditionally held to be an image of Juan Borgia, second Duke of Gandia.
Detail of the figure said to be Juan Borgia in The Disputation of St Catherine
The two diminutive figures at the front of the painting are said to be of Joffre Borgia and his wife, Sancia of Aragon.
Figures said to be of Jofre Borgia and Sancia of Aragon from The Disputation of St Catherine
Pope Alexander himself is not shown in the Disputation of St Catherine. He is however shown in the fresco “Resurrection”, in which he witnesses the Resurrection of Christ during a moment of prayer. He has his hands clasped in prayer, dressed in embroidered robes and his papal tiara on the floor before him. Pinturicchio also painted another portrait of Alexander above a doorway adoring a beautiful virgin who, according to Vasari was given the face of Giulia Farnese. This portrait however was destroyed when the room it was in, was destroyed for other building works.
The Resurrection by Pinturicchio
Detail of Pope Alexander VI, Pinturicchio
In all then, the Borgia apartments are a testament to the sheer self belief of the Borgia family, their belief in unbridled power and the pride that Alexander felt in his family origins. 
And one last picture from my visit last year, though this could have been carved at an point throughout the room’s history – a gaming board carved into a windowsill which I found to be incredibly interesting. I have no idea how the game was played but it certainly looks interesting!
Random gaming board in the Borgia Apartments (Picture by me)
Further reading