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.

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!