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