Tuesday, 28 August 2012

1 Year On...Happy Birthday Loyalty Binds Me

One year ago today, I sat down and wrote the very first post on this blog. Now, exactly 12 months later the blog has had over 34000 pageviews and seems to be becoming more and more read worldwide. This is amazing, and I thought in celebration of Loyalty Binds Me's first birthday I would do a little vlog for you guys.

I'll reiterate: I couldn't have done this without each and every one of you. You lot, my readers, are amazing. When I started this blog, 12 months ago to the day, I didn't think anyone would read it. After all, who would want to read my massive flaily posts about Charles II and the Borgia family? Yet it seems that many of you share my crazy interest in Charles II and anything to do with the seventeenth century. It also seems as if many of my readers found me through my post on Lucrezia Borgia. And you have no idea how much that makes me smile. I mean, my aim when I started writing about the Borgia family was to try and dispel the myths surrounding them and when I get search terms along the lines of "borgia family incest" that link to my posts on Lucrezia, or my posts on incest in the Borgia family, I can't help but smile. Because these searches are leading readers to my posts which try their damnedest to dispel these myths...I really hope that they get the answers they seek.

I am honestly humbled by you guys. Seriously. I was loathe to even start a history blog after seeing the excellent blogs that are out there. But I am so glad I did. I have made so many good friends after starting this blog, many of you are readers who have become close friends. And you have all convinced me to push and make myself better. I couldn't have done any of this without any of you.

Here's to many more years of history blogging! And once again, thank you all for joining me on this incredible journey. As I mention in the video, in the next 12 months I am hoping that this blog climbs higher and higher, and there should also be some news on my forthcoming book. So please do watch this space. What I didn't mention was that I have started a new blog...now I will warn you before you click on the link that this blog isn't about history. It's more a place where I can freely drop the f-bomb and talk about rabid chinchillas. But hey, a girl needs to let loose somewhere right? Please do swing by and check it out.

And now, back to your regular historical flaily posts...

Friday, 24 August 2012

Rodrigo Borgia Part 3 - Fact Vs Fiction

At the end of the last post, Rodrigo Borgia had just been voted in by the college of Cardinals as Pope Alexander VI. And it is from the time of his being voted in, and beyond, that we get some of the most debauched stories about this infamous pope. But was he really all that bad? Was he really a sexual deviant who had orgies in his Papal Palace? Did he really poison his enemies? The tour guide who took us around the Vatican certainly seemed to think so, as do many who have delved into the history of this infamous family.

This post isn't going to be in the same vein as my other posts on Rodrigo, where I write a massive essay on a certain part of his life. What I'm going to do in this one is split the post into parts, going into a couple of the rumours that surround his Papacy and hopefully going some way to dismiss some of them. Some of what I will be going into are rather famous incidents, and some of them are very debauched. I guess I should mark this post 18+ but well...if you're reading about the Borgias then you should expect quite a bit of debauchery...

The Banquet of Chestnuts, 1501 (often known as the "Ballet of Chestnuts")
This has to be one of the best known party incidents of Pope Alexander VI's reign, but certainly not the last. The party, or banquet, was actually thrown by the Pope's son Cesare, in his apartments in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. Johanne Buchard describes the incident in "At The Court Of The Borgia2:

"On Sunday evening, October 30th, Don Cesare Borgia gave a supper in his apartment at the apostolic palace, with fifty decent prostitutes or courtesans in attendance, who after the meal danced with the servants and others there, first fully dressed and then naked. Following the supper too, lampstands holding lighted candles were placed on the floor and chestnuts strewn about, which the prostitutes, naked and on their hands and knees, had to pick up as they crawled in and out amongst the lampstands. The pope, Don Cesare and Donna Lucrezia were all present to watch. Finally, prizes were offered - silken doublets, pairs of shoes, hats and other garments - for those men who were most successful with the prostitutes. This performance was carried out in the Sala Reale and those who attended said in fact the prizes were presented to those who won the contest."  (Buchard, J, Parker, G, 1963, 194)

As you can see from Buchard's account, it's pretty debauched. It's hard not to imagine the Pope, dressed all in his white gear, sat at a table with Cesare and Lucrezia clapping and laughing as these courtesans crawled around naked. It's certainly not an image you would expect when thinking about the head of the Catholic church? However, whilst Buchard is a most famous chronicler of Renaissance Italy, and indeed the reign of Pope Alexander VI, he was not actually as this banquet. This is made evident by Peter De Roos, a Vatican researcher in the 19th century who suggests: "It is evident that Burchard was not an eyewitness of the orgy, and nowhere does he, in his long diary, write such foul matter, nowhere does he, even from hearsay, report any occurrence apt to injure the good reputation of any of the Borgias. How could he here suddenly descend from his accustomed decent ways to the lowest rank of a filthy writer, how could he describe a scene calculated to ruin the character of all the Borgias at once? Burchard is certainly not himself on this occasion. It is no wonder, therefore, if every modern historian either denies or discusses the genuineness of this Diary's passage."(De Roos Vol 5, 1924, 195). This work however, was put together hundreds of years after the incident. Can we be clear if Buchard was actually there or not? Not really. But as Pope Alexander's Master of Ceremonies, Buchard must have been privy to what was going in at the court.

Did Pope Alexander VI cover for Cesare after the death of Juan Borgia in 1497?
As I have written previously, on 14th June 1497 Juan Borgia, second son of Alexander VI (not counting his children by mistresses other than Vanozza De Cattanei), went missing. That night Juan had gone off with another man following. He had sent his groom back to the Vatican to fetch his light armour on the advice of his brother Cesare and his uncle, also named Juan, yet the groom had been viciously attacked. The next morning it was reported that Juan had not come back - but Alexander was used to his antics and half expected him to come ambling in later, fresh from a whorehouse. But he didn't. Later that day, as panic rose in the Pope, Cesare told his father what had happened before he had left his brother, and a search was mounted. Around midday on 16th June, a body was pulled from the river covered in stab wounds. Yet his purse, carrying 30 ducats has not been taken. The body was Juan Borgia, duke of Gandia and Gonfaloniere of the Papal armies. The Pope, of course, went into deep mourning for his son. On the 19th June, the Pope made a statement:

"The Duke of Gandia is dead. A greater calamity could not have befallen us for we bore him unbounded affection. Life has lost all interest for us. It must be that God punishes us for our sins, for the Duke has done nothing to deserve so terrible a fate."

Rumours of course began to circulate over who had killed Juan Borgia. Was it the Sforza's due to resentment over the annulment of Lucrezia and Giovanni's marriage? was it his younger brother Goffre, who was said to be jealous over his brothers relationship with Sancia, Goffre's wife? Or was it the Duke of Urbino who harboured resentment over his imprisonment by Juan during the Orsini war? Or was it Cesare, his own brother who harboured so much jealousy that his younger brother was Gonfaloniere, jealousy that his younger brother was Alexander's favourite, jealousy that he instead of Juan was made to wear the Cardinal's skirts?

At any rate, almost exactly a week later the search was called off. Had Alexander learned the truth? It seems a little fishy that the father who had been so grief stricken and determined to find his son's murderer called the search off just one week later. The rumour that Cesare had murdered his brother did not surface until almost a year later in Venice where, funnily enough, many supporters of the Orsini family lived.

Is it feasible that Cesare murdered his brother. After all, it is well known that he was jealous of his brother and wanted to get out of the Church. Showtime's "The Borgias" show this really rather well:

Whilst of course the clip is based solely on rumour, it does a fantastic job of showing the whole "what if Cesare killed his brother?". Plus, we must remember that the Pope dropped everything just one week...ONE WEEK...after his son's death. had Cesare confessed? Was that why Alexander let his son resign his place as a cardinal? Alas, we will never know.

Whist these are but two of the stories that surround this most maligned Pope, of course there are many more rumours that surround Alexander VI's Papacy:
  • He bribed his way to the chair of St Peter's
  • He poisoned his adversaries
  • He sold offices to those who had helped him become Pope
  • He was poisoned by his own son, Cesare Borgia.
There are of course many more rumours that haunt the history of Pope Alexander VI and his family. As I have said previously, our tour guide at the Vatican during our recent visit to Rome spewed out many inaccuracies of the Borgia family including those rather daft rumours that Lucrezia Borgia had an incestuous relationship with her father and brother and that Alexander had poisoned his enemies. There is literally no evidence that the Pope had these relationships with his daughters and even the evidence of his chestnut banquet cannot be taken at face value. Throughout my research of this fascinating family I have found no convincing evidence of incest or poisoning;  yet the idea has come down to us through centuries of rumour...

Will we ever be able to quash these rumours? Probably not...

But I'll give it a damn good go.

Further Reading:

Burchard, J, 1963 (translated from original), At the Court of the Borgia, The Folio Society: London
Bradford, S,1976, Cesare Borgia: His Life and Times, Weidenfeld and Nicholson: London
Bradford, S, 2004, Lucrezia Borgia, Penguin: London
De Roos, 1924,  Material for a history of Pope Alexander VI:
Hibbert, C, 2009, The Borgias & Their Enemies, Mariner Books: Boston
Hollingsworth, M, 2011, The Borgias: Histories Most Notorious Dynasty, Quercus: London

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Rodrigo Borgia Part 2 - Becoming Alexander VI

Rodrigo Borgia - part of a fresco in the Borgia Apartments

The story of Rodrigo Borgia's rise to the chair of St Peter has gone down in history as one of the most corrupt periods in the history of the Roman Catholic church. It is said that he bribed his way into the chair, and paid off his fellow cardinals to get what he wanted. Despite it's many historical inaccuracies, Showtime's "The Borgias" does a fantastic job of showing how Rodrigo is said to have gotten to be Pope - in the show we see Rodrigo's son Cesare sending donkey's laden with gold and treasure to the palaces of Cardinals, as well as notes being smuggled into the conclave and hidden in food. Did it happen this way? Probably not, it's Michael Hirst writing the show to appeal of course. Yet you can't deny that something fishy was what got Rodrigo Borgia to where he ended up. And today's post will go into the Conclave that lead to his election as Pope.

After Pope Innocent's death on 25th July 1492, the conclave to election the new pope opened on Monday 6th August 1492. A grand total of 23 cardinal's moved into the Sistine Chapel. This beautiful chapel with it's fresco's painted by Michelangelo, is still used for conclaves today - although is mainly full of tourists these days (and it's super hard to even move through it as it's so full of people!

The Sistine Chapel, Rome

Of course, Michelangelo's paintings deserve a post all to themselves and that will be coming soon. For now however, back to Rodrigo Borgia.

During the first few days of the conclave, the first scruinity happened on the wednesday. Each cardinal voted for up to three candidates and Rodrigo Borgia came up on top, alongside Oliviero Carafa and Jorge de Costa. Both Oliviero and Jorge were part of Guiliana Della Rovere's party. The second vote on 9th August, and so was the third on 10th August. Carafa had 10 votes at this point, Rodrigo had 8 and Guiliano Della Rovere had 7. To become Pope on this occasion, 16 votes were needed, and the winner needed 2/3's of the vote to win.

The guadians of the conclave began to despair because it was taking far too long to elect a new pope, and it was ordered that until a Pope was elected the Cardinals would be restricted to one meal a day which would consist of just bread and water. On the evening of 10th August, Cardinal Ascanio Sforza began trying to convince his fellow Cardinals to back Rodrigo.

And on 11th August, in the morning, it was announced that Rodrigo Borgia had been elected Pope. As I'm sure many of us are aware from the relatively recent election of Pope Benedict XVI, when Rodrigo was elected white smoke would have started pouring from the small chimney at the Vatican.

White smoke announcing the election of a new pope

Just before dawn it was announced that Rodrigo Borgia had taken the name of Alexander. From that moment on he would be known as Pope Alexander VI. The remarkable thing was that in that final vote, the only vote against him had been his own. Everyone else had been unanimous. However Hibbert also mentions that one vote against Rodrigo, although Hibbert says that the vote belonged to Guiliano Della Rovere. I have to say, I am more inclined to agree with Hibbert in this case (although it's possible that Rodrigo may have put a different name in the hat, or indeed his own) as we know that Guiliano was opposed to Rodrigo from the get go.

The election was a happy affair in Rome, although there were those that were against the election. He was well known in Rome as a generous man, yet his enemies were livid. For example, the government of Venice were exceptionally angry that it's own Cardinal had voted for Rodrigo, rather than acting on the goverrnments wishes.

Cardinal Ascanio Sforza

After his election, and the white moke announcing the new Pope, papers were thrown from the windows announcing the new pope as Alexander VI, and shortly after the new Pope himself appeared at the window. And instead of calling out the tradiional call to the crowds of "volo", it is said that he shouted, "I am Pope! I am Pope!".

Following his election, rumous began to spread that he had bribed his fellow cardinal's into giving him the Papal crown. Cardinal Ascanio Sforza is said to have agreed to put aside his own ambitions and help Rodrigo for the promise of gold (this is where the gold laden mules come into the story, with them being lead through the dead of night to the Sforza palace) as well as the office of Vice-Chancellor. With the office of Vice Chancellor, Ascanio would also get the official residence that came with the office - today known as the Palazzo Sforza-Cesarini (nothing of the original building remains however, having been rebuilt in 1888).

On 12th August, 800 men rode through the city to meet the new Pope at the Vatican Palace.

After his election, even his enemies had to admit that Rodrigo was certainly competent despite the accusations of Simony, bribery ad sexual corruption. Plus, Rodrigo was also determined to put an end to the lawlessness that had spread through the city during Innocent's reign.

So, did Rodrigo bribe his way into the seat of St Peter? I have to say, having read a lot about his election, it seems very likely. Not only did the day before Rodrigo have nowhere near the amount of votes needed only to get an almost unanimous vote the next day, but after his election he gave lavish gifts to all those who had backed him. For instance, as we know, Sforza was made vice chancellor while others such as Cardinal Savelli was given Civita castello and others received thousands of ducats for their help. Only 5 cardinals came away with nothing, and all 5 said that the papal vote should be given freely and not brought. It does seem a little fishy, and even Johannes Buchard (Pope Alexander's Master of Ceremonies)  writes of the rumours that were flying around Rome at the time, and it is Buchard who tells us of the gifts that Alexander lavished on his backers. Do I think he bribed his way in? Yes I do, but it was certainly not the first time a Cardinal had bribed his way in. Stories abound through the history of the Catholic Church in the Renaissance, stories of bribery and corruption, so the story of Rodrigo Borgia was nothing new. Yet why was a stink kicked up at Rodrigo's election? Quite simply, Rodrigo Borgia had enemies, enemies who did not want a Spaniard in the papal chair, enemies who wanted an Italian as their Pope.

And these rumours of bribery and corruption, as well as sexual misdemeanours followed Pope Alexander VI until his death in 1503.

Further Reading

Burchard, J, 1963 (translated from original), At the Court of the Borgia, The Folio Society: London
Bradford, S,1976, Cesare Borgia: His Life and Times, Weidenfeld and Nicholson: London
Bradford, S, 2004, Lucrezia Borgia, Penguin: London
Hibbert, C, 2009, The Borgias & Their Enemies, Mariner Books: Boston
Hollingsworth, M, 2011, The Borgias: Histories Most Notorious Dynasty, Quercus: London

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Happy Birthday George IV

George IV is my latest historical love. I blame Horrible Histories - yes, I am 24 years old and watch kids shows about history. I am totally not sorry. ANYWAY, George IV was awesome, even though people kind of hated him. And today is his birthday!

Born on 12th August 1762, George IV would end up being regent for his father for many years. Why? Because George III was a little bit loopy. Anyway, when his father died in 1820, the Prince Regent finally ascended to the throne. He was 57 years old!

As of yet, I don't know a huge amount about George IV. Opinion seems divided on him, but after the small amount of reading I've done on the guy I kind of like him. He seems to be ostentatious, loved his food and a guy who liked to party. And after listening to rexfactorpod's fabulous podcast on him I have to say, he would get along fabulously with Charles II!

I have a few books on their way about George IV, and I have to say I am super excited to start learning more about him. So expect a lot more about him, which by the way will probably end up with me flailing about how much I love him. Kind of like how I already do with Charles II...

Oh, and have a video of George IV singing about his reign. It's all kinds of awesome.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Rodrigo Borgia Part 1: Early Church Career

Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgia (Alexander VI) in Showtime's The Borgias

I'm sure most of you have gathered from my previous pieces on Lucrezia, Cesare and Juan Borgia that I am a big fan of this most notorious family. And I'm sure you all noticed my flailing over the fresco of Lucrezia on my post about the Vatican in Rome. But so far I have done very little writing about the head of the Borgia family, quite possibly one of the most hated Pope's of all time.

Rodrigo Borgia. More commonly known as Pope Alexander VI. Father of at least 8 children and a man who rather enjoyed his mistresses.

So why have I decided to write about Rodrigo Borgia? Well, like his children, he is hugely vilified, and rumours still abound that he was a nasty piece of work. For instance when we were in the Sistine Chapel, our tour guide started harping on about how evil Alexander VI was, how he poisoned everyone and how he enjoyed sexual relations not only with his mistresses but with his daughter as well. I had to bite my tongue and walk away quick sharp else I probably would have ended up yelling at him. And yelling in the Sistine Chapel is probably frowned on. I say probably, more like definitely. Anyway, it's these sort of misconceptions that made me want to do a piece about Rodrigo, from his birth to his death and hopefully clear up a lot of said misconceptions. I'll admit it now, Rodrigo Borgia was not perfect and yes, he did do some pretty bad stuff (especially considering as how he was y'know, Pope!). Hopefully, this will start to dismiss many of the rumours that Rodrigo Borgia was inherently evil.

Rodrigo Borgia as Cardinal

Rodrigo Borgia was born on 1st January 1431 at Xatvia, not far from Valencia in Spain. His parents were Jofre Lancol and Isabella Borgia, who was the sister of Cardinal Alfonso Borgia (later to become Pope Calixtus III). As a young child Rodrigo used his father's surname, but after his Uncle Alfonso was elected to the Papacy in 1455. And once Calixtus was Pope, Rodrigo's profession was chosen for him - there was no question of him taking on a clerical role. Oh no, he would follow in his uncle's footsteps.

By the age of 25, likely thanks to his being a relation of the Pope, Rodrigo Borgia had been made a Cardinal. He had previously been sent to Bologna by Calixtus to study law. There, he received his degree in canon law after less than a years study. Normally, these degrees took five years to complete and it lead to rumours that money had changed hands to get him his degree earlier. There was however, no doubt, that Rodrigo was brilliant. By the age of 27, after having many rich benefices thrust upon him and a very brief military career, he was made vice-chancellor to the Pope. This of course did not pass without much grumbling from the rest of the College of Cardinals. There is of course, very little doubt that Rodrigo got these posts because of who his uncle was. But he was a very able young man with a sound head on his shoulders. And it would serve him well in the future. Pius II even commented that Rodrigo was an "extremely able man".

 Calixtus III - Rodrigo's uncle

Although, it must be said that when Rodrigo held these offices he used them very much to his advantage. And when I say to his advantage, I mean he used his position to accept bribes to grant favours for people including issuing licences so that incestuous couples could marry! Doing this made Rodrigo Borgia exceptionally rich, and allowed himself to stray somewhat from his office in the church. And when I say stray, I mean he didn't take his vows of celibacy very serious at all. That and he was fond of his food, fond of gambling at cards and hugely fond of his drink. These actions earned him a letter from Pius II, telling him off for his bad behaviour! Pius basically turns around to Rodrigo and tells him to stop sleeping around and being all un-cardinal-like:

We have learned that three days ago a large number of women from Siena, adorned with all worldly vanity, assembled at the gardens of...Giovanni di Bichio, and that your Eminence, in contempt of the dignity of your position, remained with them from one o'clock until six and that you were accompanied by another cardinal...we are told that the dances were immodest and the seduction of love beyond bounds and that you yourself behaved as though you were one of the most vulgar men of the age...Your faults reflect upon us, and upon Calixtus, your uncle of happy memory, who is accused of a grave fault of judgement for having laden you with undeserved honours. Let your Eminence then decide to put an end to these frivolities.

Pius II

Suffice to say, Rodrigo didn't pay any attention to that! He was however a little more careful to do such things away from anyone who could whisper in Pius' ear. But due to his indiscretions, the wealth that Rodrigo Borgia was amassing meant that he could begin building extravagant palaces. However despite spending so ostentatiously and always made sure he had enough to help out the Holy See.

In 1468, Rodrigo was ordained into the priesthood. And in 1471 he was ordained as bishop and made Cardinal-Bishop of Albano. By the time that Rodrigo came to be elected as Pope in 1492, he had served the Vatican under 5 different Popes, and thus had a considerable amount of experience that, in his eyes, made him perfect for the job.

After the death of Pius II in 1464, and after Rodrigo himself had recovered from a rather nasty illness, he was present for the conclave in which the new Pope was chosen. Paul II is the man who designed grand palaces in the Palazzo San Marco (now the Palazzo Di Venezia, close to the Capitoline museums in Rome). Following Paul's death, Rodrigo played a massive role in helping Frances Della Rovere (Sixtus IV). This Sixtus soon became known as a man who lavished gifts and offices on his nephews, particularly the famous Giuliano Della Rovere who would become Rodrigo's greatest enemy in the years to come. After Sixtus' death, Rodrigo went to his episcopal seat in Valencia. There he was greeted with rapture and displayed all his best qualities. He was after all, Bishop of Valencia. Fourteen months later he left Spain and when he returned to Piza after a rather nasty trip, he met the woman who would end up the mother of his three best known children: Vanozza De Cattanei. Vanozza was a courtesan, and Rodrigo found himself intrigued by her. So intrigued in fact that he arranged a marriage for her to a compliant husband so he could cultivate a long and lasting relationship with her. In 1475, the year Rodrigo stepped out in his cardinal's robes, his mistress gave birth to a son: Cesare Borgia. Sixtus VI showed his approval by legitimising the child After her husband died shortly after, she remarried twice and gave birth to more of Rodrigo's children - Juan, Lucrezia and Jofre.

 A portrait said to be of Vanozza Dei Cattanei by Innocenzo Francucci da Imola

When Sixtus died in 1484, his successor was Innocent VIII. This guy got his way in by promising people offices but then making up new offices and selling them to the highest bidder. During Innocent's reign as Pope, Rodrigo prospered in his role at the Vatican. In 1492, Innocent fell seriously ill. His time as Pope had been a shambles as it was, with the city descending into anarchy, and as they sat by Innocent's deathbed Rodrigo and Guiliano ended up having a massive row that could have easily ended up in violence.

When Innocent died on July 25th 1492, all eyes were on the next Papal conflict. Who would the conclave vote in as Pope? And the following story has gone down in history as the episode that put the cornerstone in Rodrigo Borgia's reputation as a cold, manipulative and corrupt member of the clergy.

Further reading

Burchard, J, 1963 (translated from original), At the Court of the Borgia, The Folio Society: London
Bradford, S,1976, Cesare Borgia: His Life and Times, Weidenfeld and Nicholson: London
Bradford, S, 2004, Lucrezia Borgia, Penguin: London
Hibbert, C, 200, The Borgias & Their Enemies, Mariner Books: Boston

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Convento Dei Cappuchini, Rome

On our final full day in Rome, after we had visited the Colosseum and almost passed out from heat exhaustion, we decided to visit a little church near the Barberini metro station. This little church is often known simply as the "Convento Dei Cappuchini" or Cappuchin Crypt. I had read about this little place online before we left the UK and I just had to visit it before we left Rome.

The crypt itself (which I will get to in more detail in a moment) is located beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini, or in English Our Lady of the Conception of the Capuchin. The little church itself was commissioned in 1626 by Pope Urban VII. Previously the Capuchin Friars had been housed elsewhere, but when they moved to this church and friary they packed up everything, including the bones of their dead and brought them here. Originally, the bones of the Friars had been buried in the Friary Via dei Lucchesi but the Pope's brother Antoni Barberini ordered everything to be moved, and in the end over 300 cart loads of bones were moved. Today, these bones can be seen arranged in the crypts beneath the friary in quite possibly some of the most morbidly fascinating crypt decorations I have ever seen.

But before you even get to see the crypts, you pay for your entrance in quite a snazzy little entrance hall in the refurbished friary. Having spoken with MadameGuillotine, not so long back you used to be greeted at the doors by one of the monks but alas, not any more (at least when we were there). You are greeted by super friendly staff members in t-shirts with the Friary's logo on. The most surprising thing when we walked in there however was how quiet the place was. Of course I didn't expect it to be anywhere near as busy as the Vatican or Colosseum. But in front of us in the queue was a small family and as we were wandering around the museum we saw no one else. In fact, the family in front of us seemed to waltz through the museum and crypts not even really giving a hoot about any of it. Whereas the two of us spent hours in there, and I have to say it was an incredibly moving experience for me.

I will mention now that whilst we were there I didn't take any photographs due to the battery on my camera running out. Where I can, I have credited any images used below.

First of all however, we get to look around the small museum which is apparently rather new. And I loved it, every single second I spent in this tiny museum totally unhindered by tourists. I have to say it was a really nice, and very peaceful change from the previous places we had been. The museum is utterly chock full of artifacts relating to the life of the Capuchin Friars. The first room we entered was full of portraits including this one by Caravaggio.

 I found this portrait mesmerising, and stood in front of it for a very long time just taking in its details. It seems that the Cappuchin's follow the example of St Francis of Assisi, but the Cappuchin's are much, much stricter than the original order. After the foundation of the order in around 1520, due to their beliefs, they were forced into hiding. But Urban VII ended up saying all was OK with it in around 1528.

The area used for the museum and crypt is used these days completely for those purposes, and just opposite the road the Friar's still live in quiet contemplation.

Beneath the museum, again of which I have no pictures other than what I have scanned in, lies the ossuary and crypt. Even though there are just 6 rooms in the crypt, we spent so much time down here gazing at the macabre decorations in front of us. I say macabre, yet at the same time it was utterly fascinating to think that the bones on show were once friars who had served at the friary. Below are some photographs (not by me) of each room, each of course with full credits to where I got them from).

The Crypt of the Resurrection.
This one is closest to the gift shop and I have to say probably one of the most moving due to the beautiful portrait. The portrait itself is framed by different bones from the human body. This crypt is said to be the least macabre of all six rooms although I have to say that even in here I had a little shudder, yet odd fascination with what I was seeing.

N.b - I'd just like the add here that all throughout my University years I had an odd fascination with human bones, hence why I'm probably flailing a lot about this...

The Mass Chapel
 This is the only room in the crypt with no bones in it. I have to say when I walked into this very peaceful room I was very surprised to not see any decoration. However it seems this room was used to pray for the souls of the dead in the surrounding crypts. There is a plaque within this room that contains the heart of the niece of Sixtus V, and it also contains the tomb of  "The Papal Zouaves" - an infantry force formed in defence of the papal states.Unfortunately I couldn't find any pictures of this room, so I'll have to ask you all to trust me when I say that this was the most peaceful room in the entire place.

The Crypt of Skulls

Looking at the picture, I wonder why it's called the Crypt of Skulls?? I have to say it was incredibly disconcerting walking into these crypts and seeing entire skeletons dressed in Capuchin Robes. I don't know if I'm the only one who felt this way?

Crypt of the Pelvys

I think the name says it all really. This one is made up mainly of pelvis bones!

Crypt of Thigh bones and Leg bones

Apparently the greatest number of bones are buried here in the whole crypt.

Crypt of the Three Skeletons

This room was probably my favourite in the entire crypt. Mainly because of the skeleton mounted on the ceiling which holds a scythe. The skellie on the ceiling is mounted within an oval and holding a scythe, a symbol of both life coming to birth (the skellie within the oval) and a symbol of death (the skellie holding the scythe). The skeleton in the centre of the ceiling is said to be the "Princess Barberini" although I have been unable to find much information on her, even from the guidebook I brought from the museum. The lady in the gift shop began to speak about her but didn't really go into much detail other than, "you need to know the story". Sadly I haven't been able to find much of her story so if anyone knows anything at all then please do drop me an email.

As I said right at the start of this post, the entire place moved me so, so much. Once we were done with the museum and crypt sadly we didn't go and see the church due to being stupidly tired and needing to recharge before finding somewhere to eat that evening. But I have to say, visiting this place was amazing and I am so, so glad that we didn't go home without visiting. Not only was the museum fantastic, but the crypts as well and full of so, so much history (including the history of later Friars who were on TV, as well as a rather moving story of a Friar who was murdered by his driver and assistant (If I could have taken pictures, again I would probably have more information but again, if anyone knows any more then please do email me).

And that was the final stop in our Rome visit. I have to say, we are looking at going again, albeit when the weather is a little bit cooler. Hopefully then we can stay a few days longer and also visit the places that we didn't get to see.

All in all though, an absolutely amazing trip that blew my mind from the moment we stepped foot in the Vatican Museum. Despite its expense (i.e. food), I would recommend visiting Rome to anyone interested in history. Because it is absolutely mind blowing.

Further Reading

The Capuchin Museum (multiple authors), 2012, The Capuchin Museum, Gangemi: Roma (only available at the Museum gift shop)

Further Information

The crypts and museum are generally open from 9am until 6.30pm (last admission), but please check the website or get in contact with the convento itself fore more information on opening.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Adventures in Roma - Part 3

Thursday was our final full day in the Eternal City. We made sure we got up super early and got to the Colosseum before opening at 8.30am, and I am so glad that we did. The queues were not long and there weren't tour guide touts about to try and charge us 3x the normal entry price. The Colosseum is such a breathtaking place, and having learnt about it during my modules on Ancient Rome at University, it has somewhere I have always wanted to see.

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by how low the entry fee was. As I'm still under 25, and a citizen of the EU my ticket cost only €7.50, and that paid for access to both the Colosseum and the Roman Forum area. My partner had to pay full price, but even €12 was a bargain.

Now then, you'll all know as well (at least I hope you all know!) that I am a big fan of the Assassin's Creed series. Rome is the setting for AC: Brotherhood and the Colosseum plays quite a big part in bits of the storyline. It was kind of cool wandering around this amazing building thinking, "So Ezio jumped right off the top of that into a pile of hay, and there's an imaginary hidden tomb underneath the building". And that is the end of my Assassin's Creed fangirling for this post. Now then, back to the serious stuff.

As we walked through the entrance, both of us just stopped and went, "wow..."

Most of us know what the Colosseum was used for. Or at least I hope we do. And considering as how this is a history blog, I hope you won't mind if I indulge in a little history on this most amazing building.

The Colosseum was begun by Vespasian in AD72 and completed by Titus in around AD80. It was Titus who officially inaugurated the Colosseum with shows that lasted for no less than 100 days at a time. Construction was therefore hugely rapid, taking less that 10 years to complete, however later Emperors made changed to the structure. Domitian made the final changes to the building. As we all (or most of us, I hope) know, that the Colosseum was used for both gladiatorial combat and venationes (hunting wild animals in the arena). One such Emperor, Commodus, apparently took part in gladiatorial combat himself and called himself a gladiator. Though it seems that he was never actually in any real danger! The structure went through many repairs during its lifetime, however in the 4th and 5th centuries material from the Colosseum began to be looted and reused which is what eventually lead to it looking the way it does today. All throughout the middle ages and Renaissance the structure was basically used as a quarry for building materials (I overheard a tour guide at the pantheon saying that a lot of the outer facing stones were looted and used in church building, but I don't know whether that's true or not. Again, not so hot on my Roman history). According to a book I picked up at the Colosseum bookshop (La Regina, 221), even the Pope's plundered some of the stones to help build St Peters!! It was also used as a container for animals! In 1675, by Papal degree, it was made official that the Colosseum would be used to honour the memory of all the Christian Martyrs who had lost their lives there.

The archaeologist in me obviously got very very excited at seeing this building. Although it was only in the Nineteenth century that the first systematic excavations of the building were completed. And during this time major restoration work was begun. These days the Rome Archaeological Service looks after the building, preserves it and conducts further excavations as and when they are needed.

The photo just above, although it just looks like a bunch of stones got me really rather excited. Behind a massive iron grate were all these bits of masonry. And each and every one of them had some of the most beautiful carvings on them. As I said, the archaeologist in me got really excited.

Once we were finished with the interior of the Colosseum we decided to make use of our tickets and head up to the Forum. Once we excited though, we realised that actually we were out of water and the day was getting hotter and hotter. It wasn't even midday and the temperature was already creeping up towards 40 degrees. So we sat in the shade for a bit to try and recharge our batteries before setting off. And in the mean time I took a couple of pictures of the most amazing Arch of Constantine.

The Arch of Constantine is the largest triumphal arch known and dedicated to Emperor Constantine. Aka the bloke who made Christianity legal in Rome and stopped all the persecutions. The arch was dedicated to Constantine in AD 315 by the senate and people of Rome to commemorate his victory at Milvian Bridge. From the Fifteenth Century study and restoration work was carried out on the Arch was continues to this day. I won't go any further into the history of either the Arch or the Colosseum because to be quite honest there is enough information on them both to fill three theses on both subjects separately!

After this we began to make our way towards the entrance to the Archaeological and Forum area, swinging by a quick drinks stand to see how much a bottle of water was. After seeing a tiny bottle, which the stall had put ice cubes in being sold for €2, we decided against it, remembering that there were fountains in the forum area. Said fountains would prove a lifesaver within the next hour or so, I can tell you!

We didn't spend much time in this area because it was just painfully hot and we were struggling. When we eventually found one of the water fountains (by the arch of Titus), we ended up sinking down onto a stone bench underneath the trees and filling our massive two litre bottle up at least three times after draining the thing. Even that wasn't enough!! Because of this we didn't get to see any of the majorly important parts of the area here, but we did see the Via Nova, the Nymphaeum and the Arch of Titus which if I'm honest, in that heat, was more than enough. We agreed as we made our way out of the area that we would visit when the weather was a little bit (aka, a lot cooler!) so we could see more! However, here are a couple of pictures that I did manage to take.

Archaeology hjdshdfshfdks *flails about* - yep actual archaeology going on. No archaeologists about though, probably because you know...heat and stuff.

After we crawled out of the Forum area, barely able to stand and still chugging yet another 2 litres of water, we decided to hop back on the Metro and head back to the Battistini area so I could see the one little place left on my "To See While In Rome" list as well as to find some lunch. When we got there we decided to try and find this Irish bar we had seen advertised (the other half was fed up with Italian food and didn't really like the Italian pizzas all that much ha!). So off we went and spent a pleasant couple of hours in a little pub that reminded us somewhat of home. It's a shame everything was so expensive though...but anyway, we managed to recharge our batteries, have a bit of a moan over the price of our lunch and then set back out to find the Convento Di Cappuchini.

Now then, this fabulous little Convento and Crypt deserves a post all of it's own. Mainly because in such a teeny place there is just so, so much history and it is incredibly moving. So keep your eyes peeled over the next couple of days for that one!

Further reading

La Regina, A (ed), 2011, Archaeological Guide to Rome, Electa: Milan

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Adventures in Roma - Part 2

Our original plan on our second day in Rome had been to go to the Colosseum. But we overslept and by the time we got there the crowds were huge and we ended up being accosted by more tour guide people wanting to charge us extortionate prices for the tour. No thanks. So we decided that the Colosseum would be done the next day, that we would get up early to avoid the crowds, and off we headed to the Pantheon!

It has long been a dream of mine to see the Pantheon. I honestly think it is one of the most beautiful buildings in the entire world. So, as we got off the metro at Battistini and began to walk towards the Piazza de Rotunda, I could feel my excitement growing.

First of all however, due to the insane heat (seriously, it was around 40 degrees every day we were there!), we decided to swing into the nearest gelataria and get ourselves some famous Italian gelato.

It seems that the place we had chosen was actually quite a posh place. I was expecting it to come in a little cardboard pot or something. But nope, posh glass bowl and biscuit was the order of the day. It ended up being quite expensive, but it was tasty. The one I had was made up with Nutella!

Following this we began our search for the Pantheon, and got ourselves rather confused. However, thanks to actually looking up directions on the net the night before we knew that it wasn't all that far from the Trevi fountain. We wanted to see the Fountain anyway, and realised it would be easier to find the Pantheon if we found the fountain first. And when we rounded a corner, and saw not only a massive crowd but quite possibly the world's most beautiful fountain, I was blown away...

The history of the Trevi fountain is really quite interesting, as the beautiful carvings we see today weren't finished until 1762! However there has been a fountain in the area since around 19BC. It is actually the decoration of a termination of the Virgo Aqueduct and was created by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. It was however in the Fifteenth Century that Pope Nicholas V ordered that a new fountain be built there, which was the beginnings of the beautiful monument we see today.

Of course while we were there we had to have some pictures taken in front of it, and I did the whole throwing a coin over my shoulder and making a wish. I'm not going to tell you what I wished for though...

Once we were finished at the Fountain we made a slow bimble down the side streets towards the Piazza de Rotunda. There weren't too many people down the little streets when we were there thankfully so it gave me the chance to take some pictures.

And then, as we dodged various restaurant people trying to get us to eat in their establishments, we entered the Piazza de Rotunda....and there it was.

The Pantheon is the oldest and most preserved Roman building in the entire city. And it is totally breathtaking. We stood out the front gazing up at it for such a long time before actually going inside. I couldn't believe for a moment that I was stood there.

The Pantheon that we see today is actually a replacement built by Emperor Hadrian between AD 118-125. The original Pantheon, built in 27 BC by Marcus Aggripus, burnt to the ground in around AD 80. In fact the Latin inscription above the entrance is still the original dedication to Marcus Agrippus and reads: “Marcus Agrippa son of Lucius, having been consul three times made it”. Nowhere on the building we see today, has Hadrian's name written on it.

Today, the Pantheon is used as a Church (and a tourist attraction, obviously) but back in the day it would have been a temple to the Roman Gods. It has been used as a church since around AD 608 when it was given to Pope Boniface VIII.

Inside, it just gets even more breathtaking.

The dome, with it's occulus completely blew me away and I took so many pictures of it. Reading up on how it is built is so interesting too, although going into the architecture of the place would end up needing a post or five all of their own. However, the dome is made up of a series of interconnecting arches which rest on a series of 8 pillars which consequently correspond to the bays at the floor level which house the statues. As I said, the architecture of this beautiful place involves a blog post all of it's own so I won't go into any more detail of it here.

There was one particular place in the Pantheon that made me flail a little (*cough* a lot) and that was the tomb of the quite frankly awesome Raphael! Yep, Raphael the famous Renaissance painter guy who did all that painting in the Vatican.

Raphael has to be one of my favourite Renaissance artists, second only to Leonardo Da Vinci so it was a big moment for me to stand in front of his tomb.

Back outside in the Piazza is a rather beautiful fountain, the water of which is lovely and cold! Of course I didn't totally put my hands in there to cool off........Anyway, a lovely lady offered to take a photo of me and my partner whilst we were there, and the picture is lovely. He has asked me not to put said picture up on the blog though. So have some pictures of the fountain in question instead.

And that was that. We had agreed to make this day a bit easier, considering as how we had exhausted ourselves the day before, so we took a slow bimble back towards the metro, stopping off for some lunch in a restaurant down one of the high streets. This was probably the biggest mistake of the day...as it was so close to the Pantheon, they obviously thought they could get away with charging through the roof for stuff. Ok, so the food was priced as to what we expected (9 euros for a pizza, still a bit steep), but when we got the bill we realised that we had probably had the most expensive cans of diet coke in the entire city. €3.50!!!!!

After finishing our lunch we headed back for the metro via some of the shops in the side streets where I picked up a bottle of limoncello. As we were almost back at the station, I noticed a bar which my seventeenth century self flailed a lot over...

That Samuel Pepys gets everywhere!!!