Tag Archives: Bernini

Mimi’s Virtual Angels and Demons Blog Tour continues: Castle Sant’Angelo

Castle Sant'Angelo on the banks of the Tiber

Day 6–Castle Sant’Angelo

Our virtual tour continues to follow the path of the Illuminati. We find Professor Langdon charging down narrow passageways in Castle Sant’Angelo, searching for Vittoria. The timeless structure and bridge leading to its doors have rested on the banks of the Tiber River since 139 AD.

The ancient cement exterior, a round shape surrounded by high walls, stands stark and imposing, hardly a castle in the traditional sense. Compared to an Italian villa or luxuriant St. Peter’s Basilica, Castle Sant’Angelo looks primitive and unfinished.

Originally constructed as Emperor Hadrian ‘s tomb, the mausoleum’s intended function changed almost as often as the popes. Over two millennia the site served as a fortress, prison, papal refuge and palace, military barracks, museum and …in Angels & Demons–the Church of Illumination and secret lair of the evil Hassassin.

Statue of Archangel Michael atop Castle Sant'Angelo

When the plague struck Rome in 590 AD, Pope Gregory the Great is said to have seen an apparition of an angel, Michael, sheathing his sword above the castle. He believed this meant the end of the disease for his city. In remembrance, a statue of Archangel St. Michael was erected high up on the terrace and the name Hadrian’s Tomb was changed to “Castle of the Holy Angel- Castle Sant’Angelo.”

The passetto or passageway connecting to the Vatican

In 1277 Pope Nicholas II ordered the building of massive circular walls and the famous 2,000 foot-long corridor connecting to the Vatican. The first floor includes a winding ramp about 400 feet long. Between the 10th and 14th centuries this defensive stronghold remained the only fortress in Rome. Powerful families fought to control it.

Many rooms within the fortress were turned into small cells for political prisoners, some more like torture chambers. The courtyards were used for executions by decapitation and the heads of the condemned then hung along the bridge.

The popes demanded ownership of the castle as one of the conditions for their return from Avignon. They left France for Rome and regained the strategic property, which they hold to this day.

During the Renaissance, Popes Nicolas V and Alexander VI modernized the defensive position with four iron bastions. A moat was added and the corridor or “passetto” was fortified. These timely improvements provided a refuge during the Sack of Rome in 1527.

Papal apartment in Castle Sant'Angelo
Papal apartment in Castle Sant'Angelo

Plush Papal apartments were built during the mid 1500’s, seen from afar as the brick rectangular addition on top. The lavish rooms were frescoed and furnished with priceless collections. A treasury room in the centre was created to store the Vatican’s wealth. Space was provided for enormous reserves of food, in the event of an attack. There were wineskins set in the walls, huge water tanks, granaries and even a mill.

Castle Sant'Angelo at first light

A fifth bastion was added in 1560, but is now a garden. During the 17th century Bernini’s workshop was commissioned to sculpt angels for the bridge, thus the crossing became known as the Bridge of Angels.

In 1752 a bronze statue of Archangel Michael, added to the summit, replaced a former one. His sword points downward toward the main entrance, which Dan Brown uses to mean the hidden Church of Illumination.

The castle’s exterior then remained unchanged until restraining walls were added along the Tiber and external arches were evened with the three central ones.

In 1870 when Rome became the capital of the new state of Italy, alterations were made for military barracks. Today the icon stands open to the public as the National Museum of Castle Sant’Angelo. Restoration and preservation of the historic structure is ongoing.

If you’re in Rome and want to fully appreciate the famous site, first stroll along the opposite side of the river. The best photo op is sunset, but I found sunrise very dramatic. And, best of all, the view of the bridge without tourists creates a mystical scene.

Detail of the angel statue on the Bridge of Angels in Rome

Cross the Bridge of Angels admiring the detail and uniqueness of each statue. Then, enter the castle to tour and climb up five levels. You’ll find courtyards, cannonballs, corridors and cells. The panoramic view from the highest terrace is worth the price of admission.

And don’t forget to look up to see beloved Archangel Michael guarding the Eternal City, as well as leading the way to the next chapter in Angels & Demons…

Lander Family overlooks Rome from the open courtyard atop Castle Sant'Angelo

Mimi’s Virtual Angels and Demons Blog Tour continues: Santa Maria della Vittoria

The Ecstacy of Saint Theresa

Day 4–Santa Maria della Vittoria

Read any novel on the bestseller list and chances are high that the story includes a few sex scenes. Author Dan Brown is no exception; in Angels & Demons he writes of erotic art.

Our virtual tour continues as Langdon and Vittoria speed through Rome. The clue for “fire” leads to the sizzling statue of St. Thersa of Avila, found within the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria. The church, never a must-see for first timers to Rome, now draws a lot of traffic. The book fans enter to gaze upon the Cornaro Chapel designed by Bernini as well as his famous piece-The Ecstacy of St. Theresa.

The statue of a prone nun is depicted in a state of ecstatic rapture, symbolically pierced with the love of God via a hovering angel’s arrow. In St Theresa’s own words, ” his great golden spear…filled with fire…plunged into me several times…penetrated to my entrails…a sweetness so extreme that one could not possibly wish it to stop.”

Face of St. Theresa

This art work is so sexually explicit Pope Urban VIII ordered it out of the Vatican. The detail on the her face is nothing less than orgasmic. Some visitors are shocked, others thrilled by the physical nature of this young woman, collapsed on a cloud with mouth half open and eyelids closed.

450px-cornaro_sm_della_vittoria.jpgAnother unusual thing about the chapel, at least to me, are the inclusion of balconies with voyeurs. Elevated alcoves on either side wall contain marble figures. Some of the men look upon St. Theresa and the angel while others comment to each other. These statues represent real people, Cardinal Francesco Cornaro and Venetian members of the Cornaro family.

When you first enter the ornate 1608-20 Baroque church, the interior is almost blinding; it’s ablaze of color and dancing with glimmering gold. The church is said to be one of the finest examples of this lavish,flamboyant style. The way I remember Baroque style–choke.

Should you find yourself in Rome, hot foot it over to Santa Maria della Vittoria and feel the heat radiating from St. Theresa. Now… ready for last clue now? “Water”

Mimi’s Virtual Angels and Demons Blog Tour continues: St. Peter’s Square

Creation of Adam
Creation of Adam, Sistine Chapel Ceiling

Day 3- The Sistine Chapel

Follow the path of the Illuminati in this Virtual tour of sites depicted in Dan Brown’s book, Angels & Demons.

Today’s post will concern the Sistine Chapel, a site not included on the official Angels & Demons tour in Rome. To visit this famous church you must get a ticket for the Vatican Museums, then wait in a long line. However, much of the book takes place in and around the chapel, so we will add it to the blog tour.

“Without having seen the Sistine Chapel one can form no appreciable idea
of what one man is capable of achieving.”
–Johann Wolfgang Goethe, 1787

Sistine Chapel
The Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, Rome

I own a book listing 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, and goodness knows I live to travel… but truly, there are only a few locations that sustain unquenchable fascination and bring deep personal meaning. Such is the case for me and the Sistine Chapel.

Perhaps the film, The Agony and the Ecstasy starring Charlton Heston made an early impression on my psyche? My curiosity peaked by a man who excelled in art, sculpture, architecture and was also an inventor and poet. Whatever reasons…I retain a love affair with the Renaissance, Michelangelo and his work.

I understand not all are interested in art, but I doubt anyone could enter the sacred shine and not be awed by Michelangelo‘s achievement. The Sistine Chapel is simply one of those places that must be seen firsthand.

Surprisingly, the space is rather small. Built between 1475 and 1483 for Pope Sixtus IV, the structure was to match the size of the biblical Temple of Solomon, 40.93 meters long by 13.41 meters wide. The floor is covered in multi-colored inlaid marble. However, the vaulted ceiling covers 5000 square feet, a measurement to which I relate.

The ceiling was originally painted as a blue starry sky. Great artists were called in to decorate the walls: Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Pinturicchio, and Signorelli. They painted scenes from the life of Moses and Jesus and portraits of popes.

Twenty-five years later, Michelangelo was commissioned to redecorate the ceiling. He didn’t want the project, tried to refuse, and who can blame him? He considered himself a sculptor, but Pope Julius II commanded him to paint. So, for four years, 1508-1512, he climbed the scaffolding to fresco scenes from the Old Testament, sometimes working sixty feet above the floor. What he created became one of the world’s greatest masterpieces.

Ceiling close up
Sistine Chapel ceiling close-up

Michelangelo worked in fresco, the application of paint to wet plaster, requiring rapid skill. He used the technique of trompe l’oeil to create beams and architectural structures that fool the eye, they don’t exist. The upper ceiling tells nine stories from Genesis. Surrounding these large scenes, he added images of prophets and sibyls on marble thrones. In all, 336 figures are featured on the ceiling.

When a visitor finally enters from a side door, time is limited. People strain their necks to see high overhead, do backbends or lie on the floor. (Lying is frowned upon by the guards.) Find a spot on a bench, if possible, to lean backward with head support.

To attempt to describe the overwhelming aura of the room is impossible. The energy, the detail and three dimensional feeling is incredible. The video at the end of this post may help but I repeat, you must just go and see for yourself.

At the age of sixty, with failing eyesight caused from painting the ceiling, Michelangelo returned. Pope Clement VII commissioned ” The Last Judgment,” on the high altar wall.

This huge work, much more somber in tone, shows Christ on Judgment Day. The Savior lifts souls up to heaven and others are damned to hell. Michelangelo includes a self-portrait, his face on a limp body which Saint Bartholomew carries toward God. I personally prefer the ceiling art to The Last Judgment.

Michelangelo's Last Judgment
Michelangelo's Last Judgment

Recently, from 1980 to 1994, the Sistine Chapel’s art was meticulously cleaned and restored, a painstaking process using computer analysis. The restoration included removing several “modesty” drapes that had been added over some of the nude figures. Specialists worked on the frescos for about 30,000 hours, the entire process taking twice as long as it took Michelangelo to paint them.

Art historians protested and debates were heated, but the project continued, reviving the vivid colors that had dulled with time. The end result of the restoration continues to be controversial.

So now, let’s finally get back to the Angels & Demons story: In early chapters we learn the pope died and a conclave is called. Conclaves are held in the Sistine Chapel. The College of Cardinals, clergy from around the world, meets in secret for the purpose of electing a new head of the Catholic Church.

The cardinal’s ballots are burned after each voting session. If white smoke blows from the chimney on the roof, the world has a new pope. If the smoke is black, they reached no decision and the Cardinals remain locked in as the conclave continues.

Contrary to popular knowledge, conclaves were not always held in the Vatican. In fact, the cardinals were first sequestered during an election in Viterbo, Italy, about an hour from Rome. Following the death of a pope in 1268, they couldn’t agree on a candidate and were locked in to try to hasten the vote. (Mimi visited Viterbo in 2008 and will write about this tale in upcoming weeks.)

But, our heroes, Langdon and Vittoria, are in danger. A bomb-like canister of anti-matter is hidden within the Vatican . Should the conclave begin? The countdown is on; the race to locate clues leading to the lethal device continues…

A Tour of the Sistine Chapel

St. Peter's Square
Approaching St. Peter's Square, Rome, Italy

Day 2- A Visit to St. Peter’s Square

Follow the path of the Illuminati in this virtual tour of sites depicted in Dan Brown’s book, Angels & Demons.

Our travels continue…Langdon and Vittoria head back to the Vatican after finding the demon’s hole, the clue representing “earth” in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo. Now they search of a clue for “air”–the second element of science.

To approach the Vatican complex is to instantly feel small, as if shrunk like a wool sweater in the dryer. You stand before the colossal church, St. Peter’s Basilica, and stare. The place looks ever so familiar, you’ve seen it on TV or in photos, but now you sense its force. “Come closer,” it whispers and you are pulled like a fish on a line.

The Colonade of St. Peter's Square

Stately white pillars placed in a semi-circle form the colonnade, which then turns a corner and connects to the sanctuary. They envelope you, their solid presence creating warmth and security, like arms reaching out for a hug. As I took a moment to stand and listen; I felt history, beauty and God.

Our virtual tour will not enter the Basilica today; the path of the Illuminati keeps us outdoors.

The area in front of the church swarms with people: tour leaders like mama ducks lead their customers in lines; school children hold hands to stay safely united; priests and nuns in clerical robes pass by; tourists queue up, some in ethnic dress giving a hint of their background. In 2005, an estimated one million crammed in and around the streets of this area for Pope Paul II’s funeral.

Gianlorenzo Bernini, the artist, architect, sculptor who was mentioned in the previous Santa Maria del Popolo blog, designed Piazza San Pierto. Although called St. Peter’s Square, it is elliptically shaped. Construction of the symbolically welcoming colonnade took place from 1656 to 1667. (FYI-The first Basilica on this site was built by Constantine around 320 AD, and the current one begun in 1506 and completed in 1615.)

Just like Piazza del Popolo, an Egyptian obelisk stands in the center of the public space. Made from red granite, the monolith was brought to Rome by Emperor Caligula in 37 AD. It originally stood in his (later Nero’s) circus, the turning post in the chariot races of ancient Rome.

Aerial view of St. Peter's Square

In order for the 350-ton column (81 feet high) to be centered, it was moved 275 feet by Pope Sixtus V in 1585. That’s a fascinating story, we’ll also leave for another day.

The obelisk acts as a sun dial, its shadows mark noon over the signs of the zodiac in the white marble disks in the paving of the square. The pedestal rests upon four bronze lions.

At the top is a “Chigi Star” in honor of Pope Alexander VII, a member of the Chigi family who oversaw the building of the piazza. Legend says the star contains a relic of the true cross.

Two huge granite fountains were placed in the square for symmetry, the south/left one by Carlo Maderno (1613) and the northern/right one by Bernini (1675). The splashing water sounds refreshing.

Bernini's Granite Fountain in St. Peter's Square

Between the obelisk and each fountain is a circular stone that marks the focal points of the ellipse. If you stand on one of these points, the two rows columns of the colonnade line up perfectly and appear to be just a single row. Oh, that clever Bernini.

West Wind
West Wind stone of St. Peter's Square

Around the circumference of Bernini‘s fountain lay oval shaped stones, marked with directional points. The stone labeled West Ponente is etched with a man’s face who appears to be blowing air. He is the West Wind, and the clue needed in our story.

Unfortunately Vittoria and Langdon are too late and they encounter a murder at this spot. Consequently, their hunt will have to proceed…