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08 May 2011

A Guided Tour Through Rome With Angels and Demons Pointing the Way

St. Peter's Square
Piazza San Pietro or St. Peter's Square, Vatican City, Rome

If this is your first visit to Rome, Italy, and you’re not sure where to start, where to go or what to do, then seek out the "Path of Illumination," pun intended, on one of the most popular tours in Rome – “Angels and Demons Tour.”  Direct from Dan Brown’s highly acclaimed bestseller “Angels and Demons,” this tour introduces Rome’s most famous landmarks as you follow in the footsteps of Brown’s fictional character Robert Langdon as he sets out to rescue the cardinals and save the Vatican from impending doom.  Not only is this a great way to familiarize yourself with the lay of the land, it’s quite the fun-filled adventure through the eternal city, whether you’ve read the book or not! Your guide? Well, angels and demons of course – okay, sort of.


Piazza del Popolo
Piazza del Popolo
You’ll actually meet up with your human guide at Piazza del Popolo on the eastern side of the Tiber River. From here, you'll embark on the “Path of Illumination” beginning at the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, the first altar of science representing earth, if you remember the book. Then, it’s on to the Pantheon, the remaining altars of science: air, fire and water or respectively – St. Peter’s Basilica, Santa Maria della Vittoria and St. Agnes in Agony (across from the Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona), and finally, Castel Sant’Angelo where Robert saves Vittoria to live happily ever after and where the tour concludes.

Before we proceed any further, let’s revisit the story. If you remember, Robert and Vittoria were heading to the Pantheon – the 2000-year-old church designed originally by Agrippa in 27 BC – after incorrectly deciphering the clues to save the first kidnapped cardinal. After they had realized their mistake, they raced off to Santa Maria del Popolo in search of a “demon hole” in hopes of saving him. This is where your tour begins despite the slight deviation in sequence of locations from the story. Don’t worry, the Pantheon will come next.

Pantheon
Pantheon 
Once inside Santa Maria del Popolo, we were led to the Raphael’s Chigi Chapel to seek out the demon hole or ossuary annex in the floor where Langdon later discovered the body of the first cardinal.  After a tour of the rest of the church, we followed the “Path” to our next location, thanks to the gesturing angel in Bernini's Habakkuk and the Angel sculpture. He points west.

Ossuary Annex inside the Chigi Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo
Demon Hole or Ossuary Annex inside the Chigi Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo
Our next stop?  St. Peter’s Basilica of course, the 2nd altar of science, to find the air angel in the Piazza San Pietro or St. Peter's Square.  Our guide led us to the middle of the square where at the base of an Egyptian obelisk, we discovered the bas-relief of an angel blowing air to the east.  As you know, this is where the second cardinal met his end in the story.

Bas-relief image of angel blowing to east.  Located in St. Peter's Square
With two cardinals dead now, we couldn’t help but feel the urgency and panic that must have coursed through Robert’s and Vittoria’s veins as they, and we, tried to determine the location of the next altar of science.  Looking down at the air angel, we followed the direction of the “wind” which led us to the east – to Santa Maria della Vittoria where, despite our heroic attempts, the third cardinal met his doom in a blaze of fire.  Once here, take your time if you can to wander about this chapel, originally dedicated to St. Paul and known as San Paulo in 1626.  Later, it was rededicated to the Virgin Mary and renamed Santa Maria della Vittoria.

Ecstasy of St. Teresa inside Santa Maria della Vittoria
Ecstasy of St. Teresa inside Santa Maria della Vittoria
Upon entering, our guide regaled us with Langdon's adventure and then directed our attention to one of the most provocative and exquisite Bernini sculptures I’ve ever seen – the Ecstasy of St. Teresa. Get up close and you’ll see how Bernini achieved unbelievably realistic detail of St. Teresa expressing sheer ecstasy for her love of God. It’s remarkable not to mention unforgettable!  Nearby, stands an angel pointing his spear of fire in the direction of our final altar of science – water.


Bernini's
Bernini's "Fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona
From here, it’s off to Piazza Navona to find water and the place where the 4th cardinal met his doom in Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers located in the middle of the piazza. Representing the four great rivers of the four continents at the time, Bernini’s fountain shows Triton surrounded by the Nile in Africa, the Ganges in Asia, the Danube in Europe and finally the Rio de la Plata in America. By the way, this famous piazza is a "must see" on your Roman itinerary because it was the site of ancient Roman chariot races and today, it is surrounded by tempting cafés along its perimeter. Don’t be fooled into having a meal here though because these places offer mediocre food at very high prices.  However, I do recommend that you grab an espresso and people watch for a spell.

Castel Sant'Angelo
Castel Sant'Angelo
At this point in the story, the four cardinals are dead and Langdon must now rescue his heroine, Vittoria, who was kidnapped and taken to the Castel Sant'Angelo. Originally designed as a tomb for Emperor Hadrian, this colossal edifice was built in AD 135-139, converted into a fortress in 401, and finally into the castle we see today during the 14th century.  Because it was home to many a pope, an access route was needed to safely transport the popes between Castel Sant’Angelo and the Vatican.  This “connection" is the Il Passeto which provided an escape route during times of war and if you remember the book, the cardinals were kidnapped and lead out of the Sistine Chapel via Il Passeto to Castel Sant’Angelo.   Unfortunately today, it is not accessible to the public but what a great end to the tour it would have been.

Finally, we arrived at the entrance of Castel Sant’Angelo where we walked around the curving ramps inside the castle to the top for a most stunning view of the Tiber River and of surrounding Rome.  However, this is where the story and our tour comes to an end. Robert rescued Vittoria, saved the Vatican from destruction, and our tour guide rescued us with an espresso and pastry at a nearby café.  A most fitting end, don’t you think?

View from atop Castel Sant'Angelo
View from atop Castel Sant'Angelo
Whether you’re traveling to Rome for the first time or the fiftieth, the Angels and Demons Tour provides a great introduction to the Eternal City. If you want to find out more about the journey along the "Path of Illumination," visit AngelsandDemons.it.  Prices per person for GROUP tours is 56 Euro and for private tours, 329 Euro for first two people.  I strongly recommend either tour to everyone during their Roman holiday.  Arrivederci!

17 comments:

  1. Beautiful post, funny all the picture u shot are all in blue sky, because all the pictures I shot of those sites are all gray cloudy sky. I didn't do the Angels and Demons Tour. I did a Rome Free Tour which was really nice too, and the guide took us to couple of the place above and explain to us the story. I still Miss Rome a lot.

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  2. Hi Sarah,
    Thanks so much for your comment! I truly had one of the best times of my life on this tour and we remain friends with our guide today who now lives in Wash, DC. I did get very lucky with the weather but our first day was rainy and stormy....the next was a dream!

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  3. wow! what an epic battle.. with 4 cardinals dead but love conquers all in the end huh? Vittoria better be grateful she was saved by Robert the hero! Plus the Vatican is spared. Great journey.. thanks for telling that tale so well;)

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  4. Hi Mei!! Thx so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Why yes, love and pastries conquer all in the end, don't cha think? Most of all, thank you for your kind words!!!

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  5. Beautiful photos and great post! Reminds me of my trip to Rome although you saw a few different places than I did. I enjoyed the Vatican but the guided tour through the Sistine Chapel was just a bit too long for me!

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  6. Great idea for a post Jeff! Your photos are all lovely.

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  7. Great post Jeff - I haven't done this tour, but it sounds like a lot of fun! I've been to Rome a dozen times or more, but never to the top of Castel Sant Angelo - it's on my list.

    Keep posting!

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  8. Robin and Brian, thanks so much for stopping by sharing your compliments and thoughts! Really appreciate it!! It was a fabulous tour and so much fun. We remain friends with our guide to this day!

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  9. Jeremy, thanks so much for your kind words. My first time there, I was rushed through the Vatican on my tour and didn't appreciate it so I went back to linger for hours on my next visit to Rome.

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  10. I really love this city been there many times and i will certanly come back

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  11. Hi there Audio Guide Roma.
    Thanks so much for sharing your love of Rome with all of us!! I too, will return again and again.

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  12. Thanks Jeff! I feel like I've been on the tour-- I am living vicariously through your blog :)

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  13. Leslie,
    Thanks for the sentiments my friend!!! It was a great way to learn the lay of the land, so to speak not to mention all the sights along the way!! Thx for stopping by!

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  14. I love fountains and they have such beautiful fountains, I want to go and just injoy the fountains with my digital camera and a sandwich.

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  15. Hi Rob,

    Couldn't agree with you more...everything in Rome is just beautiful. For me, I would add a bottle of wine to your list above.

    Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!!

    Jeff

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  16. Replies
    1. Hi there Lisa and thank you so much for stopping by to share your thoughts! Indeed, I was very lucky with the sunshine but rain eventually came on our last day...whew!

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Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!