Italy has long held a attraction as a destination for many kinds of pilgrimage. Whether with a religious purpose or a burning desire to behold some of the best art, the finest food and iconic architecture, people visit the heart of one of the world’s most powerful empires for a variety of reasons. While many head for holidays on the idyllic island of Sicily, if you are planning to stop on the mainland, which cities should you stop in for the ultimate literary tour?
A popular tour is in response to a certain novelist, who has enthralled readers across the globe with his thrilling narratives and spectacular settings. Two of the novels, both featuring the character Robert Langdon, are set within some of the most popular and historic cities within Italy. Angels and Demons, the prequel or first in the series chronologically spans the city of Rome as well as the Vatican City as the protagonists aim to solve clues that will eventually lead them to the enemies of the catholic church – The Illuminati.
The fourth book in the series is Inferno which takes place in both Florence and Venice and has ties to the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. Brown draws on modern struggles, such as overpopulation and religion vs science but sets them among the incredible culture and history that Italy has to offer. This has sparked a new kind of tour in Italy’s most prominent cities, a tour that follows the narratives of Dan Brown’s novels.
Rome and the vatican city
A city that in many ways defies definition is penned with thrilling accuracy in Angels and Demons. If you are one of the few that have yet to read the novel, there will be spoilers and we will give away the locations. Five key sites cross the city and a fifth holds the answers to the final destination of the Illuminati stronghold. The Official Angels and Demons Rome Tour promises: “A unique experience that will let you visit the most beautiful piazzas in Rome as well as the unexplored sites where pagan symbolism and Christianity intermix to reveal a disturbing ancient truth”.
This monument is free to enter and sits in one of the busiest squares in Rome, Piazza della Rotunda. A single cavernous room is bedecked in marble and you can feel just like the errant Harvard professor as you wend in between tourists and look for clues. Note this monument is particularly interesting in the rain when the elements make their way through the oculus.
Santa Maria Del Popolo
The opposite end of Via del Corso, Piazza del Popolo is another busy square, though much larger than Piazza della Rotunda. Inspired by the Pantheon, Raphael is the designer of the interior, though not the overall structure, and the interior of this small chapel in a famous church, is at odds to what one would expect of Rome, making it very much at home in a Dan Brown novel. Pyramids and symbols are rife with in this tomb and the riot of dramatic colour can feel a little overwhelming.
St Peter’s Square
The enormous square before St Peters basilica is a combination of grandeur and scale true to the heart of the catholic faith. To write a novel set in Rome it would be impossible to avoid The Vatican, and the introduction to the Swiss Guard earlier in the novel allows the characters to move swiftly into the piazza. Of all the magnificence of the piazza, the novel focuses on a bass relief that would otherwise be overlooked compared to all of Bernini’s architecture.
Santa Maria Della Vittoria
The Ecstasy of St Teresa is the key lure to a church that has so much more to offer, but for the sake of the novel, it is the statue that is focussed upon. Another work by Bernini after he fell out of favour with the Vatican, the artist takes a liberal and sensuous hand to a scene of a religious experience. Bound up with the element of fire in the novel, the essence of victory that permeates the building only adds to the narrative portrayed. Brown moves the church in his novel to fit with his map across the city. In reality it is a few hundred metres North West, closer to Pizza de San Bernardo. Regev Elya made his own Angels and Demons tour of Rome but struggled with this church:
“This place was very tough to find, and it seems to be well off the beaten path for Rome tourists. Even the vast majority of locals and tourist information officers didn’t know where the place is, and only Google Maps mixed with the help of a religious priest helped me found the church. However, excitement it was when I reached it.”
Fontana Della Quattro Fiumi
This famous fountain sits at the heart of Piazza Navona and dominates the square. Though constructed at a time of civil unrest, it has since become one of the principle fountains in Rome along with the Trevi Fountain. Though this is a tumultuous scene, perhaps even the most violent of the Angels and Demons narrative, it never detracts from the beauty of the fountain, which is illuminated and quiet at night. Truth About Angels and Demons thrillingly describes the water element that runs through not only this part of the narrative but also this piazza:
“Finally, the Piazza Navona is one of Rome’s most beautiful squares, containing a veritable showcase of baroque sculpture. The one of central interest for the story is the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, the fountain of the four rivers. It too has an Egyptian obelisk at the centre. In addition to being papal monuments these fountains literally provided water for the city.”
This city is the epicentre of art and culture as the home of the Medici family, who though bankers, were great patrons of the creative pursuits. It was also the homes of Dante Alighieri which inspired Dan Brown’s novel. The ancient city blends the old and new in a way that would make the author weep and is the perfect setting for the eco-conscious narrative. Florence Town offers Inferno tours that hold the potential for a thrilling experience:
“Symbols revealed, a magical atmosphere with mystery and suspense! All this and more on our unique tour of Florence that will introduce you to the sites described by Dan Brown in his book and seen in Tom Hanks’ movie: Inferno.
“Our charismatic guide will entertain you through an intriguing path of mind-blowing details, anecdotes, and clue-filled history that will reveal all the most important sights and locations that professor Robert Langdon visited in the Brownian dark masterpiece.”
As the seat of the Florentine government, this old palace has had many reincarnations. Built on the ruins of the Uberti family’s palazzo, it was an effort in order for the magistrates to meet in a more secure and defensible location. It became the official seat of Duke Cosimo De’ Medici, however when he vacated and officially dubbed the Palace as Palaxo Vecchio in favour of Palazzo Pitti, he created the Vasari corridor, which is central to the Inferno narrative.
Grand Boboli Gardens
Though in Inferno the Grand Boboli gardens are a scene of high stress and fear, the reality is this space is very calm and picturesque. Built for Cosimo De’ Medici’s wife, Eleanor di Toledo, the gardens are a pristine example of formal 16th Century Italian gardens. As a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of Florence, the gardens are known as ‘the green lung of the city’. According to the globe trotter blog, Boboli transcends the term gardens:
“More than a park, Boboli gardens is an entire world: within its 45 thousand square meters alternate every kind of “rooms” green, in a real compendium of garden art spanning four centuries. You walk up and down (the slope is significant) between formal gardens and green amphitheatres, geometric avenues and gravel trails, small mysterious woods and unexpected clearings, rose gardens, terraces, hedges, lakes…. And the beauty of the internal perspectives, so carefully studied, is amplified by the panoramic views that open up unexpectedly on the surrounding hills or the city of Florence, at the foot of “Boboli gardens” hills.”
The Baptistery and gates to paradise
An unmissable building in the heart of Florence with its octagonal structure, however it is the three entrances that have drawn critical acclaim. Created by Lorenzo Ghiberti, these doors were originally for the eastern entrance and took 27 years to complete. It was Michelangelo who dubbed them ‘The Gates to Paradise’ while a much humbler Ghiberti believed they were ‘The most singular work I have ever made’.
Venice has long had a history somewhat separate from the Italian mainland. The city is made of 118 small islands, linked with bridges, but it is not the island structure; as a head of trade and economy in the renaissance it has always maintained a headstrong and independent nature. As one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in the world, the birthplace of Vivaldi and with many other titles such as ‘the city of masks’, Venice is the perfect location for Dan Browns inferno. Its unashamed decline and element of masquerade, the characters and narrative fit snugly into their own deceptions. Tour Leader Venice offers a lot on its own Inferno tour:
“We’re going to discover the golden Basilica of St. Mark, and its terrace with the famous four horses, the originals and the copies, the place from where the blind Doge Enrico Dandolo made the call for the Crusade. Through a short walk we’ll reach the Rialto’s area where we’ll look for the ancient Palazzo of the Doge Dandolo.”
St Mark’s Square and Basilica
St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco) is the beating heart of Venice, known as the ‘drawing room of Europe’ it is impossible to not be swept up in the grandeur of the iconic piazza. Enclosed on four sides, this outdoor space feels suitably confined. It also houses the four bronze horse of Constantinople that are a turning point in the novel and can be seen in the museum near the basilica.
The Doge’s Palace
The final stop on our Dan Brown tour before the Inferno novel takes us east to Istanbul. The Doges Palace is as lavish and opulent as you can imagine. It has been renovated many times due to fire, structural damage and decay, but now it is a museum and in a much better state of repair. Looking out across the lagoon to the church of San Giorgio Maggiore to the south, the Northern face of the Doges palace looks towards St Mark’s basilica, so it is very close to the last stop. One of the most famous bridges in Venice, named ‘the bridge of sighs’ by Lord Byron, connects the Doges Palace to the new prisons. Eat Repeat takes us on a tour of the majesty of the building:
“Venetians sure loved their gold. Like St. Mark’s Basilica and Cafe Florian, Doge’s Palace is gilded to the studs. The grandeur begins in the marbled courtyard. Imagine yourself as a guest of the Duke, being lead into the palace, climbing the marble stairs, ceiling gold and unbelievably ornate. They don’t call it Scala d’oro (The Golden Staircase) for nothing. And you haven’t even reached the most impressive space. The largest room in the palace, The Council Chamber, was designed by Andrea Palladio and is lined with massive paintings by Veronese and Tintoretto. Even the view from the windows is picture perfect. South facing windows frame a view of the lagoon and San Giorgio Maggiore, while, to the north, there are sight-lines all the way across the island. The palace is situated like a fortress.”
Image Credit: Enrico Matteucci, Giorgio Galeotti, Stefan Bauer, Berthold Werner, Jean- Pol GRANDMONT, Nina-no, david_jones, Amada44, Freepenguin,Dingy,Yair Haklai, Valerii Tkachenko, Ricardo Andrea Frantz, Tony Hisgett