Friday, July 13, 2007

Papal Dungeons open for Business – From the Inquisition to the Scaffolds

The chains clank in the dimly lit corridors descending into the bowels of Rome underneath Castle Sant’Angelo. Lightly armored guard guide the prisoners of the Papal state to their dank cells while they await interrogation. Enemies of the faith and enemies of the state meet the same fate, days and sometimes months of continuous torture until they confess their crimes. No haunted house can recreate the true horrors practices in the dungeons of the powerful.

The Vatican has recently completed the 10 year renovation of the dungeons of Castle Sant’Angelo and opened to the public. The tours begin July 13, 2007 and conclude before Ferragosto. Every night at 21:30 (9:30 pm) a two hours tour guides visitors into the dank, oil-lit spaces where thousands of political and common criminals were shut away in the days that the Vatican held temporal sway over Rome and much of central Italy.

Guides will recount the tales of famous inmates such as turbulent gold-working genius Benvenuti Cellini who spent months there in 1538 on charges of embezzling the papal tiara and tried a daring escape amid fears of the noose. Heroes of the Risorgimento, the movement that eventually reunited Italy and ended the papal state, were also enclosed in the jail above Emperor Hadrian's ancient tomb - as recounted in Giacomo Puccini's famous opera Tosca.

Among the other notorious guests was Cagliostro, a Freemason and alleged occultist sent to the dungeons by the Inquisition. Inmates who met their death on the scaffold included a Roman family, the Cencis, hanged in 1599 after a shocking affair of incest, murder and revenge. Their story - and in particular the apparent innocence of daughter Beatrice - inspired writers like Shelley, Dumas and Stendhal.

This is a great opportunity to get your Halloween fix about 5 months early. I visited the dungeons during the renovation. Once you take this tour you will have a new standard for what a haunted house should be. There are no fabric ghosts floating on strung wire or fake headless bodies flailing in the shadows but the walls whisper to your subconscious mind as you observe the torture chambers and holding cells. If in Rome this summer, take the time, perhaps after a light dinner, to appreciate centuries of power gone bad.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was a very interesting post as always. I never took the time to visit the Vatican last time I was in Rome - now I regret.

1:31 PM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Renny You know I am always looking for the wierd stuff.

2:46 PM


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