Key locations in Rome
The story of Angels & Demons unfolds around murders by the Illuminati of high placed Cardinals. Following the four primal elements cited in the Galileo volume, earth, air, fire, water, our two heroes, Robert and Vittoria track down each location, arriving too late to save the Cardinal. Grimly, each of them is murdered in a way in keeping with one of the four elements.
The Pantheon: Although in the story, it turns out to be a false lead, the Pantheon in Rome is well worth exploring. Various emperial dynasties believed it was crucial to leave their mark on Campus Marius, (The field of Mars) a place designated for the commemoration of various heroes. The Pantheon was built by Augustus (mentioned in the New Testament) in 27 BC, the original building was destroyed in a fire around 80 AD. Rebuilt in 127 by Hadrian, it now stands in its original form, perhaps the best preserved all ancient buildings of comparable age. Although the word “pantheon” means “all the gods,” the building was dedicated as a Christian church in 609 under Pope Boniface IV. The Christian character of the building is not especially mentioned in Angels & Demons, which is more interested in its odder features, such as the “demon’s hole,” literally an open hole in the ceiling, better known as the oculus, or the “great eye,” symbolically opened to the sky. After the Middle ages the place was used for the tombs of famous people, including Raphael, whose tomb is the false clue in the story. Two monarchs are buried there, Victor Emmanuel II and Umberto I, whose sepulchers are guarded by an ancient Italian monarchist group. While various secularists object to this, the Catholic Church does not. Today the Pantheon is set in a charming square, the Piazza della Minerva, which features, among other things, an Egyptian obelisk from the 6th century BC, supported on an elephant’s back.
Santa Maria del Popolo: [Earth] Situated to the North of the Pantheon, one must traverse the imposing Porta del Popolo at one end of the square, before reaching the church. Inside of this church is the Chigi Chapel, one of six in the church (not eight as Dan Brown has it) It is named after one of Rome’s most prominent banking families. Raphael’s patron was Agostino Chigi. But the chapel would not be finished until over a century after Raphael’s death, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, whose patron, Fabio Chigi, would become Pope Alexander VII in 1655. The chapel was designed by Raphael in a most rational fashion, with round headed arches on the four walls. On one of them is the famous pyramid-shaped wall tomb, “Habbakuk and the Angel,” featuring the circle with Chigi’s bust carved out, and the plaque indicating the location of his tomb. Dan Brown, through Robert Langdon, connects this symbolism to the Illuminati and concludes that Chigi was a member. The Cardinal was found dead with his mouth filled with dirt.
The West Ponente: [Air] This is a marker, placed on the ground at St Peter’s Square. It is circular, and represents an angel breathing out a powerful gust of wind. This symbol provides Dan Brown with the setting for the murder of a Cardinal by means of punctured lungs.
Saint Theresa: [Fire] The Transverberation of St. Theresa is the central sculpture in a group designed by Bernini for the Cornaro Chapel inside Santa Maria della Vittoria. It is considered one of the greatest masterpieces in sculpture from the high baroque period. Although Bernini had fallen into disgrace because of his involvement with the reckless decadence of the Barberini papacy he was restored under Innocent X. St Theresa of Avila was the first recognized Carmelite saint, canonized in 1622. In her autobiography she describes an encounter with an angel which is worth quoting in part: “I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron's point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.” (Autobiography, XIX, 13) The connection of this experience with fire is clear. The third Cardinal was engulfed in flames.
Piazza Navona: [Water] 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 center. In addition to being papal monuments these fountains literally provided water for the city. Sponsored by the Pamphili family. Innocent X was in fact from this family. The statue was unveiled with great pomp and circumstance in order to attract visitors. The most conspicuous item on the Pamphili crest, was the olive branch, carried by a dove. Accordingly, olive branches were brandished by the performers who took part in the opening celebration. The Cardinal was drowned in this fountain.
St. Peter’s Basilica: The central structure in Vatican city, St Peter’s is one of the world’s largest churches, covering 5.7 acres and able to hold 60,000 people. Construction began in 324 AD by Emperor Constantine, but the current edifice was built from 1506 to 1615. A “basilica” is the name for a building derived from a Roman courthouse. Although the Pope’s official seat is St. John Lateran, St. Peter’s is where most papal ceremonies are held.
The Vatican Hidden Archives: The Vatican Secret Archives are located in Vatican City, across from the Vatican Museum. They contain records of all the acts conducted by the Holy See. They have been open to non-clergy scholars from 1883, although there is no browsing allowed, and one must ask in advance for the particular document one wishes to consult.
CERN: The European Organization for Nuclear Research is a newer name for the CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire). Created September 29, 1954, its most important function is to study particles. It includes a network of six accelerators, including the Large Hadron Collider, which forms a circle of 17 miles in circumference, and is 570 feet underground, across the French-Swiss border near Geneva.
St. Peter’s Square: The Piazza San Pedro is located in front of St Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, within Rome. Designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1556-1667) with a purpose of allowing large crowds to assemble before the Pope, who would appear either from the middle façade of the basilica or from a window off his apartment. The square is defined by massive Tuscan colonnades in a circle, at the center of which is erected the red granite Egyptian obelisk (from the 13th century BC, moved to Rome in 37 AD).
Sistine Chapel: Named for Pope Sixtus IV, who restored the former Capella Magna (147701480), its architecture recalls Solomon’s Temple in the Old Testament. Its most famous feature are the decorations, done by the most outstanding artist of the day. The ceiling was done by Michelangelo (1508-1511) and is considered one of the greatest artist achievements of all time.
Santa Maria Della Vittoria Basilica: A major basilica in Rome, on the Via XX Settembre, it was begun in 1605 as a chapel for the discalced (bear-footed) Carmelites. It was dedicated to the Virgin Mary in 1620 after the defeat of the Protestants at the battle of White Mountain. It is a “titular” church, one of several on the border of the old city, recognizing their patrons. Its most famous artwork in the statue of the Transverberation of St. Theresa in the Cornaro Chapel, done by Bernini.
The Fountain of Four Rivers: Erected in the Piazza Navona, this complex statue by Bernini supports an Egyptian obelisk. It includes personifications of the four rivers in the image of Bernini’s collaborators: the Danube as Raggi; the Ganges as Poussin; the Rio della Platta a Baratta; and the Nile as Fancelli. Each is from one of the four then-known continents. At the top is a bronze hen pigeon, symbolizing the peaceful work of Christ through his church in the world.