Posts in History
The Mystery of Giulia Farnese Revealed

Perhaps some of my most faithful bloglings remember the post I did on The Borgia Pope, Pinturicchio, and Giulia Farnese way back in 2012. I’m a little obsessed with the Borgias, and I’m very obsessed with art history mysteries. So when I heard that the Capitoline Museums were displaying a rare work by Pinturicchio called Baby Jesus of the Hands (which is actually a fragment of a larger work that is now lost), I was thoroughly intrigued. Check out that post for the full story on the fascinating mystery of that controversial (and eventually mutilated) work of art.

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Rome's Unsolved Mysteries

So you think you know everything there is to know about Rome? Ok, maybe that’s asking a lot. Do you believe you can find the answer to any Rome-related question with a simple Google search? Are you convinced your heaving library of books on Rome holds all the answers? Think every facet of this city’s past has been asked and answered? Well, think again. There are, in fact, many question marks that surround Rome’s fascinating history. Let’s go on a little treasure hunt of sorts to look at some of the most intriguing unanswered questions.

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HistoryTiffany ParksComment
Augustus's Rome, 2000 Years Later

Exactly 2000 years ago today, on 19 August A.D. 14, Emperor Augustus, born Gaius Octavius and the first emperor of Rome, breathed his last. Throughout his long life, Octavius wore many hats, and carried many titles. He was known as Princeps (the “first” citizen of Rome), Divi Filius (the son of the divine), Augustus (illustrious one), Pater Patriae (father of his country), and, of course, Caesar, a family name that would eventually become synonymous with the term “emperor.” His official roles ranged from Consul (Rome’s highest elected office) to Pontifex Maximus (high priest) to Imperator (military commander).

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Twelve Months a Pope

Everyone knew the pope wouldn't be elected on the first day of conclave. With only two scrutinies, that would have been unprecedented. But most people didn't think he'd be elected the second day either. Unlike when Benny was up for election and a complete shoe-in, no one had any idea who'd be elected this time around, and we all assumed it would take at least three days. All I knew was, I wanted to be there when it happened.

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200 Years of Giuseppe Verdi

Today is an important day for all Italians, as opera composer Giuseppe Verdi, one of Italy’s best-loved national heroes, was born 200 years ago today, on 10 October 1813. For Italians, Verdi is much more than just an opera composer. He is the man who wrote the soundtrack of the Risorgimento, the decades-long struggle for Italian unification and independence. As someone who prefers the music of Puccini to Verdi hands down (I’ve received a lot of flack for this from Italians over the years), I didn’t always get the connection between Verdi and Italy.

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How Conclave Works: All the Rules and Rituals of the Papal Election

This historic conclave, the first in nearly 600 years during which the previous pope is still alive, will begin Tuesday, 12 March. If you read my last conclave post (and kudos to you if you did, considering the length of it), you are now familiar with the history of conclave and how it evolved over the years. Now you want to know exactly what goes on in that secret, boys-only ritual that decides the most influential man in the Catholic world, the successor of St. Peter, and the Vicar of Christ on Earth? Well, read on, dear bloglings, read on.

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A Short* History of Conclave

This Tuesday afternoon (5 March 2013), around 1:15pm, the Sistine Chapel closed its doors to the public in preparation for conclave, which, although it has not been officially announced, is expected to begin early next week. (Side note: how cool would it be if the new pope were elected on the Ides of March? I'm mean, we've had enough omens since the Artist Formerly Known as Pope Benedict XVI announced his impending resignation, what's one more?)But before conclave begins, before I go into what exactly it entails, and who the biggest contenders are, I'd like to delve into the history of this sacred ritual.

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A Pope's Last Stand: The Final Papal Audience of Benedict XVI

On the night of the 1st of April 2005, barely six months after moving to Rome, I stood with my roommates in St. Peter’s Square, holding vigil with thousands of others for Pope John Paul II. It was the night before he died, and the last full day of his papacy. Today, in strangely parallel yet contrasting circumstances, I stood in St. Peter’s Square on the last full day of Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy. But the mood in the crowd was completely different, and no surprise why: no one had died.

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Pope Celestine V, the Other Pope who Resigned

I’ll never forget that phone call. It came around 11am on Monday morning 11 February (just two weeks ago). It was my maritino on the phone. “It’s never happened before! It’s the first time in history….” he shouted down the phone. “WHAT?!” “The pope has resigned!!” or to use his words, “Si è dimesso il papa!!” After expressing the appropriate amount of shock, I couldn’t stop myself from correcting my dashing spouse, “Well, actually, it has happened…at least once. You know, Celestine V?”

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Rome in the Time of the Borgias: Has Anything Really Changed?

One of my favorite things about April, besides the glorious boughs of cascading wisteria to be seen (and smelt) all over Rome, is that it heralds the start of one of my favorite guilty pleasures, television drama, The Borgias. Following the life of the most notorious pope in history, The Borgias chronicles the intrigues, scandal, and corruption of the 15th-century Vatican court, featuring plenty of greed, violence and impermissible sex.

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Tullus Hostilius: The Hostile Third King of Rome

If our old––and by now very close––friend Numa Pompilius was the most religious of all Rome’s kings, and the most peaceful, then Tullus Hostilius was the most aggressive. The most bloodthirsty. The most hostile. Hostile Hostilius! Could that be where the word comes from? Oh, goodness, etymology gets me so excited! With but a moment’s worth of Google-powered research, I see that hostile comes from the Latin hostilis (of an enemy), which in turn comes from hostis (enemy). What do you think, was the word hostile derived from this king’s antagonistic behavior, or did he earn the name because of his behavior?

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Numa Pompilius and the Nymph Egeria

When we left off I was just about to wrap up the story of Numa Pompilius, Rome’s second king. Today I will officially finish the story of Numa Pompilius, and I promise, you will never hear his name from me again. In previous posts I described how Numa was Rome’s most pious king, instituting the cult of the Vestal Virgins, reforming religious laws and reorganizing the Roman calendar. He was wise and pacific, creating several codes and laws by which the Romans lived for many centuries to come. But where did he get all this wisdom?

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The Charmed Life of a Foreign Correspondent in Italy

Is there a journalist alive who doesn’t—at least in some small way—envy Gregory Peck’s dashing character in Roman Holiday? And it’s not just about spending 24 hours with a classy, beautiful brunette like Audrey Hepburn. What would it be like to live on Via Margutta, zip around late-1950s Rome on a Vespa, spend your evenings playing poker with the international crowd, and dash off the odd article to your paper back home?

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Inside the Vatican Secret Archive

Those of you who know me well, know that I like to post about a new exhibit if not the day it opens, then at least that same week. As Lux in Arcana: The Vatican Secret Archives Revealed at the Capitoline Museums was the most highly anticipated exhibition of the year (century?) for me, it might be surprising that I have waited so long to write about it. I wrote an article on the exhibit for the Traveller, the Sunday travel magazine of both the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age. Here's an excerpt:

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A Borgia Orgy Tonight!

Just in case my recent post on the nefarious Borgias has whet your appetite for a little lust, violence and treachery, Italian Renaissance-style, check out this trailer for Season Two of Showtime's The Borgias. It is premiering this April for those of you in the states. If you are in Italy, you'll have to hold out at least a few more decades or, a much more practical solution, just buy the DVD set online

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