I was wandering down cobbled via del Moro in the Roman neighborhood of Trastevere when I found a used book store, and on the one shelf reserved for English language books, I saw Anthony Majanlahti’s The Families Who Made Rome: A History and a Guide
I didn’t buy it then, but when I came home, memories of that book haunted me until at some later time, I recalled it, and then ordered it from Amazon, the UK store, because it wasn’t for sale in the USA store. (But it is now!)
This is one of my favorite books. Period.
|Castel St. Angelo, Refuge of the Popes|
It’s like a magic mirror. Step through it into a velvet and damask world of conniving and plotting like you’ll find in any Shakespeare history play, or in Game of Thrones, or in Dune, for that matter. But these plotters, these princes, appointing their nephews to high positions, giving their brothers and sisters lucrative towns to administer, going to war, dressing like the Caesars, throwing parties in which guests toss golden plates into the Tiber, these grasping power-mad men are the Popes. Like any emperor, they put the treasury of their kingdom to use, building themselves fine palaces and monuments. Rome bears the marks of these men everywhere. Many of them polished their legacies, but still managed to improve the traffic flow for the tourists. Read this book and you’ll never see the Papacy or the city the same way again.
Each chapter covers a papal family who shaped the Rome you find today. And after each historical chapter comes one that could be used to take a walking tour of that family’s palaces and compounds. It’s a marvelous way to deepen your understanding of the grand squares, the bridges and elegant public spaces. From Palazzo Farnese to the Quirinale Palace, from the Ghetto to Piazza Navona to Villa Borghese, this is both an architectural and artistic tour of the Eternal City, and an intimate portrait of waves of papal ambition and corruption. Beauty and power are inextricably linked, as in any great civilization.
It’s very dense, like a flourless chocolate cake, or like a flaky cornetto stuffed with Nutella dipped into an espresso.
This book may not be for you. Maybe you just want to know a little bit about the past and culture of the places you visit. But me, I like to dive deep into history, to try to imagine myself walking back in time. If this book is for you, you are really going to thank me.
What’s your favorite place to travel? What’s your favorite book about it? Please share below! Comments very welcome!