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A tour of the shrines, crypts, cathedrals and artworks featured in Dan Brown’s Hollywood blockbuster. Discover the truth about the Illuminati cult
Film lovers enjoy discovering a city through its movie sets, be it the Tokyo of Lost in Translation, the Vienna of Before Sunrise or Woody Allen’s immortal Manhattan. Rome abounds with picturesque film locations, namely thanks to the Dolce Vita era, but one film stands in sharp contrast to these classic options: the sombre and mysterious Angels and Demons, Ron Howard’s 2009 action thriller based on Dan Brown’s best-seller and starring Tom Hanks, once again in the role of professor Robert Langdon.
The film takes place during the Conclave, and the storyline is riddled with an underlying religious theme emerging through hidden clues in the crypts, cathedrals and works of Gian Lorenzo Bernini who, according to Brown and Hollywood’s inaccurate and imaginary depiction, was a member of the Illuminati.
The film’s opening sequence begins in the rooms of the Vatican, then displays a general view of Saint Peter’s Square bustling with worshippers, and allows you to see the hidden treasures of the Basilica and Vatican museums. Robert Langdon’s investigation then takes us to the Pantheon; It’s here, underneath the monumental dome of the ‘Temple of all Gods”, where you must search for the tomb of Raffaello Sanzio, known as Raphael.
The first real clue in the movie lies, however, in Santa Maria del Popolo, one of Rome’s most beloved churches, containing works by Carracci and Caravaggio, statues by Bernini and the Chigi Chapel with a dome and funeral monuments designed by Raphael.
When in the area, visit the Church of Santa Maria in Montesanto and Santa Maria dei Miracoli, known as the “twin churches” – the identical structures which dominate the square, side-by-side.
A lesser known church is the 17th century Santa Maria della Vittoria, where Langdon finds the third clue associated with fire (and discovers the third dead Cardinal). Admire the Ecstasy of Saint Theresa, a masterpiece by Bernini which perfectly incarnates the Baroque style. The fourth clue, linked to water, is located in Piazza Navona, at the Fountain of the Four Rivers, commissioned to Bernini by Pope Innocent X, sparking the rivalry with architect Francesco Borromini, creator of the nearby church of Sant’Agnese in Agone.
The tour ends at Castel Sant’Angelo, a building permeated in 2,000 years of Roman history, starting as the mausoleum for emperor Hadrian, before becoming a fortified outpost, then a prison, a Renaissance mansion and now a museum. After admiring the collections of ceramics, sculptures, paintings and weapons, use the famous ‘Passetto’ just like in the movie. The 800-meter-long fortified corridor connecting the castle to the Vatican really does exist, although it doesn’t lead to the Papal apartment, but to Porta san Pellegrino, near the Basilica.