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‘Angels & Demons' sites are heavenly

Angela Nickerson, 35, is a travel writer who divides her time between Sacramento, Calif., and Italy. She is the author of “A Journey Into Michelangelo's Rome” (Roaring Forties Press) and the just-out “Rome's Angels & Demons: The Insider's Guide.” The latter is a companion to Dan Brown's “Angels & Demons” and the new film adaptation starring Tom Hanks. Nickerson's book is available as a free e-book download at www.roaring fortiespress.com/content/our_catalog_angels_demons.php.

Q. There are differences between the bestseller and the movie; which is your travel guide more tied to?

I read “Angels & Demons” several years ago, when I first read Dan Brown's follow-up novel, “The Da Vinci Code.” I subsequently reread “Angels & Demons,” and my book is largely based on that.

I don't really deal with the differences between the novel and the movie as much as I do the locations. For example, the Piazza de Poppolo and St. Maria del Popolo are locations in both. What I do is give background information on those locations and tell why they're both significant to the book and movie.

I feel the movie is very faithful to the spirit of Dan Brown's book, if not so faithful to the plot. I think this solved some of the problems in the book's plot, which is a bit too complicated.

In that regard, all the major sites in the film are in the book.

Q. How many sites in all do you cover?

I think it's 32 in all, and all deal with “Angels & Demons” in some respect. One of the insinuations made in the book, which is not as apparent in the movie, is that the obelisks in the city are significant to the path of illumination. So I included all the obelisks in Rome. If you're interested in seeing them all – and they're in important spots around the city – I cover them all.

Q. If you're visiting Rome and only have a half day to spend on “Angels & Demons” sites, where should you go?

The Vatican, because so much of the book and movie action happens there. I would absolutely start at St. Peter's Basilica. Go to the basilica, take the elevator up to the roof. This is something so few people know about, it's kind if hidden and you have to ask where it is. It costs about five euros.

Up there, if you're so inclined, you can climb the 320 steps up inside of the dome to the lantern of the dome. You'll truly have the best view of Rome. You can't imagine it. It's still so amazing. And the location ties to the book.

You can also get a tour of the Scavi – the excavations underneath St. Peter's Basilica. The basilica is built on top of a necropolis – a “city of the dead” where the ancient Romans buried people. They've done some recent excavations underneath the basilica that revealed part of this well-preserved necropolis, all in an effort to find St. Peter's tomb.

That in itself is controversial. Is it really St. Peter's tomb? I leave that to the archaeologists. But it is a remarkable tour and an interesting insight into the early history of St. Peter's Basilica.

My second choice if you have limited time for “Angels & Demons” would be the Piazza Navona, a fabulous place to just see Italian life. The sculptures in the piazza are free to see, and the place is open 24 hours a day. Its fountains are magnificent, and there's also an obelisk there. There are also wonderful cafes that are a little on the pricey side – the piazza is a large tourist attraction – but the ambience can't be beat.

Q. What's with the obelisks?

The ancient Romans conquered Egypt and brought back much older Egyptian obelisks and placed them in well-visited places in Rome, like the middle of the Circus Maximus and the circus of Nero, which is now underneath the Vatican.

The ancient Romans displayed them as ornaments of history and also as place markers. The Romans would often add inscriptions and dedications to these captured obelisks in honor of an emperor or a battle.

In the 1600s, Rome had a major reorganization of the city. It was a great effort, driven mostly by the popes to reflect the power of the Roman Catholic Church. Large boulevards were created to replace narrow streets. Some of the obelisks were left in their original locations, but most were moved to piazzas – to be centerpieces of important locations.

In the novel, Dan Brown insinuates that the Illuminati had a hand in this, but that's just fiction. Ultimately, moving the obelisks was about creating a beautiful and well-organized city, and Rome succeeded to a degree.

Q. How much turf are you covering in all?

“Angels & Demons” takes place over about seven hours and in maybe a couple square miles. Not a big area, and one that's easily covered by public transportation and on foot if you decided to do all the locations. That would take a full day: a bunch of churches, the Vatican and Castel Sant'Angelo. The Vatican deserves a day of its own.

Q. How does Castel Sant'Angelo figure into this?

In the book, it's the place where Langdon and Victoria have a big fight with the villain and where the Church of Illumination – in the book and in the movie – has its secret hideout.

Of course, there are people who show up there and are very disappointed that they can't find the Church of Illumination and that it doesn't appear quite as Brown depicted it. But Brown had to create this secret location.

The building was built for Emperor Hadrian and was to be his tomb. For about 150 years, the emperors were all buried there.

In the Middle Ages, the Vatican started to turn it into a fortress and there were several face-lifts. The tomb/fortress received a chapel whose façade was designed by Michelangelo. Beautiful quarters were built there because it was where the popes could escape to if the Vatican was under siege. They could barricade themselves in there. It now has a museum open to the public. It offers a motley assortment of general history of the papacy and of the building itself.

Q. You don't cover food in your book, but can you suggest a place or two for dining in the “Angels & Demons” part of Rome?

There are some really good places near the Vatican. One is called Osteria dei Pontefici – “The Pope's” – and is owned by a guy who used to be in the pope's private security force. He retired and opened this restaurant. It has good Italian food, and you never see Americans in there. It is on Via Gregorio VII; the Web site is www.osteriadeipontefici.com.

Another favorite is Romolo, in a neighborhood called Trastevere. It's kind of a nicer restaurant but is in a building with history. The food is good. The service is very good. It is on Via di Porta Settimiana; the Web site is www.romolola fornarina.com.

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