Visit Rome with Angels and Demons

I’ve recently enjoyed the new murder mystery film, Angels and Demons, set in Rome which I visited last year. The film features Tom Hanks as Harvard professor Robert Langdon and Ayelet Zura as scientist Vittoria Vetta, racing through Rome to unravel the secrets of the Illuminati Brotherhood in time to save the lives of four imprisoned cardinals, all candidates to become the next Pope. Sadly they were too late for three of them, but the fourth was saved in time to be elected as Pope and we saw some great Roman locations along the way.

St Peter's Basilica

Much of the film was set in and around St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican city. But as the Vatican refused permission to film there, I gather that the directors had to send out cameramen with small video cameras to pose as tourists and get some of the background shots they needed. (See this Guardian article). The results are certainly convincing and it was just as if you were there in the Piazza in front of St Peter’s and in the Basilica itself.


The quest to find the captured cardinals begins at the Pantheon, a must see on the list of most visitors to Rome. When I visited in Spring 08 I found it so crowded that you could barely squeeze through the door. The Pantheon was previously a Roman temple before it became a church and is known for the Oculus or circular hole in the dome which opens it to the elements. Realising that they are in the wrong place, Langdon and Vetta rush to the church of Piazza Del Popolo with Bernini’s unusual triangular monuments, but are too late to save the first cardinal who has died in the ‘Earth’ below the floor of the church.

The search for the next Cardinal who is to die by ‘Air’ takes them to Bernini’s magnificent colonade around St Peter’s square, topped with the enormous statues of the saints. You can get close to the statues if you take the lift up to the dome of St Peter’s where there is space to move around on part of the roof and see some of the statues from behind. I was interested to see that only the front of them was carved and the back was plain and featureless. Unfortunately the cardinal is thrown to his death from the roof, landing near the pavement plaque of the west wind.

Statues on top of Bernini's colonade in Rome

The third cardinal is to die by fire and the search leads to the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, with Bernini’s statue of St Theresa in a fire of ecstasy of the vision of God. Once again, they arrive too late to save the cardinal from dying in a blaze at the church.

Finally, at Piazza Navona the chase ends at the Fountain of the Four Rivers where Langdon is just in time to save the fourth cardinal from drowning in the fountain. The Piazza is one of my favourites and was once the site of a Roman Stadium which gave it its oval shape. It’s a fun place to relax and watch street performers, see the artists and cartoonists and a Christmas market is held here in December.

Piazza Navona

In a final quest to find the kidnapper and the antimatter he has stolen which could explode and destroy Rome, the chase leads to Castel Sant’Angelo, the Vatican Fortress beside the River Tiber. This is where Popes over the centuries have been able to take refuge, using the secret passage that leads from the Vatican. Finally the mystery is solved, the antimatter found and with twists and turns of the plot, the true villains are revealed.

If you’ve been to Rome you’ll love revisiting some of your favourite spots through the film and if you haven’t yet visited the Eternal city, this is guaranteed to get you planning a visit. For more about the locations featured in the film, I’d recommend Angela K. Nickerson’s free e-book on Rome’s Angels and Demons – an insider’s guide. It’s packed full of information on the locations used as well as the history and artists behind the story and would be a great start for anyone visiting Rome.

Photos by Heatheronhertravels