The Borgias HTML version

Chapter 1
Towards the end of the fifteenth century--that is to say, at the epoch when our
history opens the Piazza of St. Peter's at Rome was far from presenting so noble
an aspect as that which is offered in our own day to anyone who approaches it
by the Piazza dei Rusticucci.
In fact, the Basilica of Constantine existed no longer, while that of Michael
Angelo, the masterpiece of thirty popes, which cost the labour of three centuries
and the expense of two hundred and sixty millions, existed not yet. The ancient
edifice, which had lasted for eleven hundred and forty-five years, had been
threatening to fall in about 1440, and Nicholas V, artistic forerunner of Julius II
and Leo X, had had it pulled down, together with the temple of Probus Anicius
which adjoined it. In their place he had had the foundations of a new temple laid
by the architects Rossellini and Battista Alberti; but some years later, after the
death of Nicholas V, Paul II, the Venetian, had not been able to give more than
five thousand crowns to continue the project of his predecessor, and thus the
building was arrested when it had scarcely risen above the ground, and
presented the appearance of a still-born edifice, even sadder than that of a ruin.
As to the piazza itself, it had not yet, as the reader will understand from the
foregoing explanation, either the fine colonnade of Bernini, or the dancing
fountains, or that Egyptian obelisk which, according to Pliny, was set up by the
Pharaoh at Heliopolis, and transferred to Rome by Caligula, who set it up in
Nero's Circus, where it remained till 1586. Now, as Nero's Circus was situated on
the very ground where St. Peter's now stands, and the base of this obelisk
covered the actual site where the vestry now is, it looked like a gigantic needle
shooting up from the middle of truncated columns, walls of unequal height, and
half-carved stones.
On the right of this building, a ruin from its cradle, arose the Vatican, a splendid
Tower of Babel, to which all the celebrated architects of the Roman school
contributed their work for a thousand years: at this epoch the two magnificent
chapels did not exist, nor the twelve great halls, the two-and-twenty courts, the
thirty staircases, and the two thousand bedchambers; for Pope Sixtus V, the
sublime swineherd, who did so many things in a five years' reign, had not yet
been able to add the immense building which on the eastern side towers above
the court of St. Damasius; still, it was truly the old sacred edifice, with its
venerable associations, in which Charlemagne received hospitality when he was
crowned emperor by Pope Leo III.
All the same, on the 9th of August, 1492, the whole of Rome, from the People's
Gate to the Coliseum and from the Baths of Diocletian to the castle of Sant'
Angelo, seemed to have made an appointment on this piazza: the multitude
thronging it was so great as to overflow into all the neighbouring streets, which
started from this centre like the rays of a star. The crowds of people, looking like
a motley moving carpet, were climbing up into the basilica, grouping themselves
upon the stones, hanging on the columns, standing up against the walls; they
entered by the doors of houses and reappeared at the windows, so numerous