Jeremy Irons returns to our screens this week as Rodrigo Borgia (later Pope Alexander VI) – the head of the Borgia clan in the second season of The Borgias on Sky Atlantic.
Although the series is set in Italy, the Borgias were originally from Valencia in Spain.
One man who knows a lot about the Borgias is Patrick Waller from The Spanish Thyme Traveller. He leads tours around Xatvia and the surrounding region, showing people the homeland of this infamous family – and the lasting impact they had on the area.
Not only did these medieval bad boys put Xativa on the map, many important palaces and churches in town and nearby were funded from the Borgia’s subsequent wealth.
The first Borgia pope was Calixtus III, and although he tended to favour his family and give them special treatment he was also a very pious man.
Not so the second Borgia pope - Alexander VI. He and his children, Jofre, Cesar, Juan and Lucrecia, reached levels of greed and corruption that still astound people today! They were a scheming, plotting, and murdering mafiosi kind of family – the first organised crime syndicate seen in Italy and in the Vatican. It is said that Mario Puzo based his world famous book “The Godfather” on the Borgia family.
Every year Xativa Town hall pushes out the boat and organises a fun cultural and gastronomic weekend which attracts around 90,000 people!
What is totally true is that Xativa is steeped in history and the Borgias make an interesting focal point. You can see where Pope Alexander VI was born and the church where he was baptised. The Seo (minster), where Alexander had been sacristan at the beginning of his meteoric career, was partially built with Borgia money. The influence and prestige they gave Xativa (and later Gandia where they had land and a Ducal palace) was immense. It is said that Xativa was the second most important town in Spain in the 15th century.
Here are a few of Patrick’s favourite Borgia facts;
- There were two Borgia popes. Calixtus III (1455 to 1458) and Alexander VI (1492 to 1503) and the word nepotism (from the Latin nipote) is thought to have been invented because of the fact that Calixtus III made two of his nephews cardinals at a young age.
- Rodrigo Borgia, born in Xativa, went on to become Pope Alexander VI. He used Cantarella, a natural type of arsenic made from rotten and dried pigs entrails, to poison his enemies.
- In order to confound their enemies in the Vatican, the Borgias did all their business in Valenciano (a dialect of Catalan) which no one else could understand!
- Alexander VI is said to have "bought" the powerful Cardinal Sforza's vote when the cardinals voted in the new Pope in 1492 – this vote was key to Alexander being chosen. He reportedly sent four mule carts loaded with silver to Sforza's palace the night before the election.
- Alexander VI had ten ‘recognised’ children and a "harem" of 25 dancing girls who danced for him every night.
- Alexander's son Cesare was Bishop of Pamplona when he was 15 years old and then a cardinal at 18.
- It is rumoured that Cesare and his sister Lucretia had an incestuous relationship and its certainly true that Cesare had her husband murdered.
- Cesare suffered from syphilis and in later life wore a mask to cover his disfigured face (a disfigurement caused by the disease)
- Papal bulls issued by Alexander instructed that the discoveries made in the New World by Columbus were to be the property of the Spanish Crown.
The Borgias were an incredibly successful family and give Xativa and the surrounding area a lasting place in history, as well as some lovely buildings. Xativa is a fascinating Valencian town.
For more information visit: The Borgias Food and Wine Tour at The Spanish Thyme Traveler.
About the Guest Author:
Patrick Waller is co-founder of The Spanish Thyme Traveller, which specialises in offering Spanish holidays with a distinctive, personal touch. Offering Active Cultural Holidays with a balanced mix of activities and content, The Spanish Thyme Traveller is ideal for those wanting to experience the real Spain, including local food and wine, and to do so with a team that enjoys sharing their passion for all things Spanish.