Just in passing: I’m planning a trip to Rome in the near future, and so have been wondering what Cipher Mysteries-related things there might be to see or do there.

Armando al Pantheon

The Armando al Pantheon restaurant (with its Luigi Serafini-designed alchemical crockery, complete with miniature Pantheon) is obviously on the list.


I note also that the restaurant’s menu includes a Bruschetta alla Serafini starter.

Dead Famous

However, I don’t know of anything else I should go to have a look at when in Rome. In a town with so many graves of the famous, does it also have the graves of any famous cryptographers or cryptologists?

I can certainly think of plenty of people who nearly fit the bill. For example, Giovan Battista Bellaso (whose Wikipedia page is OK, but a little bit stale) certainly worked in Rome, but nobody seems to know where he died. It is believed that Filarete died in (and was buried in) Rome, but all traces of his gravestone disappeared long ago. And even though Leon Battista Alberti died in Rome, the only memorial to him I know of is in Florence (in the Basilica di Santa Croce).

Moreover, even though I’ve blogged a number of times about mysterious and/or encrypted gravestones, there seems to be not one of these in Rome’s capacious crypts and cemeteries. 🙁

So… what have I missed? The Armando al Pantheon aside, is there anything else in Rome that a Cipher Mysteries guy should have a look at? (And yes, I know all about the Vatican’s archives, but that’s a mission for quite another kind of trip.)

18 thoughts on “Cipher Mysteries and Rome…

  1. J.K. Petersen on February 10, 2018 at 8:18 pm said:

    Make sure you keep your valuables in a pouch inside your clothing in Rome (and watch out for the kids, some have been trained to pickpocket).

    When I was traveling through Italy, I met several tourists, three from the U.S., one from Canada, another from Germany, who were on their way home (or to an embassy to try to get help), their vacations cut short because they lost their valuables in Rome (money, passports, credit cards).

    Fortunately, I didn’t have any problems in Italy, but I stayed mostly out of the big cities (except for Naples, where everything went awry, but that’s another story).

    I don’t know if it would interest you to see it, but the Villa d’Este is a half hour northeast of Rome (in Tivoli) and has lots of water, and statues of nymphs. Various earlier members of the d’Este family (like Niccolo, the Duke of Ferrara) get mentioned from time-to-time in connection with the VMS. 🙂

    Have a great trip!

  2. J.K. Petersen: thanks very much for your reply, I’ll do my best to avoid pickpockets etc. 🙂

  3. How about La Porta Alchemica?

  4. D.N.O'Donovan on February 11, 2018 at 5:17 am said:

    Luigi Sacco, Italy, Italian General and author of Manuale di Crittografia (1936)
    b. 1st August 1883 in Alba. d. 5th December 1970 in Rome.

    possibly some monument to

    Silvio Micali, US (born Palermo Sicily, 13th Oct 1954), MIT, co-discoverer of zero-knowledge proofs.

    during the quick browse, I found something you may know, but certainly interesting about interactions between Italy and the Islamic world as cryptology flourished in the former. Speculative/hypothetical, but not wholly so.

    Texts in Transit in the Medieval Mediterranean
    edited by Y. Tzvi Langermann, Robert G. Morrison

    G/books – one of their nastier, page-number-deleted versions. Look for the page with f/notes 47-51. Page first line contains ‘Polo’; last line contains ‘polyaphabetic’.

    When you’re walking about, carry a grocery-bag with a stick of celery poking out of it and look bored. Better than a rottweiler as deterrent for thieves.


  5. Diane: Luigi Sacco would indeed be a good codebreaker to find. However, beyond finding out that he died of arteriosclerosis on 5th December 1970, I haven’t found his grave. But as a General, presumably it is in a military cemetery. I’ll keep looking… with celery poking out of my shopping bag. 🙂

  6. Misca: it’s a nice place to visit, thanks for the suggestion! All the same, it’s a bit like an extraordinarily well-documented Italian version of the Shugborough Monument, but with myths rather than mystery. 🙂

  7. Athanasius Kircher, if you count him. He is buried in the Church of the Gesù, except for his heart, which is at the Santuario della Mentorella outside the city.

  8. Fred Brandes on February 11, 2018 at 2:07 pm said:

    I would suggest the Etruscan Museum.

  9. Bits and pieces of Kircher’s museum have been transferred to the Museo Etnografico Pigorini, as I’m fairly confident you know.
    I went there once, finding really very little.
    It might be worth, when visiting, to ask one of the staff for more information about it.

    I second the remark about the Etruscan museum (villa Giulia). Also not crypto-related is a little gem: museo Barracco (sp?)

  10. …. in fact, the museo Barracco has one of the well-known busts of Caesar, so there’s a cipher connection for you.

  11. Nick:
    If you are interested in Luigi Sacco, you can ask his grandson Paolo Bonavoglia, who is also an Italian cipher expert (https://paolo.bonavoglia.eu/chie.html). I’m sure he knows everything about Sacco.

  12. When I created my Cryptologic Travel Guide (https://cryptologictravelguide.com/map/), I had the same problem. The only cryptologic sight in Rome I found was the Armando al Pantheon restaurant. If Nick finds additional ones I will be happy to include them.

  13. john sanders on February 12, 2018 at 12:05 am said:

    Nick: Non se ne fa un mistero. Quando sel a Roma, fai come i Romani . Gita sorpresa.

  14. You could follow the trail of ‘Angels and Demons’, though it is hardly original and even less ‘real cryptography’. (Still, I did it with my son some years ago, not as an organised tour, but working it out for ourselves – that was the fun part).

    There’s a ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ museum in the basement of S.Maria del Popolo, entrance to its right.

    The various letters with cryptographic riddles sent to Kircher are now in Piazza di Pilotta 9, but it’s hard to get in, and it’s not a tourist attraction 🙂

    Similar for the various places where the Voynich MS was housed – mainly the palace of the Collegio Romano.

    One could try to find the various places where P.Beckx stayed: Casa Professa, Belgian College at Sant’Andrea al Quirinale, via Nicolo da Tolentino, but all are probably inaccessible.

    More interestingly, there’s the place where the Voynich MS was quite probably hidden after 1870, a villa in Castelgandolfo (outside the city). This is now a police station. There are ways of getting in there, but I won’t recommend….

  15. Seeing your going to be over that way, why not nip up to Bologna and swing by the Marconi Museum for a gander. You might check with the old chap in the cipher room and let him have a quick peek at the SM Rubaiyat code to see what he thinks. You’ll also be heartened to see how many old castles with swallow tail merlons abound in the northern region.

  16. Philip: a very good suggestion, thanks! 🙂

  17. Fred Brandes: also a good suggestion, thanks! 🙂

  18. Find what you can about the Bogomils.

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