Assassin’s Creed and the Real Italia: Roma (Part 3)
Assassin’s Creed is a franchise well known for its gorgeous design, and the Italian Renaissance of Ezio Auditore’s world has been a hit with fans. How does it compare with real life, and how have the locations transformed in the transition to the game world?
The Piazza del Popolo (People’s Square) is one of the first locations Ezio will come across in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, and, as in the game, was used for public executions (until 1826). It looks entirely different today as architect Giuseppe Valadier between 1811 and 1822 redesigned it in a neoclassical fashion, now including several beautiful fountains and statues. It is one of the most beautiful piazzas in Roma.
When Ezio arrives in the Sistine Chapel in Assassin’s Creed II, it is obvious that one of most famous pieces of artwork of all time is noticeably omitted since it was not painted until around 1511. That piece of artwork is Michelangelo’s fresco The Creation of Adam. The painting is also not in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, as the main game ends just a few years before the fresco was painted.
The villains of Ezio Auditore’s tale, the Borgias, were a real papal family that became prominent during the Renaissance. Their real name, ‘Borja’ (the family hailed from Spain as well as Italy) was known as the Italian version ‘Borgia’. And, as in the games, they also were enemies of powerful families such as the Medici (Ezio knows ally Lorenzo de’Medici in Florence) and the Sforza (Caterina Sforza is a strong friend of Ezio). Pope Alexander VI – known to Assassin’s Creed players as Rodrigo Borgia – is known for his corrupt regime from 1492 until his death in 1503 (although in real life he allegedly died of malaria, not as he did in the game).
Vatican City is the smallest country in the world, independent from Italy. It is merely 0.17 square miles in size, and is so small that it has no single street address (although it has a post office). The Piazza San Pietro (St. Peter’s Square) looks much different and smaller in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood than in real life, as the square was redesigned in the mid 1600s – which is why you won’t see the Tuscan colonnades (massive columns that border the square), the obelisk (which was moved to St. Peter’s square in 1586) and the ‘Wind Rose’ markers (added to the square in 1852, seen in the Tom Hanks film Angels and Demons) in the game. What is so recognizable now was entirely different back in Ezio’s time!
When in the Santa Maria in Aracoeli in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, one will notice a giant stain-glassed window with three bees on it. This symbol is very present around various spots in Rome, particularly in the Vatican, as this is the coat of arms of the Barberini family. They were a family of nobility, and one of the family’s members, Maffeo Barberini became Pope Urban VIII in 1623. The Palazzo Barberini – Barberini palace – houses the National Gallery of Ancient Art. There is even a Metro (Roman underground train) stop named after the family.
There are many more tourist goods played on themes of Super Mario Bros. and the 2000 film Gladiator than of Assassin’s Creed – as with Venice, there is little in the way of a gaming/’geek’ culture, only really brought up in references on t-shirts for tourists. But there are one or two Assassin’s Creed related t-shirts around. And yes, just as in Venice, there are still loads of Rage Comics t-shirts.
So do the environments in Assassin’s Creed truly reflect the real cities? Whilst, for the sake of it being a game, some environments are changed (size seems to be the most common variant) – Ezio couldn’t blend in a real tiny Venetian street, so requires a larger area in the game, nor could he quickly get across Rome if all the areas were truly to scale – the game world of the series is mostly true to history and offers an interesting perspective of Italy in contrast to the modern-day cities. The technology heightens the beauty of the cities, right down the the finest details and carefully-placed lighting, emphasised by the viewpoint moments when the camera pans across the city. If you think the game is gorgeous, get yourself on a plane to Rome and Venice and you will find yourself breathless when faced with the incredible beauty of these amazing places. They truly are a sight to behold.