Among the many ways that Pope Francis has changed the tone of the Vatican is with his seeming openness to groups that have long been shunned, from divorced Catholics to children of gay couples. His approach has inspire one Italian gay travel company, Quiiky, to look at the Vatican Museums’ vast art collections from a gay perspective. Called “The Untold History,” tours began in November and focus on the sexuality of classical and Renaissance art and artists.
Alessio Virgilli, 30, is the chief executive of Quiiky, a division of the travel company Sonders and Beach. A native of Rome, he also heads the Italian Association of Gay Tourism, which he helped start in 2010. Following are edited excerpts of a conversation with Mr. Virgili.
Q. What gave you the idea for these tours and who is taking them?
A. I am a great lover of art and classical history and myths. In ancient Greece and Rome homosexuality was practiced openly, but my investigation led me to discover the facts of which I was unaware [for the Renaissance]. I decided with our tour guides and some historians and art critics to create routes that would reveal those aspects often omitted in traditional tours. Most participants in our tours are L.G.B.T. people, often foreign tourists who know more than the Italians about these issues.
What are some of the secrets people learn?
To understand heroes of antiquity or works of artists it is necessary to know them thoroughly, omitting nothing of their private life. For example, we tell of Michelangelo. He was a devout Catholic and at the same time a homosexual, with a constant feeling of guilt and inner conflicts reflected in his works. When we look at the Sistine Chapel’s “Last Judgment,” our guides do not fail to show at the top right two male figures who kiss to celebrate the ascent into heaven. In Milan, we retrace Leonardo da Vinci’s affair with his disciple Salai, who maybe inspired the depiction of St. John the Baptist alongside Jesus in “The Last Supper.”
Technically, these tours do not have formal Vatican approval.
It’s true. Our tours are made with recognized guides but without formal agreement of the Vatican. We are in a free country and what we tell has foundations. The news in Italy at the time did not create a stir and we have not received complaints from the Vatican.
What is your view on the Pope and how is he affecting gay tourism in Rome?
He was able to reform part of a strong power that you thought could not be changed. We Italians are praying so that the new political leadership of the country may have the same force and immediacy of the reforming Pope. Surely the church by Pope Francis has been working hard on marketing, but we come from a place where for many years the church did not even care about appearances. This opening is affecting a lot of L.G.B.T. tourism to Rome, the capital of a country that still has not been able to produce a law that protects unmarried couples, gay and heterosexual, while the rest of Europe has laws on gay marriage.
What are some of your favorite gay recommendations in Rome?
Rome has begun to offer a lot for the L.G.B.T. community, like the gay street in front of the Colosseum [Via San Giovanni in Laterano], and the disco Cow Killer [Muccassassina]. In summer there is a big event, which welcomes more than 4,000 people every night Thursday to Saturday from June to September, the Gay Village.
What are your favorite ‘Do as the Romans Do’ things visitors should not miss?
More people need to know the modern side of Rome, like the neighborhood EUR, with its Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, and Foro Italico, with its Stadio dei Marmi, with its nude marble statues. Yes, this has an odd history; it was built by Mussolini. And then there’s the modern art museum Maxxi. In the summer, my advice is to visit the Castelli Romani, cities in the hills around Rome. They’re very beautiful, with views, and medieval, natural settings, many on volcanic lakes. They are a favorite with the Romans, especially over the weekend, where you can enjoy the fresh air.
Source: New York Times