Do you know the Borgias were from Xativa?

This is basically about how the infamous Borgias Family were not Italian as many people think but they were from Xativa in Spain. It is said that Mario Puzo based his world famous bestselling book “The Godfather” on the Borgias.

The Spanish Connection

The Borgias (Borjas in Valenciano) in general get a bad press. The first Borgia pope, Calixtus III, although favourable to his family was supposedly a very pious man. Not so the second Pope Alejander VI and his children Jofre,Cesar,Juan and Lucrecia. Historians argue endlessly over to what degree of corruption and greed they reached. But it is generally accepted that they were a scheming, plotting, and murdering mafiosi kind of family. Sort of the first organised crime syndicate seen in Italy and in the Vatican.

The interesting thing is that these bad boys of medieval times were not actually from Italy but from Xativa in Spain. Besides actually putting Xativa on the map, many important palaces and churches in town and nearby were directly or indirectly funded from the Borgias subsequent wealth. And every year Xativa Town hall pushes out the boat and organises a fun cultural and gastronomic weekend which attracts upward of 90,000 people if you believe the “official figures”!

What is totally true is that the town is steeped in history and the Borgias make a nice focusing 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 interesting facts about the Borgias:

– There were two Borgia popes. Calixtus III(1455 to 1458) and Alexander VI(1492 to 1503).
– The word nepotism came from(the latin nipote)and was thought to have been invented because of the fact that Calixtus III made two of his nephews cardinals at a young age.
– The most famous of them, Rodrigo Borgia, born in Xativa, went on to be Pope Alexander VI. He was the “corrupt one” who had many of his enemies poisoned or ruined.
– Cantarella was his choice of poison, thought to be a natural type of arsenic made from rotten and dried pigs entrails.It was a slow acting poison.
– They took an army of servants (some estimates say 600 people) over from Valencia and Alexander’s two personal doctors were Valencianos. And in the Vatican they did all their business in Valenciano (a dialect of Catalan) much to the frustration of their enemies who had problems understanding then both in everyday life and in their secret messages when they intercepted them.
– Alexander VI is said to have “bought” the powerful Cardinal Sforza’s vote in the cardinals voting of the pope in 1492 which resulted in being 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.
– He was said to have had a “harem” of 25 dancing girls who danced for him every night.
– Rodrigo de Borgia before he became pope,was the archbishop of Valencia and commissioned an amazing Italian painted mural for Valencia Cathedral’s ceiling which only recently has been discovered to exist after it was thought to have been destroyed. It was found when trying to get pigeons out of the holes in the ceiling. On shining a torch into the hole the cleaners found a spectacular piece of of Borgia sponsored art, which had been covered up some three hundred years ago.An equisite piece of art and one of many that Rodrigo was to patronize over the years as Alexander VI.
– Alexander’s son Cesare was Bishop of Pamplona when he was 15 years old and then a cardinal at 18. Obviously a good networker.
– Cesare had his sister Lucrecia’s husband murdered.He is said to have slept with his sister or at least had some kind of unhealthy infatuation.
– Cesare wore a mask later in life to cover his disfigured face(a disfigurement from syphilis).
– 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.
– Alexander died after eating with his son Cesare and with a cardinal,who it is said Cesare tried to poison but ended killing his father and poisoning himself although not fatally!
– Cesare who had turned to soldiering in his later life died in a skirmish in Navarra Spain and was buried just outside the church doorway of Viana church in Navarra, so “beasts and men could walk over him” because the local Bishop considered him an outrageous sinner.

The Borgias were an incredibly successful family and really put Xativa on the map in the 15th century. It was said then to be the second most important town in Spain. The Borgias heritage is present both in Xativa in churches and buildings but also in monasteries in the region. Xativa today continues to reflect the richness of those times in its architecture and medieval quarter and has one of the most splendid castles in Valencia, as well as some interesting and varied local dishes such as Arroz al Horno (Oven Rice) a delicious recipe that includes black pudding o Arnadi(a sweet pudding made from pumpkin and honey)great local food and mild winter temperatures.

If you fancy visiting the historical town of Xativa and sampling the great food of the interior of Valencia then try : The Borgias Tour run by the The Spanish Thyme Traveller who organise well balanced tours mixing culture, local food and wine.