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Castel Sant'Angelo

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ANSA) - Rome, July 11 - The dungeons in which popes once threw enemies of their earthly power will reopen this summer for spooky night tours.

The tiny grated cells under former papal fortress Castel Sant'Angelo are clinking open again after a ten-year restoration.

Visitors will be shown into the dank, oil-lit spaces where thousands of political and common criminals were shut away in the days that the Vatican held temporal sway over Rome and much of central Italy.

Guides will recount the tales of famous inmates such as turbulent gold-working genius Benvenuti Cellini who spent months there in 1538 on charges of embezzling the papal tiara and tried a daring escape amid fears of the noose.

Heroes of the Risorgimento, the movement that eventually reunited Italy and ended the papal state, were also enclosed in the jail above Emperor Hadrian's ancient tomb - as recounted in Giacomo Puccini's famous opera Tosca.

Among the other notorious guests was Cagliostro, a Freemason and alleged occultist sent to the dungeons by the Inquisition.

Inmates who met their death on the scaffold included a Roman family, the Cencis, hanged in 1599 after a shocking affair of incest, murder and revenge.

Their story - and in particular the apparent innocence of daughter Beatrice - inspired writers like Shelley, Dumas and Stendhal.
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Vatican charter flight service

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 (ANSA) - Rome, August 27 - A  Vatican charter flight service took to the skies on Monday as a Boeing 737 decorated in the Holy See's yellow and white colours transported a cardinal and other pilgrims from Rome to Lourdes.

The flight to Lourdes, where Saint Bernadette is said to have seen a vision of the Virgin Mary, marked the launch of a service that the
Vatican hopes will soon be speeding 150,000 Catholic pilgrims a year to key religious destinations.

"Safety is our priority along with a commitment to keep ticket prices as low as possible," said Father Cesare Atuire, head of ORP, the
Vatican organisation which organises pilgrimages.

"We'll also create an atmosphere in keeping with the meaning of pilgrimages, " he added.

The head-rests on seats inside the plane which took off on Monday bore the inscription: Lord, I'm looking for Your face. Officials said religious films would also be shown during the flight. Although the pope goes on several foreign trips every year, the
Vatican has no airport and owns no planes. Benedict usually flies with Italian airline Alitalia. The new low-cost charter service is the result of a partnership between ORP and Mistral Air, a small Italian airline owned by the Italian post office.

The accord provides for flights from a range of Italian airports to Fatima in Portgual, Santiago de Compostela in Spain, Czestochowa in Poland, Mount Sinai in Egypt and other sites in the Middle East.

"This initiative is important because it aims to compress costs and make flights available to as wide a range of people as possible," said Cardinal Camillo Ruini, one of the passengers on the maiden flight.

Ruini, formerly head of the Italian bishops' conference, said he hoped the service would help increase the number of Catholics making pilgrimages to the Middle East. He acknowledged however that many potential pilgrims would only go when there was peace in the region.

The managing director of Mistral Air, Francesco Pizzo, welcomed his company's new five-year partnership with the
Vatican as a way of introducing a "spiritual" element into its activity.

"For us it's a good launch pad allowing us to move into the religious tourism sector," he said.
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