Many expats in Rome have their favourite “overheard question” asked of the city’s tour guides. Wanted in Rome asked some of the capital's English-language guides to describe the most unusual questions they have faced.
Jimmy Kennedy, an Irish tour guide working with Touriocity, is always a font of tourist trivia.
Once while starting a tour of the Sistine Chapel a tourist piped up, “I keep reading about Michelangelo. Didn’t he paint something famous in the Vatican? Will we get to meet him?”
Kennedy also has to grapple with geographical enquiries such as “Are we in Rome? Because I thought we were in Italy.”
However the following are his five favourite questions:
“If this is the Sistine Chapel, where are the other 15 chapels?”
“Why would they build the Colosseum right beside a Metro Stop?”
“If you are from Ireland, how long does it take you to get to the Colosseum every morning?”
“What country are the Swiss Guards from?”
“How did Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel? Did he just stand on the floor and use a really long paint brush?”
Scots-Italian tour guide Al Mariotti once entered into a memorable conversation after being asked: “What about Michelangelo?”
Mariotti: “What about him?”
Tourist: “Whatever happened to him?”
Mariotti: “Well, he died.”
Tourist: “Oh my God that’s awful, when?”
Another time, facing St Peter’s Basilica, Mariotti was asked “Who are they on that church?”
Mariotti: “They are the twelve apostles, Sir.”
Tourist: “But there’s thirteen of ‘em.”
Mariotti: “Well Sir, they are the 12 apostles plus…”
Tourist’s wife interrupts: “…It’s JC, honey!”
Tourist: “What? Why would Julius Caesar be with 12 apostles?”
Mariotti also likes to tell the story of the unexpected rainstorm as he was leading a group near the Colosseum. A beggar, who had previously been limping laboriously, suddenly throws away his crutch, puts on a pair of trainers and runs full tilt towards the metro station, followed by deadly-serious shouts from Mariotti’s group of “Oh my God, it’s a miracle!”
Once at St Peter’s, Dubliner Dara McCarthy was stunned when asked if Lucifer were buried in the Vatican.
Like other tour guides, McCarthy has faced regular confusion over the identity of Michelangelo. After explaining the Sistine Chapel for about 20 minutes, he was asked “Where is Michelangelo in the Bible?”
Tour guide Louise Egan from Ireland has received regular compliments on her “excellent English” in the past and been asked how long her commute to Italy takes each morning. Among the stranger questions she has fielded include “Did aliens build the Colosseum?” while also having to explain that, no, the Colosseum is not built of sand.
Egan has also been asked queries such as “When are we going to see Big Ben?” but perhaps the top prize should go to “You know on our Roman Forum tour? Would you mind leaving out all the history stuff?”
One day Jon Balog from Maryland in the US was giving a tour of the Vatican Museums’ Gallery of the Tapestries. In the middle of explaining a tapestry which featured Julius Caesar being stabbed to death in 44 BC he was asked “So were Jesus and Caesar the same person?”
Another time, at the Capuchin Crypt on Via Veneto, Balog was pointing out the skulls and bones of 3,700 friars when he was asked the reason for the Capuchins’ fate: “Was it for molesting?”
Freelance tour guide Shane Harnett has been asked the identity of the pope’s wife as well as where the tomb of Jesus could be found in Rome.
However, the most surprising question asked of him came from an elderly Italian tourist who had been living in the US for 60 years. Out of earshot from his children and grandchildren the man took Harnett aside and asked “Hey, you know anywhere I can find a whore?”