A chance meeting resulted in Anthony Majanlahti penning a book on Rome that is earning favourable reviews. Majanlahti, originally from Toronto, was working as a history researcher at the British School at Rome when he met London banker Bob Boas and his wife Elisabeth in 2001.

The three got talking about their fascination with the citys wealth of architecture, and their wish that more had been written about the stories behind each buildings creation. The next day they invited me to lunch and offered to commission a book, recalls Majanlahti. I was a bit sceptical as Rome is a city of thousands of exciting promises, but Bob and his wife were genuine. They gave me use of their apartment here along with complete freedom to write the book.

Three years on, the result is The Families Who Made Rome, which tells of noble clans such as the Cenci, Colonna, delle Rovere, Farnese, Borghese and Barberini. The author recounts their battles for power and desire to display wealth, especially after a family member became pope. This, combined with friendships with artists and architects such as Bernini and Michelangelo, helped shape the Rome we see today.

For example, we read how Francesco della Rovere ordered the construction of Ponte Sisto and the churches S. Maria del Popolo and S. Maria della Pace when he became Pope Sixtus IV; then how his nephew Giuliano, as Pope Julius II, became patron to Michelangelo.

Majanlahti undertook extensive research for the book, but points out that it did not include meeting any present-day family members: I was repeatedly given the opportunity to meet families such as the Borghese and Barberini, but declined; I wanted to ensure that I kept the book objective and that I wasnt drawn into other areas that would distract from the main theme.

The writer first visited Rome in 1989 as a backpacker and instantly became spellbound. He undertook a PhD at the University of Toronto entitled The English Community in Rome 1450-1550, spending a year at the British School at Rome between 1993-94 and coming back as a researcher in 1999.

The Families Who Made Rome by Anthony Majanlahti. Chatto.