The Pope Who Buried His Pet Elephant Under the Vatican

Pope Leo X was elevated to the papal throne in 1513. One of his claims to fame was that he had a pet elephant named Hanno, the first elephant in Italy since the fall of the Roman Empire. It was a gift, which was expected in those times. National leaders from all over presented gifts to each new Pope, hoping for political favors, and the more magnificent and unusual the gift, all the better.

On the 70-mile journey from the Port of Hercules to Rome, Bedini wrote, “the caravan that was following behind daily increased in size, supplemented by workers from the towns, peasants from the fields, and gentlemen from their villas. All were curious, avidly seeking a view of the great animals and the strangers speaking a strange language who accompanied it.” The elephant had to spend the night in a piazza so that curiosity seekers wouldn't storm the stable it was supposed to stay in, and all along the way, wealthy noblemen tried to convince the elephant's handlers to take a detour to their castles.

Hanno arrived in Rome just before he was scheduled to appear before the Pope. And in his first official appearance, he made an equally dramatic impression. Walking through the streets of Rome adorned with handsome vestment and with a silver tower on his back, Hanno dropped to his dropped to his knees and bowed his head low upon reaching the Pope, before lifting back up to trumpet three times in the air. Then he sucked water into his trunk and sprayed water down on everyone assembled—including the Pope, who thought the whole of the elephant's performance delightful.

From that moment on, Hanno was Leo’s treasured pet. Read the story of Hanno and the Pope at Atlas Obscura.   

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