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Italy has long been one of the world's most popular travel destinations, and many a person has diligently saved to make the trip, but few can claim to have given up as much as Queen Christina, who renounced the kingdom of Sweden to live in Rome.
She was born in 1626, the only surviving legitimate child of King Gustavus Adolphus, who made it clear that she was to succeed him to the throne. Following his death, she became Queen at the age of six.
She received an excellent education, studying the Greek and Roman classics, religion, philosophy, history, political science, music and drama, and became fluent in a number of languages, including Italian. Her intelligence and love of learning were often remarked upon.
In 1644 she put her political skills to use by negotiating a favorable peace treaty with Denmark and four years later was instrumental in finally ending the Thirty Years War. As part of the settlement, she was given a vast collection of art and books, which she put to good use in furthering her studies.
She regularly corresponded with the leading intellectuals of her day, including the mathematician, scientist and philosopher Blaise Pascal and Rene Descartes who she persuaded to come to Sweden to give her private lessons in religion and philosophy, beginning at 5:00 AM each morning in her unheated library. He succumbed to pneumonia in the winter of 1650. She sincerely mourned his death, but was probably consoled by the numerous other luminaries who flocked to her court, including Antonio Brunati, who designed and built a spectacular theatre in the royal palace, where Italian operas under the direction of Antonio Albrici were performed.
Her interest in religion lead her to study Catholicism, and she decided to convert in 1652, ironic since her father had been a champion of the Protestant cause during the Thirty Years War. She secretly made it known to the Portuguese ambassador, since its practice was forbidden in Lutheran Sweden; two Italian Jesuits had to come in disguise to see if she was sincere. They found she was, and informed the Pope and King of Spain, who sent another Italian, Antonio Pimental de Prado as Ambassador to facilitate things. She befriended the latter and made him first knight of the Amarantha Order, a secret society of which little is known.
Even before this she had tired of life in Sweden and the travails of ruling, and in 1654 finally abdicated the throne and left the country. She was baptized in Brussels later that year, and made a triumphal entry into Italy in 1655, greeted with enthusiasm and spectacular celebrations all along the way. She settled in the Farnese Palace and devoted herself to the study of the culture she loved better than the royal throne. The Accademia Reale (Royal Academy of Arcadia) was founded by her in 1656 for the pursuit of music, literature, science, drama and such; among its members was the greatest artist of the age, Bernini, who became a close friend of Christina's, and the noted traveler and explorer Francesco Negri.
Unfortunately, she was extravagant and generous to a fault, and ran out of money, a problem exacerbated by the failure of the Swedish government to pay her promised stipend. She decided to visit France, where in secret negotiations it was proposed that she would be made Queen of Naples and Sicily, However, before this could happen she had one of her courtiers executed for treason, which, while perfectly legal, caused a stir. She returned to Rome and eventually settled in the Riario Palace, which she turned into a cultural and intellectual center that included a spectacular collection of art and books. Amongst her achievements was the founding of contemporary Rome's first public theatre, the Tor di Nona in 1671.
She also devoted herself to writing and composed an autobiography, lives of Alexander the Great, Cyrus and Julius Caesar among other works, and became a noted patron of musicians, including Alessandro Scarlatti and Arcangelo Corelli. She also promoted the radical idea for its time of religious tolerance and helped suppress anti-Semitism. In addition, she studied astronomy and mathematics with Giovanni Domenico Cassini (after whom the space probe is named) and Giordano Vitali, and had a laboratory where she experimented in alchemy and chemistry.
While traveling through southern Italy she contracted a strep throat which progressed to pneumonia, to which she succumbed in April of 1689. She was given an elaborate public funeral by the Pope and was entombed in St. Peter's Basilica, where her monument may be seen to this day. Her book collection is now part of the Vatican Library. Italian by choice, she was one of the great women of Italy.