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THE VIA Al'l'IA 372





" A GAIN this date of Rome; the most solemn and
interesting that my hand can ever write, and even
now more interesting than when I saw it la?!t," wrote Dr.
Arnold to his wife in 1840 — and how many thousands
before and since have experienced the same feeling, who
have looked forward to a visit to Rome as one of the great
events of their lives, as the realization of the dreams and
longings of many years.

An arrival in Rome is very different to that in any other
town of Europe. It is coming to a place new and yet most
familiar, strange and yet so well known. When travellers
arrive at Verona, for instance, or at Aries, they generally
go to the amphitheatres with a curiosity to knoAv what they
are like ; but when they arrive at Rome and go to the
Coliseum, it is to visit an object whose appearance has
been familiar to them from childhood, and, long ere it
is reached, from the heights of the distant Capitol, they
can recognize the well-knowTi form :■ — and as regards St.
Peter's, who is not familiar with the aspect of the dome, of
the wide-spreading piazza, and the foaming fountains, for
long years before they come to gaze upon the reality ?


" My presentiment of the emotions with which I should
behold the Roman ruins, has proved quite correct," A\Tote
Niebuhr. " Nothing about them is new to me ; as a cliild
I lay so often, for hours together, before their pictures,
that their images were, even at that early age, as dis-
tinctly impressed upon my mind, as if I had actually seen

Yet, in spite of the presence of old friends and landmarks,
travellers who pay a hurried visit to Rome, are bewildered
by the vast mass of interest before them, by the endless
labyrinth of minpr objects, which they desire, or, still oftener,
feel it a duty, to visit. Their Murray, their Baedeker, and
their Bradshaw indicate appalling lists of churches, temples,
and villas which ought to be seen, but do not distribute them
in a manner which will render their inspection more easy.
The promised pleasure seems rapidly to change into an end-
less vista of labour to be fulfilled and of fatigue to be gone
through ; henceforward the hours spent at Rome are rather
hours of endurance than of pleasure — his cicerone drags
the traveller in one direction,— his antiquarian friend, his
artistic acquaintance, would fain drag him in others, — he is
confused by accumulated misty glimmerings from historical
facts once learnt at school, but long since forgotten, — of
artistic information, which he feels that he ought to have
gleaned from years of society, but which, from want of use,
has never made any depth of impression, — by shadowy ideas
as to the story of this king and that emperor, of this pope
and that saint, whicli, from insufficient time, and the ab-
sence of books of reference, he has no opportunity of
clearing up. It is therefore in the hope of aiding some of
these bewildered ones, and of rendering their walks in


Rome more easy and more interesting, that the following
chapters are written. They aim at nothing original, and
are only a gathering up of the information of others, and
a gleaning from what has been already given to the world
in a far better and fuller, but less portable form ; while, in
their plan, they attempt to guide the traveller in his daily
wanderings through the city and its suburbs.

It must not, however, be supposed, that one short re-
sidence at Rome will be sufficient to make a foreigner
acquainted with all its varied treasures ; or even, in most
cases, that its attractions will become apparent to the
passing stranger. The squalid appearance of its modern
streets, the filth of its beggars, the inconveniences of its
daily life, will leave an impression which will go far to
neutralize the effect of its ancient buildings, and the
grandeur of its historic recollections. It is only by return-
ing again and again, by allowing th.Q feeling of Rome to gain
upon you, when you have constantly revisited the same
view, the same temple, the same picture, that Rome en-
graves itself upon your heart, and changes from a dis-
agreeable, unwholesome acquaintance, into a dear and
intimate friend, seldom long absent from your thoughts.
" Whoever," said Chateaubriand, " has nothing else left in
life, should come to live in Rome ; there he will find for
society a land which will nourish his reflections, walks which
will always tell him something new. The stone which
crumbles under his feet will speak to him, and even the
dust which the wind raises under his footsteps will seem to
bear with it something of human grandeur."

" When we have once know^n Rome," wTote Hawthorne,
'•' and left her where she lies, like a long-decaying corpse,


retaining a trace of the noble shape it was, but with accu-
mulated dust and a fungous growth overspreading all its
more admirable features — left her in utter weariness, no
doubt, of her narrow, crooked, intricate streets, so uncom-
fortably paved with little squares of lava that to tread over
them is a penitential pilgrimage ; so indescribably ugly,
moreover, so cold, so alley-like, into which the sun never
falls, and where a chill wind forces its deadly breath into
our lungs — left her, tired of the sight of those immense
seven-storied, yellow-washed hovels, or call them palaces,
where all that is dreary in domestic life seems magnified
and multiplied, and weary of climbing those staircases which
ascend from a ground-floor of cook-shops, cobblers'-stalls,
stables, and regiments of cavalry, to a middle region of
princes, cardinals, and ambassadors, and an upper tier of
artists, just beneath the unattainable sky, — left her, worn
out with shivering at the cheerless and smoky fireside by
day, and feasting with our own .substance the ravenous
population of a Roman bed at night, left her sick at heart
of Italian trickery, which has uprooted whatever faith in
man's integrity had endured till now, and sick at stomach
of sour bread, sour wine, rancid butter, and bad cookery,
needlessly bestowed on evil meats, — left her, disgusted
with the pretence of holiness and the reality of nasti-
ness, each e(]ually omnipresent,- — left her, half lifeless
from the languid atmosphere, the vital principle of which
has been used up long ago or corrupted by myriads of
slaughters, — left her, crushed down in spirit by the desola-
tion of her ruin, and tlie hopelessness of her future, — left
her, in short, hating her with all our might, and adding our
individual curse to the infinite anathema which her old


crimes have unmistakeatly brought down : — when we have
left Rome in such mood as this, we are astonished by the
discovery, by-and-by, that our heartstrings have mysteriously
attached themselves to the Eternal City, and are drawing
us thitherward again, as if if were more familiar, more in-
timately our home, than even the spot where we were

This is the attractive and sympathetic power of Rome
which Byron so fully appreciated —

" Oh Rome my country ! city of the soul !
The orphans of the heart must turn to thee,
Lone mother of dead empires ! and controul
In their shut breasts their petty misery.
What are our woes and sufferance ? Come and see
The cypress, hear the owl, and plod your way
O'er steps of broken thrones and temples. Ye !
Whose agonies are evils of a day —

A world is at our feet as fragile as our clay.

" The Niobe of nations ! there she stands

Childless and crownless, in her voiceless woe ;

An empty urn within her withered hands,

Whose sacred dust was scattered long ago ;

The Scipios' tomb contains no ashes now ;

The very sepulchres lie tenantless

Of their heroic dwellers : dost thou flow,

Old Tiber ! through a marble wilderness ?
Rise, with thy yellow waves, and mantle her distress ! "

The impressiveness of an arrival at the Eternal City was
formerly enhanced by the solemn singularity of the country
through which it was slowly approaf^hed. " Those who arrive
at Rome now by the railway," says Mrs. Craven in her ' Anne
Severin,' " and rush like a whirlwind into a station, which
has nothing in its first aspect to distinguish it from that of


one of the most obscure places in the world, cannot imagine
the effect which the words ' Ecco Roma ' formerly produced,
when .on arriving at the point in the road from which the
Eternal City could be descried for the first time, the pos-
tillion stopped his horses, and pointing it out to the tra-
veller in the distance, pronounced them with that Roman
accent which is grave and sonorous, as the name of Rome

" How pleasing," says Cardinal Wiseman, " was the usual
indication to early travellers, by voice and outstretched
whip, embodied in the well-known exclamation of every
vetturino, ' Ecco Roma.' To one ' lasso maris et viarum,'
like Horace, these words brought the first promise of ap-
proaching rest. A few more miles of weary hills, every one
of which, from its summit, gave a more swelling and majestic
outline to what so far constituted ' Roma,' that is, the great
cupola, not of the church, but of the city, its only discernible
part, cutting, like a huge peak, into the clear winter sky,
and the long journey was ended, and ended by the full
realization of well-cherished hopes."

Most travellers, perhaps, in the old days came by sea
from Marseilles and arrived from Civita Vecchia, by the
dreary road which leads through Palo, and near the base
of tlie hills upon which stands Cervetri, the ancient Ccere,
from tlie junction of whose name and customs the word
'' ceremony " has arisen, — so especially useful in the great
neighbouring city, " This road from Civita Vecchia," writes
Miss Edwards, the talented authoress of ' Barbara's His-
tory,' "lies among shapeless hillocks, shaggy with bush
and briar. Ear away on one side gleams a line of soft
blue sea — on the other lie mountains as blue, but not more


distant. Not a sound stirs the stagnant air. Not a tree,
not a housetop, breaks the wide monotony. The dust hes
beneath the wheels Uke a carpet, and follows like a cloud.
The grass is yellow, the weeds are parched ; and where
there have been wayside pools, the ground is cracked and
dry. Now we pass a cmmbling fragment of something
that may have been a tomb or temple, centuries ago. Now
we come upon a little wide-eyed peasant boy, keeping goats
among the ruins, like Giotto of old. Presently a buffalo
lifts his black mane above the neighbouring hillock, and
rushes away before we can do more than point to the spot
on which we saw it. Thus the day attains its noon, and
the sun hangs overhead like a brazen shield, brilliant, but
cold. Thus, too, we reach the brow of a long and steep
ascent, where our driver pulls up to rest his weary beasts.
The sea has now faded almost out of sight ; the mountains
look larger and nearer, with streaks of snow upon their
summits, the Campagna reaches on and on and shows no
sign of limit or of verdure,^ — while, in the midst of the clear
air, half way, so it would seem, between you and the purple
Sabine range, rises one solemn solitary dome. Can it be
the dome of St. Peter's ? "

The great feature of the Civita Vecchia route was that
after all the utter desolation and dreariness of many miles
of the least interesting part of the Campagna, the traveller
was almost stunned by the transition, when on suddenly
passing the Porta Cavalleggieri, he found himself in the
Piazza of St. Peter's, with its wide-spreading colonnades,
and high-springing fountains ; indeed the first building he
saw was St. Peter's, the first house that of the Pope, the
palace of the Vatican, But the more gradual approach by


land from Viterbo and Tuscany possessed equal if not
superior interest.

" ^Vhen we turned the summit above Viterbo," wrote Dr.
Arnold, "and opened on the view on the other side, it
might be called the first approach to Rome. At the
distance of more than forty miles, it was of course impos-
sible to see the town, and besides the distance was hazy ;
but we were looking on the scene of the Roman history ;
we were standing on the outward edge of the frame of the
great picture, and though the features of it were not to be
traced distinctly, yet we had the consciousness that they
were before us. Here, too, we first saw the Mediterra-
nean, the Alban hills, I think, in the remote distance, and
just beneath us, on the left, Soracte, an outlier of the Apen-
nines, which has got to the right bank of the Tiber, and
stands out by itself most magnificently. Close under us
in front, was the Ciminian lake, the crater of an extinct
volcano, surrounded as they all are, with their basin of
wooded hills, and lying like a beautiful mirror stretched
out before us. Then there was the grand beauty of Italian
scenery, the depth of the valleys, the endless variety of
the mountain outline, and the towns perched upon the
mountain summits, and this now seen under a mottled sky,
which threw an ever-varying light and shadow over the
valley beneath, and all the freshness of the young spring.
We descended along one of the rims of this lake to Roncig-
lione, and from thence, still descending on the whole, to
Monterosi. Here the famous Campagna begins, and it
certainly is one of the most striking tracts of country I ever
beheld. It is by no means a perfect flat, except between
Rome and the sea; but rather like the Bagshot Heath


country, ridges of hills with intermediate valleys, and the
road often running between high steep banks, and sometimes
crossing sluggish streams sunk in a deep bed. All these
banks are overgrown with broom, now in full flower ; and
the same plant was luxuriant everywhere. There seemed
no apparent reason why the country should be so desolate ;
the grass was growing richly everywhere. There was no
marsh any^vhere visible, but all looked as fresh and healthy
as any of our chalk downs in England. But it is a wide
wilderness ; no villages, scarcely any' houses, and here and
there a lonely ruin of a single square tower, which I sup-
pose used to serve as strongholds for men and cattle in
the plundering warfare in the middle ages. It was after
crowning the top of one of these lines of hills, a little on
the Roman side of Baccano, at five minutes after six,
according to my watch, that we had the first view of Rome
itself. I expected to see St. Peter's rising above the line of
the horizon, as York Minster does, but instead of that, it
was within the horizon, and so was much less conspicuous,
and from the nature of the ground, it looked mean and
stumpy. Nothing else marked the site of the city, but the
trees of the gardens and a number of white villas specking
the opposite bank of the Tiber for some little distance
above the town, and then suddenly ceasing. But the whole
scene that burst upon our view, when taken in all its parts,
was most interesting. Full in front rose the Alban hills,
the white villas on their sides distinctly visible, even at that
distance, which was more than thirty miles. On the left
were the Apennines, and Tivoli was distinctly to be seen
on the summit of its mountain, on one of the lowest and
nearest parts of the chain. On the right and all before us


lay the Campagna, whose perfectly level outline was suc-
ceeded by that of the sea, which was scarcely more so. It
began now to get dark, and as there is hardly any twilight,
it was dark soon after we left La Storta, the last post before
you enter Rome. The air blew fresh and cool, and we had
a pleasant drive over the remaining part of the Campagna,
till we descended into the valley of the Tiber, and crossed
it by the Milvian bridge. About two miles further on we
reached the walls of Rome, and entered it by the Porta del

Niebuhr coming the same way says : — " It was with
solemn feelings that this morning from the barren heights of
the moory Campagna, I first caught sight of the cupola of
St. Peter's, and then of the city from the bridge, where all
the majesty of her buildings and her history seems to lie
spread out before the eye of the stranger ; and afterwards
entered by the Porta del Popolo."

Madame de StaUl gives us the impression Avhich the
.same subject would produce on a different type of
cliaracter : —

" Le comte d'Erfeuil faisait de comiques lamentations sur
les environs de Rome. Quoi, disait-il, point de maison de
campagne, point de voiture, rien qui annonce le voisinage
d'une grande ville ! Ah ! bon Dieu, quelle tristesse ! En
approchant de Rome, les postilions s'e'crierent avec trans-
port : Voycz, voycz, c'rsf la coupole ik Saint-Pierre ! Les
Napolitains montrent aussi le Vesuve ; et la mer fait de
meme I'orgueil des habitans des cotes. On croirait voir
le dome des Invalides, s'ccria le comte d'Erfeuil."

It was by this approach that most of its distinguished
pilgrims have entered the cai)ital of the Catholic world :


monks, who came hither to obtain the foundation of their
Orders ; saints, who thirsted to worship at the shrines of
their predecessors, or who came to receive the crown of
martyrdom ; priests and bishops from distant lands, — many-
coming in turn to receive here the highest dignity which
Christendom could offer ; kings and emperors, to ask coron-
ation at the hands of the reigning pontiff; and among all
these, came by this road, in the full fervour of Catholic
enthusiasm, Martin Luther, the future enemy of Rome, then
its devoted adherent. "When Luther came to Rome,"
says Ampere, in his ' Portraits de Rome \ Divers Ages,'
" the future reformer was a young monk, obscure and
fervent ; he had no presentiment, when he set foot in the
great Babylon, that ten years later he would burn the bull
of the Pope in the public square of Wittenberg. His heart
experienced nothing but pious emotions ; he addressed to
Rome in salutation the ancient hymn of the pilgrims ; he
cried, 'I salute thee, O holy Rome, Rome venerable
through the blood and the tombs of the martyrs.' But after
having prostrated on the threshold, he raised himself, he
entered into the temple, he did not find the God he looked
for ; the city of the saints and martyrs was a city of mur-
derers and prostitutes. The arts which marked this corrup-
tion were powerless over the stolid senses, and scandalised
the austere spirit of the German monk ; he scarcely gave a
passing glance at the ruins of pagan Rome ; — and inwardly
horrified by all that he saw, he quitted Rome in a frame of
mind very different from that which he brought with him ;
he knelt then with the devotion of the pilgrims, now he
returned in a disposition like that of the frondairs of the
Middle Ages, but more serious than theirs. This Rome of


which he had been the dupe, and concerning which he was
disabused, should hear of him again ; the day would come
when, amid the merry toasts at his table, he would cry three
tipies, ' I would not have missed going to Rome for a thou-
sand florins, for I should always have been uneasy lest I
should have been rendering injustice to the Pope.' "

When one is in Rome life seems to be free from many
of the petty troubles which beset it in other places ; there
is no foreign town which offers so many comforts and ad-
vantages to its English visitors. The hotels, indeed, are
enormously expensive, and the rent of apartments is high ;
but when the latter is once paid, living is rather cheap
than otherwise, especially for those who do not object to
dine from a trattoria, and to drive in hackney carriages.

The climate of Rome is very variable. If the sirocco
blows, it is mild and very relaxing ; but the winters are more
apt to be subject to the severe cold of the tramontana,
which requires even greater precaution and care than that
of an English winter. Nothing can be more mistaken than
the impression that those who go to Italy are sure to find
there a mild and congenial temperature. The climate of
Rome has been subject to severity, even from the earliest
times of its history. Dionysius speaks of one year in the
time of the republic when the snow at Rome lay seven feet
deep, and many men and cattle died of the cold.* Another
year, the snow lay for forty days, trees perished, and cattle
died of hunger.f Present times are a great improvement
on these : snow seldom lies upon the ground for many hours
together, and the beautiful fountains of the city are only
hung with icicles long enough to allow the photographers to

• Dionysius, xii. 8. t L'vy, v. 13.



represent them thus ; but still the climate is not to be trifled
with, and violent transitions from the hot sunshine to the
cold shade of the streets often prove fatal. " No one but
dogs and Englishmen," say the Romans, " ever walk in
the sun."

The malaria^ which is so much dreaded by the natives,
lies dormant during the winter months, and seldom affects
strangers, unless they are inordinately imprudent in sitting
out in the sunset. With the heats of the late summer this
insidious ague-fever is apt to follow on the slightest exertion,
and particularly to overwhelm those who are employed in
field labour. From June to November the Villa Borghese
and the Villa Doria are uninhabitable, and the more de-
serted hills — the Coelian, the Aventine, and the greater part
of the Esquiline, — are a constant prey to fever. The malaria,
however, flies before a crowd of human life, and the Ghetto,
which teems with inhabitants, is perfectly free from it. In
the Campagna, — with the exception of Porto d'Anzio, which
has always been healthy, — no town or village is safe after
the month of August, and to this cause the utter desolation
of so many formerly populous sites (especially those of Veii
and Galera) may be attributed : —

" Roma, vorax hominum, domat ardua colla viroi-um ;
Roma, ferax febrium, necis est uberrima frugum :
Romans febres stabili sunt jure fideles."

Thus wrote Peter Damian in the loth centur)', and those
who refuse to be on their guard will find it so still.

The greatest risk at Rome is incurred by those who,
coming out of the hot sunshine, spend long hours in the
Vatican and the other galleries, which are filled with a


deadly chill during the winter months. As March comes on
this chill wears away, and in April and May the temperature
of the galleries is delightful, and it is impossible to find a
more agreeable retreat. It is in the hope of inducing
strangers to spend more time in the study of these wonder-
ful museums, and of giving additional interest to the hours
which are passed there, that so much is said about their
contents in these volumes. As far as possible it has been

Online LibraryAugustus J. C. (Augustus John Cuthbert) HareWalks in Rome (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 42)