AGAIN 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 last," 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 Arles, they generally go to the amphitheatres with a curiosity to know 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-known 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," wrote Niebuhr. "Nothing about them is new to me; as a child I lay so often, for hours together, before their pictures, that their images were, even at that early age, as distinctly impressed upon my mind, as if I had actually seen them."
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 minor 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 endless 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, which, from insufficient time, and the absence 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 residence 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 returning again and again, by allowing the feeling of Rome to gain upon you, when you have constantly revisited the same view, the same temple, the same picture, that Rome engraves itself upon your heart, and changes from a disagreeable, 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 known Rome," wrote Hawthorne, "and left her where she lies, like a long-decaying corpse, retaining a trace of the noble shape it was, but with accumulated 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 uncomfortably 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 nastiness, each equally 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 desolation of her ruin, and the 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 unmistakeably 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 it were more familiar, more intimately our home, than even the spot where we were born."
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 approached. "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 postillion stopped his horses, and pointing it out to the traveller in the distance, pronounced them with that Roman accent which is grave and sonorous, as the name of Rome itself."
"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 approaching 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 dear 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 the hills upon which stands Cervetri, the ancient Cære, from the 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 History,' "lies among shapeless hillocks, shaggy with bush and briar. Far 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 lies beneath the wheels like 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 crumbling 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.
"When 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 impossible 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 Mediterranean, the Alban hills, I think, in the remote distance, and just beneath us, on the left, Soracte, an outlier of the Apennines, 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 Ronciglione, 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 anywhere 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 suppose 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 succeeded 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 Popolo."
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 Staël gives us the impression which the same subject would produce on a different type of character:—
"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 postillons s'écrièrent avec transport: Voyez, voyez, c'est la coupole de Saint-Pierre! Les Napolitains montrent aussi le Vésuve; et la mer fait de même l'orgueil des habitans des côtes. On croirait voir le dôme des Invalides, s'écria le comte d'Erfeuil."
It was by this approach that most of its distinguished pilgrims have entered the capital 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 coronation 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 Ampère, in his 'Portraits de Rome à 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 murderers and prostitutes. The arts which marked this corruption 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 frondeurs 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 times, 'I would not have missed going to Rome for a thousand 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 advantages 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. 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 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 deserted hills—the Cœlian, 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 virorum;
Roma, ferax febrium, necis est uberrima frugum:
Romanæ febres stabili sunt jure fideles."
Thus wrote Peter Damian in the 10th century, 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 wonderful 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 desired to evade any mere catalogue of their collections,—so that no mention has been made of objects which possess inferior artistic or historical interest; while by introducing anecdotes connected with those to which attention is drawn, or by quoting the opinion of some good authority concerning them, an endeavour has been made to fix them in the recollection.
So much has been written about Rome, that in quoting from the remarks of others the great difficulty has been selection,—and the rule has been followed that the most learned books are not always the most instructive or the most interesting. No endeavour has been made to enter into deep archæological questions,—to define the exact limits of the Walls of Servius Tullius,—or to hazard a fresh opinion as to how the earth accumulated in the Roman Forum, or whence the pottery came, out of which the Monte Testaccio has arisen; but it has rather been sought to gather up and present to the reader such a succession of word pictures from various authors, as may not only make the scenes of Rome more interesting at the time, but may deepen their impression afterwards. This was the work which the late illustrious M. Ampère intended to carry out, and which he would have done so much better and more fully.
From the experience of many years the writer can truly say that the more intimately these scenes become known, the more deeply they become engraven upon the inmost affections. Rome, as Goethe truly says, "is a world, and it takes years to find oneself at home in it." It is not a hurried visit to the Coliseum, with guide book and cicerone, which will enable one to drink in the fulness of its beauty; but a long and familiar friendship with its solemn walls, in the ever-varying grandeur of golden sunlight and grey shadow—till, after many days' companionship, its stones become dear as those of no other building ever can be;—and it is not a rapid inspection of the huge cheerless basilicas and churches, with their gaudy marbles and gilded ceilings and ill-suited monuments, which arouses your sympathy; but the long investigation of their precious fragments of ancient cloister, and sculptured fountain,—of mouldering fresco, and mediæval tomb,—of mosaic-crowned gateway, and palm-shadowed garden;—and the gradually-acquired knowledge of the wondrous story which clings around each of these ancient things, and which tells how each has a motive and meaning entirely unsuspected and unseen by the passing eye.
The immense extent of Rome, and the wide distances to be traversed between its different ruins and churches, is in itself a sufficient reason for devoting more time to it than to the other cities of Italy. Surprise will doubtless be felt that so few pagan ruins remain, considering the enormous number which are known to have existed even down to a comparatively late period. A monumental record of A.D. 540, published by Cardinal Mai, mentions 324 streets, 2 capitols—the Tarpeian and that on the Quirinal,—80 gilt statues of the gods (only the Hercules remains), 66 ivory statues of the gods, 46,608 houses, 17,097 palaces, 13,052 fountains, 3785 statues of emperors and generals in bronze, 22 great equestrian statues of bronze (only Marcus Aurelius remains), 2 colossi (Marcus Aurelius and Trajan), 9026 baths, 31 theatres, and 8 amphitheatres!
It is impossible to speak too highly of the facilities afforded to strangers for seeing and enjoying everything, especially by the Roman nobility. The beautiful grounds of the Villa Borghese and the Villa Doria appear to be kept up at an enormous expense, solely for the use and pleasure of the public, and almost all the palaces and collections are thrown open on fixed days with unequalled liberality. In almost all these galleries, museums, and gardens the stranger is permitted to wander about and linger as he pleases, entirely unmolested by officious servants and ignorant ciceroni.
Those will enjoy Rome most who have studied it thoroughly before leaving their own homes. In the multiplicity of engagements in which a foreigner is soon involved, there is little time for historical research, and few are able to do more than "read up their Murray," so that half the pleasure and all the advantage of a visit to Rome are thrown away: while those who arrive with the foundation already prepared, easily and naturally acquire, amid the scenes around which the history of the world revolved, an amount of information which will be astonishing even to themselves. "People out of Rome," says Goethe, "have no idea how one is schooled there;" but then, as the author of 'Vera' remarks, "that is true of Rome, which Madame Swetchine said of life, viz. that you find exactly what you put into it."
The pagan monuments of Rome have been written of and discussed ever since they were built, and the catacombs have lately found historians and guides both able and willing,—about the later Christian monuments far less has hitherto been said. In English, except in the immense collection of interest which is imbedded in the works of Hemans, and in the few beautiful notices of some of the early martyrs by Mrs. Jameson, very little has been written; in French there is far more. There is a natural shrinking in the English Protestant mind from all that is connected with the story of the saints,—especially the later saints of the Roman Catholic Church. Many believe, with Addison, "that the Christian antiquities are so embroiled in fable and legend, that one derives but little satisfaction from searching into them." And yet, as Mrs. Jameson observes, when all that the controversialist can desire is taken away from the reminiscences of those, who to the Roman Catholic mind have consecrated the homes of their earthly life, how much remains!—"so much to awaken, to elevate, to touch the heart;—so much that will not fade from the memory, so much that may make a part of our after-life."
No attempt has been made in these pages to describe the country round Rome, beyond a few of the most ordinary drives and excursions outside the walls. The opening of the railways to Naples and Civita Vecchia have now brought a vast variety of new excursions within the range of a day's expedition—and the papal citadel of Anagni, the temples of Cori, the cyclopean remains of Segni, Alatri, Norba, Cervetri, and Corneto, and the wild heights of Soracte, will probably ere long become as well known as the oft-visited Tivoli, Ostia, and Albano. It is intended to supplement these "Walks in Rome" by a similar volume of "Excursions round Rome."