Read CHAPTER IX of Fair Italy‚ the Riviera and Monte Carlo, free online book, by W. Cope Devereux, on ReadCentral.com.

Arrival in Rome--Hotel de la Ville--The Corso--The Strangers’ Quarter-- Roman Guides--View from the Capitol--“How are the Mighty fallen!”--The sculpture-gallery of the Capitol--The Dying Gladiator--The Venus-- Hawthorne’s Marble Faun--Bambino Santissimo--The Mamertine Prison--The Forum--Palaces--The Coliseum--Longfellow’s “Michael Angelo.”

Travelling by the slow second-class train, we did not arrive at Rome until nearly 11 p.m.; yet the journey proved interesting, especially as we approached our destination. The stillness of night increased the impressive awe that inspired us as we neared the “Eternal City.” It was not only cold and dark, but foggy; and we could see very little; conjecture, however, was busy as we caught, through an occasional gleam of light, the shadows of outlying monuments and ruins. As we crossed the silent-rolling Tiber, and the reverberations of the railway bridge smote on our ears with a hollow, sepulchral sound, we felt, almost with a shiver, that we were entering a city of the dead.

The fog was extremely cold and penetrating, striking one almost like the malaria, and we were glad to get to the well-lighted station, and mingle with the cheerful animated crowd on the platform, and did not even feel the intrusive hotel omnibus-conductors a nuisance, but gladly consigned ourselves to the guidance of one, and drove away. However, we soon found that Rome was Imperial in her charges. The first hotel wanted from ten to twelve francs for a bedroom per night, the second likewise. Ultimately we were safely housed about midnight in the Hotel de la Ville, in the Piazza del Popolo, at the head of the Corso. Though perhaps a little out of the way, and less conveniently situated than the more central hotels in the Piazza di Spagna, it has many advantages in comfort, is quiet and moderate in charge, and close to the English church.

This Hotel de la Ville was once the palace and museum of the Marquis Campana. It is surrounded by so-called “English gardens,” beautifully decorated with columns, statues, fountains, and orange trees full of golden fruit.

The next morning, on rising, we felt the dream of many years was at last realized!

“Thou art truly a world, O Rome!” says Goethe; and we indeed felt it so, as, having breakfasted, we sallied forth, eager to begin our explorations. Our first visit was naturally to the English bookseller’s, where we purchased a guide-book. A plan of Rome may always be obtained at one’s hotel, and it is well to study the streets, etc., and arrange one’s campaign of sight-seeing. A good way is to begin by visiting the nearest objects of interest, which can be accomplished on foot; then to make use of the omnibus; and finally, of the carriages, for more distant places outside the walls. These latter are cheap enough, as you may drive from one end of Rome to the other for a franc.

The Corso, the main street in the city, is very narrow, and about a mile in length. Starting from the Piazza del Popolo, it extends to the foot of the Capitol. Most of the shops are situated here, and when lined with fashionable carriages, it is very crowded, particularly just outside the cafes. The other principal thoroughfares are the Strada del Babbuina, ending in the Piazza di Spagna; and the Strada di Ripetta, leading to the Tiber. Most of the streets converge into the Piazza di Venezia, where is situated the tramway station, from which omnibuses run to all parts of the town. This corner of the city is usually known as the “Stranger’s Quarter.” Groups of military men were lounging about, and blocking the pavements, characteristically indulging in dolce far niente aided by the eternal cigarette; indeed, the whole population appear to smoke all day long; both wine and tobacco being too cheap and plentiful for the good of the people.

I believe there are very few good guides in Rome few at least who do their duty conscientiously, and with interest, but all asking some twelve francs a day, just to ride about with you and smoke innumerable cigarettes. A really good guide is worth securing, and saves much time, trouble, and expense, besides giving most valuable information sometimes. On the first day, we were lucky enough to pick up one of the right sort, with a toga, cloak, and Roman profile; but unfortunately his pronunciation of English was such a jargon we were quite unable to make head or tail of it, especially when most eager to obtain some information of interest, which he was willing and even anxious to convey.

He took us to the top of the Capitol at least, I accompanied him to the very flagstaff; but it was blowing so tempestuously that my wife was obliged to be content to remain a flight of steps below, and, being the hour of noon, the great bell (which Garibaldi struck when he called the Romans “to arms”) boomed out twelve mighty strokes with its immense clapper, and nearly deafened her. The wind was so strong that I had to take off my hat and cling to the parapet. But how interesting was the panorama that met my gaze! Right over the Eternal City beneath me, and far away beyond the plains around it, lay that great range of bare mountains over which, in the day of her distress, poured Rome’s Gothic enemies, in wild and overwhelming hordes. Wasted and enfeebled by the constant drain made on her resources to supply the many provinces of her fair empire, her very vitals insidiously sapped and impoverished by the selfish luxury and vice to which her pagan civilization had brought her, what wonder that she fell an easy prey. Yet the heart still yearns over her in her mighty fall, and as I looked, and caught the enthusiasm of my Roman guide, the lament of Byron rose to my lips:

“O Rome! my country! city of the soul!
The orphans of the heart must turn to thee,
Lone mother of dead empires! and control
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 wither’d hands,
Whose holy dust was scatter’d 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 Goth, the Christian, time, war, flood, and fire
Have dealt upon the seven-hill’d city’s pride;
She saw her glories star by star expire,
And up the steep barbarian monarchs ride,
Where the car climb’d the capitol; far and wide
Temple and tower went down, nor left a site:
Chaos of ruins! who shall trace the void,
O’er her dim fragments cast a lunar light,
And say, ‘Here was, or is,’ where all is doubly night?

“Alas! the lofty city! and alas!
The trebly hundred triumphs! and the day
When Brutus made the dagger’s edge surpass
The conqueror’s sword in bearing fame away!
Alas, for Tully’s voice, and Virgil’s lay,
And Livy’s pictured page! but these shall be
Her resurrection; all beside decay.
Alas, for earth, for never shall we see
That brightness in her eye she bore when Rome was free!”

Around lay the seven hills on which Rome was originally built. The Capitoline, on which I was standing, the Palatine, Quirinal, Coelius, Aventine, Esquiline, Viminal. Some of them appeared merely green mounds, the remains of the wonderfully strong and ancient walls, and here and there the broken outline of some palace of the great Caesars. Immediately beneath us lay the mighty Coliseum, the Forum, and other monuments of Rome’s ancient grandeur and departed glory. Away to the north-west, across the muddy, silent Tiber, lay decaying papal Rome, crested by the dome of St. Peter’s and the Vatican. Again, to the north-east, right over ancient Rome, and towards the Quirinal and Esquiline hills, young Italy, emancipated and free, her national flag floating in the breeze from the palace of the king. It was a grand and impressive sight, and one never to be forgotten.

On descending from the tower, we passed through storehouses filled with broken remains of figures, capitals, plinths, and other fragments disentombed from the Forum, etc. The three palaces which comprise the principal buildings of the modern Capitol were designed by Michael Angelo, and form three sides of a square. In the centre stands the noble equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius. The open side faces the modern part of Rome. The palace on the left side, or Capitoline Museum, as it is called, contains one of the finest collections of sculpture in Italy. It is quite a day’s work to see it properly, but we had to be content with an hour or two.

Here we saw that most noble and pathetic presentment of Death, grappled with, and almost conquered, in the statue of the Dying Gladiator. The right arm was restored by Michael Angelo, and the guide informed me that by general agreement it should have been brought a little more forward, and that the great sculptor, although aware of it, was unable for some reason to restore it in this way. I think, however, that his conception as resting, must be the right and natural posture, as the wounded man seems to depend on the support of that arm entirely, while struggling in the agonies of death. You may almost see the moisture on his manly brow, while in the intensely expressive face you catch glimpses of that lifetime which is passing across his memory in the space of a moment thoughts of the wife and little ones in that far-away home to which he will never return. It is a fine subject, exquisitely conceived and executed, and worthily described in Byrons two immortal stanzas. Upstairs, in a small rotunda-shaped temple, enshrined in a niche in the wall, we saw that most beautiful conception of womanhood, known as the Venus of the Capitol. She appears as though suddenly disturbed while taking her bath, and the expression of frightened innocence and maiden shame upon the face, and the graceful shrinking attitude of the limbs, form a picture of perfect purity and loveliness. The guide turned the figure upon its pedestal so that we might catch the beauty of its curves and soft outline, and though the action seemed half profane, rudely disturbing ones semi-entranced admiration, I did not until then catch the full beauty of the statue that enchants the world. An almost living memorial of the Age of Beauty, there seems in this one radiant figure to be enfolded the whole wealth of love and loveliness that distinguished so richly those times when

“Human hands first moulded, and then mocked
With moulded limbs, more lovely than its own,
The human form, till marble grew divine.”

Yet one other masterpiece of ancient art we eagerly looked for was the marble Faun of Praxiteles, around which the graceful genius of Nathaniel Hawthorne has woven such a delicate web of romance, the figure itself being inimitably described in the opening chapter. But this and other immortal works are made familiar to us by so many gifted writers, that I need but to mention their names to conjure them in all their beauty to the eye of the intelligent reader, who instantly recalls to mind some beautiful passage in poetry or prose, to which any words I could pen would be superfluous. “All men are poets by nature,” but “adequate expression is rare;” and though a vivid sense of beauty and a passionate appreciation of the grand and sublime is open to all, yet to genius alone it is given to clothe the fleeting thought with words of haunting music, which shall live as long as the idea that gave them birth.

Close by the museum is the Church of Santa Maria di Ara Coeli, ascended by some 124 steps. Here we were reverently ushered by a monk into a little chapel, to see the Santissimo Bambino. After opening the shutter, he approached the altar, and from an iron door in the top drew out a drawer, inside which was a box; from this he carefully lifted out, reverently crossing himself as he touched it, a doll of wax or painted wood, supposed to be an image of the Infant Jesus. The legend runs, that an angel appeared in the porch of the church at midnight, and, ringing the bell, flew back to heaven, leaving the image of the Sacred Babe to the care of the church, just as a poor child is dropped at the door of a foundling hospital. The doll is literally covered with jewellery, and diamond-rings, and other gems and trinkets, sewn into its dress, the offerings of its misguided devotees. It is said that the priests at the church “farm” this Bambino, and make a good income by exhibiting it, letting it out on special occasions for large profits. Leave the priests alone for their ability to work on the ignorance and credulity of the people! It is sometimes carried to the houses of the sick, being supposed to possess miraculous healing properties. After duly displaying this treasure, the monk carefully replaced it, locking it up with a profound sigh.

This is only one of the many wonderful relics that are shown, and absurd legends that are told, and one hardly knows whether to treat with pity or contempt the ignorant credulity shown by the lower orders of Roman Catholics and their priesthood.

Between the Capitol and the Forum is the Mamertine prison, where among other illustrious captives were confined Jugurtha, Sejanus, and the Catiline conspirators; St. Paul, too, noblest of men, was here held in durance vile, and Popish tradition says St. Peter also. Passing through a little church, we were lighted down into a dark dungeon, and below this found another, communicating by narrow stone steps; but it is said the poor prisoners were dropped from the one to the other through a hole or trap-door. They were confined below until sentenced to death, when they were brought up the steps to the dungeon above, where they were executed, and their bodies thrown out for the satisfaction of the people thronging the Forum. There is a dint in the stone wall where it is said St. Paul’s head was battered by his inhuman gaoler; this, though it sounds improbable enough, is gravely related as a fact. A subterranean passage extends to a considerable distance, which I penetrated as far as I was able, till a cold blast of air, evidently from the river Tiber, almost extinguished my candle, and the guide shouted to me to return.

It is remarkable how much lower that part of ancient Rome surrounding the Forum lies compared to the rest of the city certainly from ten to fifteen feet. Modern or mediaeval Rome seems in some instances to be partially built over the older portion. Why this should have been, it is difficult to say. New and interesting excavations are made continuously, and I could have remained here the live-long day, watching the gradual disentombment of the beautiful columns, statuary, and other long-buried mementoes of Rome’s past greatness and, as her foundations were laid bare, rebuilding and repeopling, according to my own ideal fancies, this great temple of eloquence. “What men have crossed the shadows of these very columns! What thoughts that have moved the world were born beneath them!” Scene after scene rose to my mind which had been enacted in this very spot, one fair vision standing out like a star from the rest Virginia, “the sweetest maid in Rome,” in her white garments, as though prepared for the sacrifice, satchel in hand, tripping with “her small glancing feet along the Forum,” and up the sacred street from the schools, the remains of which may still be seen cavernlike.

After all, what is left of Rome’s greatness? A few broken columns only? Surely not. We are still as deeply moved as ever by the history of her mighty rise and fall; the world still acknowledges the governing wisdom of her imperishable laws, and is still benefited by the inspiring example of her noble men and virtuous women. But the true “Eternal City” must be looked for elsewhere than in the most powerful of pagan nations. This indeed must have solaced the little fraternity of Christians at ancient Rome, when so cruelly persecuted: and what a glorious triumph is theirs now!

We did not omit to pay a visit to the palaces of the Caesars, which lie clustered above and about the Forum. It is rather difficult to understand how the Romans obtained sufficient light for their dwellings, the rooms being generally small, and without external windows. What there was, however, usually came from above, as the courts were open; and also by radiation, the large marble tanks in these courts being filled with water, on which the descending light smote, and was dispersed around. There is a subterranean passage leading from the palaces to the Coliseum, which was made use of by the emperor and his suite for their transit thither; and a terribly anxious little journey that must often have been to the great Caesars.

The grand old Coliseum still rears its crumpling walls proudly towards the skies, though almost two-thirds lie in ruins. The centre has been filled in with earth, so that we scarcely see the original bottom, but there is sufficient left to show clearly to what use this great amphitheatre was put. One intelligent guide points out the evidences of formerly existing hydrants, which had led to the Tiber, and thus flooded the lower part with water for the exhibition of mock naval engagements. Then, when the water was let out again, great scaffolding poles were inserted into stone sockets, and a platform suspended on a level with the dens, from which the wild beasts were let into the arena. And here the gladiators fought, and the Christians and criminals were torn to pieces, to make sport for the countless multitude sitting, crowded tier upon tier around, while the blue heavens looked down on the inhuman and bloody sight, and the poor martyr Christians, fearlessly awaiting their doom, sighed upwards, “How long? how long?” We could also see the trap-doors from whence buffoons were hoisted on to the stage. To trace all this was interesting, though it saddened one to reflect on all the horrors that had been enacted here. Much of the brickwork had evidently been veneered with slabs of marble, most of which has now disappeared; but it rather puzzled me to see so many great chips made in certain parts of the marble columns. Our guide, however, informed me that they had bars of iron in the centre, and it was to obtain this iron for making into spear-heads for the defence of Rome that the marble was so broken and chipped at the joints an inglorious ending truly for these witnesses of past splendour!

It has been said that Byron’s celebrated description of the Coliseum is better than the reality; that “he beheld the scene in his mind’s eye, through the witchery of many intervening years, and faintly illumined it with starlight instead of the broad glow of moonshine.” Be this as it may, the noble stanzas are all too well known to bear further quotation. The reader may possibly be less acquainted with the fine lines on the subject, which Longfellow has put in the mouth of Michael Angelo, in the fragmentary tragedy of that name lately published in America:

“Tradition says that fifteen thousand men
Were toiling for ten years incessantly
Upon this amphitheatre.

Behold,

How wonderful it is! The queen of flowers,
The marble rose of Rome! Its petals torn
By wind and rain of twice five hundred years;
Its mossy sheath half rent away, and sold
To ornament our palaces and churches,
Or to be trodden under feet of man
Upon the Tiber’s bank; yet what remains
Still opening its fair bosom to the sun,
And to the constellations that at night
Hang poised above it like a swarm of bees.

“The rose of Rome, but not of Paradise;
Not the white rose our Tuscan poet saw,
With saints for petals. When this rose was perfect
Its hundred thousand petals were not saints,
But senators in their Thessalian caps,
And all the roaring populace of Rome;
And even an Empress and the Vestal Virgins,
Who came to see the gladiators die,
Could not give sweetness to a rose like this.
The sand beneath our feet is saturate
With blood of martyrs; and these rifted stones
Are awful witnesses against a people
Whose pleasure was the pain of dying men.

“Look at these walls about us and above us! They have been shaken by earthquakes, have been made A fortress, and been battered by long sieges; The iron clamps, that held the stones together, Have been wrenched from them; but they stand erect And firm, as if they had been hewn and hollowed Out of the solid rock, and were a part Of the foundations of the world itself. ... A thousand wild flowers bloom From every chink, and the birds build their nests Among the rained arches, and suggest New thoughts of beauty to the architect.”