Monday, 28 April 2014

Researching Rome

This cover depicts the Santa Croce in
Gerusalemme Basilica
I've started writing a new novel, one set in Rome in 1880 and so in order to understand the setting I'm consulting the guide books and maps of the time. I want to know what had been discovered, what had been built, how did English tourists travel, where did they stay, where was church... and its proving very interesting.

Rome was a popular destination, away from the cold misery of the English climate, a place where there seem to have been less social restrictions, and where the more intellectually inclined could review their classical education or perfect the art of painting sunny vistas and picturesque ruins.

With the guide books no longer under copyright I've loaded up my kindle and am slowly compiling lists of attractions and relevant quotes regarding them. For while I know what intrigued me on my visit, these places were not necessarily available 130 years ago; they may not have been created as a state-of-the-art museum collection,  or may still be being preserved by the build up of 2000 years of Roman soil.

Thanks to these marvellous books I know that like the Count of Monte Cristo, English tourists preferred to stay in the area around the Piazza di Spagna - the square at the bottom of the Spanish Steps. It was here too that the artists' models would wait for work, lounging upon the sunny steps.

For the devote amongst them, their church was, it would seem, right next to the cattle market outside the walls of Rome, with services twice daily and thrice on Sundays.

Porto del Popolo
I know where the English doctors were, when the mail left and how much it cost to telegraph London, information we're prone to forget what with instant communication in our pockets.  And most importantly, the name of the Palazzo attached to the Trevi Fountain, where the English Consulate was.

Having found an old map, I'm tracing the paths described (in detail) in Walks in Rome by Augustus J.C. Hare. Determining what tourists were encouraged to stop for and what they expected to see when they did arrive at each sight.

Much of Rome was as it is now. The same monuments existed within the same museums/Palazzos, the same attractions draw from tourists the same reactions. What change there is minimal, but perhaps intrinsic to the motivation for visiting said church or art gallery.

At St Pietro in Vincoli, the chains of Peter are now on display in a reliquary below the main altar, on display for the devout worshipper. Previously I believe they lived in the Sacristy with the other relics and valuable items of the church.

It intrigues me that the Colosseum used to be full of greenery with trees growing in the cracks in the rocks.

Excavations in the Forum were open to the public, two days a week.

The paintings in St Peter's have been replaced with superb mosaic imitations due to increased tourist numbers and the ability to maintain the cool temperatures needed to preserve the paintings. We think of this as a recent move. It was, only if by recent you mean at least pre 1870.
Some of the real paintings were on display at St Maria degli Angeli.

The Pantheon contains a feature known as the 'Asses ears of Bernini' - two ugly campaniles named in honour of their architect. It was so named because it contained the pantheon of the gods in the form of statues gracing the niches in the walls.

For anyone interested in farming matters, the slaughter of Roman pigs, [stilettoed under the left shoulder as opposed to having their throat slit] is a sight worth seeing.  This I do not have photos of.

Supposedly, Caesar was murdered on land that now comprises the Sant'Andrea della Valle. This church is within spitting distance of the Theatre of Pompey, and is where the Curia/Senate once stood. I'm curious to learn if other guide books of the time repeat this same information.

I think more research is needed. Good thing my bookshelf is filling up quickly.

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