In the architectural collections of the RIBA there are historic guidebooks. We follow some of the routes and sights suggested in one such guide published in 1892:
‘Avoid bad odours’. This is the first tip given in the guidebook Rambles in Rome. In a list of ‘useful hints’, author S. Russell Forbes Ph.D. also advises (Forbes, p.xiv):
- Do not ride in an open carriage at night.
- Take lunch in the middle of the day.
- No city in the world is so well supplied with good drinking water as Rome. The best is the Trevi water. Do not drink Acqua Marcia; it is too cold.
- If out about sunset, throw an extra wrap or coat on.
- Do not sit about the ruins at night.
- Close your windows at night.
- Do not over-fatigue yourself.
It’s hard to judge how useful these tips were in the closing years of the 19th century. Architecture, of course, has always been a major attraction for tourists in Rome and the book almost exclusively discusses this subject and its history. Despite the passing of 120 years, many of the sights in the book are still points of interest today. Alongside notable modern additions, and bar the brutal interventions of the fascist era, the majority of the landmarks mentioned have survived and several of the scenic walks or ‘rambles’ it recommends can still be followed.
‘Ramble I’ takes up much of the ancient centre. Beginning in the north at the old gateway for many travellers in this period, the Piazza del Popolo, attention then moves south to the Roman Forum until the suggested walk ends at the Colosseum. Comparisons of the book’s engravings with recent photographs show only slight changes, as major excavations had already taken place by the first half of the 19th century.
Piazza del Popolo
‘…a circular open space, adorned with fountains, and surrounded by foliage. From this circle Rome spreads itself out like a fan southwards.’ (Forbes, p.2)
Apart from the disappearance of horse-drawn carriages and the addition of street lights, both images are easily identifiable as the same place. The obelisk brought to Rome from Egypt by Emperor Augustus remains the centrepiece. A walk from the piazza along the Via del Corso, one of the main thoroughfares, takes a straight and long route to the Roman Forum.
The Roman Forum
‘Mutilated fragments still speak of the former grandeur of the spot, dead men of its fame, and living authors of its past and present history.’ (Forbes, p.17)
Since Forbes’s day, some of the medieval buildings in the background towards the right of the 1892 engraving have disappeared. The church of S. Maria Liberatrice was removed to allow excavation of the forum. In the foreground, from left to right: the Arch of Septimus Severus, the three columns of the Temple of Vespasian and the seven remaining columns of the Temple of Saturn.
Arch of Titus
‘…a triumphal arch was erected… to Titus, the conqueror of Jerusalem.’ (Forbes, p.90)
Again, not too much had changed between the images; earlier in the 19th century when the arch was restored and neighbouring buildings were demolished to recover the space that once surrounded the arch in ancient times. Access has changed, with modern barriers in place to prevent the public walking through the arch. It is inside this landmark located at the edge of the forum where one finds the bas reliefs showing the sacred items of the Jewish temple being carried as part of Titus’s procession.
Walking away from the Arch of Titus along the Via Sacra was a pile of bricks. This unusual structure was all that remained of a fountain erected by Titus, until being finally removed in the 1930s under the orders of Mussolini. The Meta Sudans can still be seen to the right in the foreground of the engraving for the Colosseum below.
‘A noble wreck in ruinous perfection.’ (Byron quoted in Forbes, p.96)
Forbes urges readers to see the Colosseum under moonlight or when lit up with fireworks at night to see it at its grandest. Modern electric lighting highlights the rhythm of arches of this landmark at night.
Next post: In the next few days we will continue using Forbes’s work and explore his other ‘rambles’ in this slow-changing city.
Find out more
Forbes’s Rambles in Rome is one of four million items in the RIBA’s architectural collections, which are available to anyone visiting the British Architectural Library. Entry is free. Alternatively, see more images of Rome on RIBApix or take part in the Roaming Rome online workshop designed to provoke discussion about the city using the stunning visual material in the collections.
Forbes, S. R., 1892. Rambles in Rome: an archaeological and historical guide. London: Nelson
(Modern photographs by Wilson Yau)