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:
“…the first sight of Rome is always her unequalled cathedral; now, as then, the latter is the great object which the tourist eagerly hastens to visit.” (Forbes, p.107)
When using a book as old as Forbes’s Rambles in Rome, it is tempting to hope that it may mention a sight since lost or a fact that had fallen into obscurity, but this small book focuses mainly on Rome’s major monuments, almost all of which have survived since 1892. This makes following the guide fairly straightforward, despite the RIBA’s copy having lost its map.
‘Ramble II’ is set in the Trastevere district of the city on the opposite side of the Tiber to the Roman Forum which was explored in ‘ramble I‘. The start of this second walk takes the reader from the Castel Sant’Angelo overlooking the Tiber to the Vatican in the west.
Spina di Borgo
The two sights are connected by a wide, straight road, described by a recent source as “…a noisy avenue with faceless modern buildings” (Lucentini, p.380). Via della Conciliazione did not exist when Forbes was writing; it was created out of the total demolition of an ancient neighbourhood, the Spina di Borgo, in the 1930s. Sadly, he doesn’t give a description of the place with its “ochre-coloured houses and bustling shops” (Lucentini, p.380). Perhaps there was no room or need, but Forbes’s walk went through the Borgo Nuovo, one of two parallel roads that bounded the Spina and now both underneath the Via della Conciliazione. Once, one would have seen the light-filled space of St Peter’s Square and dome of St Peter’s Basilica emerge slowly from beneath the shade of small buildings and between narrow lanes. Today, the basilica and square are exposed and visible to the visitors travelling under direct sunlight for half a kilometre down the new road.
St Peter’s Basilica
“The most extensive hall ever constructed by human art expands in magnificent perspective before you.” (Forbes, p.111)
This 17th century structure may help to explain why much of ancient Rome has been reduced to ruins. Towards the end of ‘ramble II’, having mentioned the various villas south of the Vatican, Forbes looks towards the green hills and describes the Pauline Fountain (Fontana dell’Acqua Paola) as being “…built out of the remains of the Temple of Minerva which stood in the Forum of Domitian” (Forbes, p.142). The monuments of ancient Rome were always a useful quarry for new buildings, fortunately some survived major despoliation as we will see when retracing Forbes’s next journey.
Next post in the series: Ramble III will cross the Tiber and explore the Pantheon and the statue of Marcus Aurelius.
- Forbes, S. R., 1892. Rambles in Rome: an archaeological and historical guide. London: Nelson
- Lucentini, M., et al., 2006. Rome: a practical guide to the history and culture of the Eternal City. London: Pallas Athene