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:
In this final post of the series, following the previous walk around the Vatican and Trastevere from Forbes’s Rambles in Rome, today we trace the third ‘ramble’ along the Tiber, which takes on some of the best-preserved sights from ancient times nestled – sometimes intimately – amid Renaissance and Baroque Rome.
At the back of this guidebook is a handy directory with contact details for a piano shop, hairdresser and milkman, while painters, sculptors and artists that visitors may want to use are listed not only with their name and address, but their nationality. For reference, there is a short list of historical dates: 21 April 753 BC was given as the date for the foundation of Rome; a dozen events are mentioned chronologically up to the fall of the Western Empire in 476 AD; then nothing until Italy is unified in 1870. On account of its small size, the book should be excused for omissions of major historic events prior to unification.
‘This incomparable circular edifice….is one of the noblest and most perfect productions of that style of architecture specifically denominated Roman.’ (Forbes, p.148)
Starting in the Piazza del Popolo, Forbes takes us southwards along the Via Ripetta, past the Mausoleum of Augustus to the Pantheon. This temple to all the pagan gods, has like all surviving Roman buildings, suffered from acts of pillaging, but due to its conversion to a church it has retained much of its structural integrity and original features, which makes it one of the best-preserved buildings from Roman times. Forbes speculated that it was originally part of a complex of baths by Agrippa, whose name appears prominently on the portico. Modern sources now attribute the Pantheon that we see today to Emperor Hadrian.
The Capitol was a site of great importance in antiquity, but its current grandeur comes from buildings dating from the Middles Ages and the Renaissance. At the centre of the 1892 view, marking the middle of the Piazza del Campidolgio is the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius from the Roman period. The original was moved in the 20th century and replaced by a copy while it underwent conservation; it is now on display inside the Musei Capitolini, which faces the same square. In 1892 the cost of admission into the museums was half a lira!
Temple of Hercules
Walking south again, past the Roman Forum, next to the Tiber is the round Temple of Hercules. Like the Pantheon, it is a remarkably well-preserved building and it is the earliest known marble temple in Rome; previous places of worship having been built of more perishable or cheaper materials.
‘…one of the most beautiful and admirable structures in Rome.’ (Forbes, p.207)
One of the last sights on the ramble, the Circus Maximus in its prime could accommodate perhaps up to 300,000 spectators for major events – all free. In contrast to the other ancient sites, there was little left of the Circus Maximus in Forbes’s time. He would have seen the same view as today: an empty valley between the Palantine and Aventine Hills. The other rambles in the guide explore what was then the city’s fringes and towards the hills in the east and following the Appian Way into the countryside beyond in Campagna. Following the routes of this guidebook reveals what many know already: Rome changes slowly and has long been a destination for culture and pilgrimage.
Though we have devoted several posts to Forbes’s book, the reality is that it is quite obscure and rarely requested by users of the Library, unlike more modern or well-known works. Despite this, these older guidebooks will always be here waiting for someone to have another look at a still rather useful book – just ignore the prices for such services as horse-drawn carriages rides and the museum opening times in its directory. History confirms that the costs of things usually go up.
Want to know more?
Like all four million items in the RIBA’s collections held in the British Architectural Library, Forbes’s book is available to anyone to see and use for research. As a subject and a source of inspiration, Rome features heavily in the RIBA’s collections. Roaming Rome is an online display of drawings from the RIBA and V&A’s collections, featuring Rome both real and imagined by artists such as Piranesi.
- 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
(Modern photographs by Wilson Yau)