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Timeless and Temporal

By far, our most captivating, inspiring and thoughtful local guide was in Rome. She walked us through the Colosseum, the Forum, Capitoline Hill and finally the Pantheon, breathing life into the epic ruins. She spoke swiftly, not as if she wanted to go home sooner, but as if she had knowledge of great significance to impart. In the shade of a grove, amidst the Forum, she had us just sit still and absorb. Then she said, in more of a mystical way than a relativistic way, "remember this, because this is your Rome." Like a nurse log, Rome has built in, under, on and around its ruins. It is modern and ancient at once; in a state of perpetual change without abandoning its past. Maybe that's what keeps tugging the world toward it. Maybe that's what makes Europe so appealing.


In all seriousness—without meaning to be frivolous—without meaning to be irreverent, and more than all, without meaning to be blasphemous,—I state as my simple deduction from the things I have seen and the things I have heard, that the Holy Personages rank thus in Rome:

First: "The Mother of God"—otherwise the Virgin Mary.
Second: The Deity.
Third: Peter.
Fourth: Some twelve or fifteen canonized Popes and martyrs.
Fifth: Jesus Christ the Saviour—(but always as an infant in arms.)

I may be wrong in this—my judgment errs often, just as is the case with other men's—but it is my judgment, be it good or bad.

Charles Dickens, Pictures from Italy, 1844

Farewell to Rome

...and on one evening I went out quite alone. After having wandered along the Corso - perhaps for the last time - I walked up to the Capitol, which rose like an enchanted palace in the desert. The statue of Marcus Aurelius reminded me of the Commendatore in Don Giovanni, for it seemed to be intimating to the wanderer that he was venturing upon something unusual. Nevertheless I walked down by the stairs at the back. There I was suddenly confronted by the dark triumphal arch of Septimius Severus, which cast a still darker shadow. In the solitude of the Via Sacra the well-known objects seemed alien and ghost-like. But when I approached the grand ruins of the Colosseum and looked through the gate into the interior, I must frankly confess that a shudder ran through me, and I quickly returned home."

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Italian Journey, 1788

Symbols of Rome

And we cross the threshold of the Eternal City at yonder gate, the Gate of San Giovanni Laterano, where the two last objects that attract the notice of a departing visitor, and the two first objects that attract the notice of an arriving one, are a proud church and a decaying ruin - good emblems of Rome.

Charles Dickens, Pictures from Italy, 1844


It is the most impressive, the most stately, the most solemn, grand, majestic, mournful sight, conceivable. Never, in its bloodiest prime, can the sight of the gigantic Coliseum, full and running over with the lustiest life, have moved one’s heart, as it must move all who look upon it now, a ruin. GOD be thanked: a ruin!

Charles Dickens, Pictures from Italy, 1844

When Cows Roamed the Forum

The first view of the ruins in the Forum brought a keen sense of disappointment. I knew that they could only be mere fragments and rubbish, but I was not prepared to find them so. I learned that I had all along secretly hoped for some dignity of neighborhood, some affectionate solicitude on the part of Nature to redeem these works of Art from the destruction that had befallen them. But in hollows below the level of the dirty cowfield, wandered over by evil-eyed buffaloes, and obscenely defiled by wild beasts of men, there stood here an arch, there a pillar, yonder a cluster of columns crowned by a bit of frieze; and yonder again, a fragment of temple, half-gorged by the facade of a hideous rococo church; then a height of vaulted brickwork, and, leading on to the Coliseum, another arch...

William Dean Howells, Italian Journeys, 1901

How Many Days Should I Spend in Rome?

To profit fully from Rome, I should need to spend at least another year, studying in my own way, and, as you well know, I cannot study in any other. If I were to leave now, I should only know how much I do not yet clearly understand.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Italian Journey, 1788

St. Peters

On Sunday, the Pope assisted in the performance of High Mass at St. Peter’s. The effect of the Cathedral on my mind, on that second visit, was exactly what it was at first, and what it remains after many visits. It is not religiously impressive or affecting. It is an immense edifice, with no one point for the mind to rest upon; and it tires itself with wandering round and round. The very purpose of the place, is not expressed in anything you see there, unless you examine its details - and all examination of details is incompatible with the place itself. It might be a Pantheon, or a Senate House, or a great architectural trophy, having no other object than an architectural triumph. There is a black statue of St. Peter, to be sure, under a red canopy; which is larger than life and which is constantly having its great toe kissed by good Catholics. You cannot help seeing that: it is so very prominent and popular. But it does not heighten the effect of the temple, as a work of art; and it is not expressive - to me at least - of its high purpose.

Charles Dickens, Pictures from Italy, 1844

Subterranean Rome

‘The Triumphs of the Faith are not above ground in our splendid churches,’ said the friar, looking round upon us, as we stopped to rest in one of the low passages, with bones and dust surrounding us on every side. ‘They are here! Among the Martyrs’ Graves!’ He was a gentle, earnest man, and said it from his heart; but when I thought how Christian men have dealt with one another; how, perverting our most merciful religion, they have hunted down and tortured, burnt and beheaded, strangled, slaughtered, and oppressed each other; I pictured to myself an agony surpassing any that this Dust had suffered with the breath of life yet lingering in it, and how these great and constant hearts would have been shaken - how they would have quailed and drooped - if a foreknowledge of the deeds that professing Christians would commit in the Great Name for which they died, could have rent them with its own unutterable anguish, on the cruel wheel, and bitter cross, and in the fearful fire.

Charles Dickens, Pictures from Italy, 1844

Immovable Weight

The ghostly pillars in the Forum; the Triumphal Arches of Old Emperors; those enormous masses of ruins which were once their palaces; the grass-grown mounds that mark the graves of ruined temples; the stones of the Via Sacra, smooth with the tread of feet in ancient Rome; even these were dimmed, in their transcendent melancholy, by the dark ghost of its bloody holidays, erect and grim; haunting the old scene; despoiled by pillaging Popes and fighting Princes, but not laid; wringing wild hands of weed, and grass, and bramble; and lamenting to the night in every gap and broken arch - the shadow of its awful self, immovable!

Charles Dickens, Pictures from Italy, 1844

Rough History

let us part from Italy, with all its miseries and wrongs, affectionately, in our admiration of the beauties, natural and artificial, of which it is full to overflowing, and in our tenderness towards a people, naturally well-disposed, and patient, and sweet-tempered. Years of neglect, oppression, and misrule, have been at work, to change their nature and reduce their spirit; miserable jealousies, fomented by petty Princes to whom union was destruction, and division strength, have been a canker at their root of nationality, and have barbarized their language; but the good that was in them ever, is in them yet, and a noble people may be, one day, raised up from these ashes. Let us entertain that hope!

Charles Dickens, Pictures from Italy, 1844