« EelmineJätka »
Sabine women during the celebration of games instituted by Romulus in honour of Neptune.
Successive rulers, from the time of Tarquinius Priscus to the Emperor Claudius, enlarged and embellished this the grandest monument of Rome before the erection of the Flavian Colosseum, and gold, marbles, statues, and altars were not wanting for the adornment of this the rallying-point of two hundred and sixty thousand spectators, where horses, chariot and foot-races, wrestling, boxing, and combats with wild beasts, varied their amusement. On the spina passing down the centre of the arena were erected the two obelisks now adorning the Piazza del Popolo and the square of the Lateran, at whose base were placed the bands of music that enlivened the audience during the games, as the chariots or runners coursed round this central division forming the course. Of the vast multitudes who age after age applauded the swiftness of the chariots, the skill of the gladiators, and the barbarous wrestling, history only records the gratitude of the lion to the generous Androcles, who, being exposed to fight with wild beasts, was recognised by a lion from whose paw he had some time before extracted a thorn, aud who, instead of tearing his antagonist to pieces, fawned upon him in the midst of that great circus and licked his hand. Even the iron Romans were interested by so touching a sight, and the gratitude of the noble animal saved his benefactor's life.
Alas ! for the utilitarian nineteenth century! the site of the Cerchio Massimo is now converted into a gasometer, as red, and as flaunting and ill-odoured as any gasometer in a little country town; and there is a pert little white house in the centre of the yard, and a cast-iron railing in front fresh from Birmingham, and all kinds of modern abominations desecrating the soil where kings, dictators, and Cæsars held their imperial state, their gorgeous togas sweeping the mosaic floors as they passed out of the gilded palaces on the Palatine down through the marble colonnades of the stately Forum, to witness the cruel pageant displayed on Rome's great holidays.
Leaving this part of the city I drove by the Colosseum towards the magnificent Basilica of San Giovanni Laterano, the parent church of Rome, whose lofty porticos and domes crown the Cælian Hill along the park-like avenue, bordered by rows of trees growing under the shadow of the sombre walls, a road extending from the grand facade of the Lateran in a straight line to the large church of San Helena, boasting the possession of a large fragment of the true cross brought from Jerusalem by that empress, deposited in a chapel which no woman can enter. Passing the church—now closed, as it was past mezzagiorno-we proceeded on through high walls enclosing villas and gardens by great ruined aqueducts whose arches, majestic in ruin, forced themselves into notice as visions of the mighty past, to where Porta Pia opens into the Campagna, fronting a fine broad road, bounded on the left by the rising ground, darkened by the groves that screen Villa Albano, an appropriate background, from whence its lofty terraces, long colonnades, and elegant porticos, filled with a unique collection of sculpture, stand out in strong relief, as though built of alabaster. About a mile along the road, paved like a street (and that a Roman one, being as rough and uneven as possible), stands the Villa Torlonia, for which I was bound.
The villa, or casino, or mansion, is stuffy and ill ventilated, with a great central saloon, surrounded by a suite of small rooms, little better than cupboards. There is a general want of comfort, and a great deal of fine furniture, gilding, and mosaics
Palladian walls, Venetian doors,
Golden roofs, and stucco floors. It was evident, in making the circuit of the grounds, that the proprietor had been haunted by visions of an English garden, for I came on stunted fir-trees, low shrubberies, little ponds, and rank plateaux of grass, jumbled together in a manner quite irrational for this country. I reached a little valley, where thousands of violets scented the air,-a momentary relief. Beyond lay a walk, which I followed, between high banks of grass, their precipitate slopes planted with aloes and cactus, upheaving their grotesque leaves towards the sun. The hill was tunnelled; darkness succeeded to the bright outward day, and I found myself in an immense artificial cave, formed of masses of rock and the roots and branches of gigantic trees, where rough stones, picturesquely arranged as pillars, stalactites, gurgling waterfalls, and dark walks, round up by galleries, crossed by rustic bridges from cliff to cliff, mysterious and suggestive, to nooks and grottos,
Where lingering drops from min'ral roofs distil,
And pointed crystals break the sparkling rill. Along one of the many labyrinthal paths winding in the half-lit steps, I descended into what appeared utter darkness ; but rounding a projecting mass of rock, I found myself in a glorious conservatory, entirely constructed of the most gorgeous-coloured glass, forming stars, rosettes, and diamonds, of the richest patterns. The transition from the dark cave to jocund, many-coloured day, was worthy of Fairyland. The floor of this beautiful glass-house was covered with gaudy encaustic pavement; flowers garlanded the roof, and hung in heavy, many-tinted branches from the pillars, catching the sunbeams, as they played antic tricks, slanting athwart the brilliant glass, and casting deep, unnatural streaks and shadows among the green leaves.
Conspicuous on the armorial escutcheon of the Torlonias is the Column, on which, typically and actually, the glory of his house reposes, to which he is entitled by his marriage with a princess of the noble blood of the Colonnas, the sweetest and most pathetic-looking creature ever dreamed of by a love-sick poet. The load of sparkling jewels under whose weight she bends, as it were overwhelmed, when she appears in public, adds not to her surpassing beauty, of that chaste and pallid character which the simple drapery of a Diana or a vestal would infinitely better become; but these priceless ornaments display the wealth of her lord, who follows her about with a restles3 anxiety quite amusing to witness.
My day had already been varied enough, but there were still further contrasts in waiting, as it was not more than three o'clock, and our list not yet seen through. How intoxicating it was thus to surrender oneself passively to the varying impressions, experiences, scenes, sights, and wonders around, making one day in Rome richer, fuller, and more satisfying than years of ordinary life! I re-entered the grand old walls spanning the circuit of Rome,-those walls so broken by ruined towers, and castellations, and mouldering arches, and long avenues of piers and buttresses, built up with the rich-tinted reddish stone of which the whole is composed, with here and there higher towers flanking a huge massive Etruscan-looking gate, breaking the shadows that began to fall, and giving egress to the bright sunshine within, gleaming and dancing on the swords and the steel caps of the French soldiers keeping watch over the tottering bulwarks surrounding the city of the Cæsars, where the temporal power once vested in the triple crown is now as effete and powerless as in the days of the Esarchs.
We passed down dirty cavernous streets, damp and mouldy as all here, unwarmed by the health and life-giving sun, to where the Forum of Trajan sinks down below the modern level of the city, in an oblong square, strewed with short broken columns and capitals surrounded by shabby, common-place houses, mocking the enthusiasm of the most rabid antiquarian that ever groped and hammered under ground.
Let us pause for a moment before proceeding onwards under the portico of one of those Siamese-twin churches flanking its extremity, and recal a few of the recollections that spontaneously arise. All the world knows that the sculptured marble column-in which I can see no beautyrising before us, once served as a pedestal to the statue of Trajan, whose life was passed in continually running over the world in search of fresh enemies and renewed battles. He who must be execrated as one of the persecutors of the Christians is now dethroned from his lofty stand and replaced by a statue of St. Peter, erected in rather questionable taste by Sixtus V. The forum beneath was designed by Domitian, and executed by Trajan, under the superintendence of that same architect, Appollodorus, who afterwards lost his life for daring to utter an unfavourable criticism on the temple of Venus at Rome, designed by the Emperor Adrian. Arminius Marcellino speaks of it as a unique monument, worthy of the admiration of the very gods, and quite impossible to describe by any mere words, “language being utterly insufficient to portray its grandeur and magnificence.” Looking at it as I do, all this appears incredible. Dirt, mud, and rubbish are now the characteristics of that space once occupied by porticos and colonnades, equestrian statues, and triumphal arches. On this spot once stood the Ulpian Basilica, to which memories attach deeply interesting to every Christian. Here Constantine the Great, seated in the tribune of that superb edifice, surrounded by dignitaries, senators, and princes, a goodly company, where the West greeted the East—a mixed audience, however, many of whom, being Pagans, listened with horror and rage-in the presence of the assembled multitude, whose loud and frequent applause, echoing down the triple aisles and into every columned recess, showed that Christianity had at least found a home with them-here, I say, Constantine proclaimed “ Christianity the religion of the world, and exhorted all to abjure the errors of a superstition the offspring of ignorance, folly, and vice.”
These words, that seem to sound, after the lapse of fifteen centuries, grand, solemn, and impressive as when pronounced by the imperial voice in the grandest building of ancient Rome, were received by a populace mad with joy and enthusiasm, who for two hours echoed a chorus of “malediction on those who denied the Christians," repeating “that the God of the Christians was the only God, that his enemies were the enemies of Augustus, and that the temples should now be shut, never more to be re-opened; and calling on the emperor to banish from Rome that very day and hour every priest of the false gods.” But Constantine (whom God seemed to have inspired with the very spirit of wisdom becoming so solemn an occasion) replied, " That there was this distinction between the service of God and that of idols; that the one was voluntary, and the other forced, God being honoured by the sincere affection and belief of the intelligent creature he had created in his image. Therefore," continued he, “let those who refuse to become Christians fear nothing; for, however much we desire that they should follow our pious example, it is alone by persuasions, and not by force, we would induce them. However, we declare that we unite ourselves by a firmer friendship and support to those who embrace Christianity.” Having thus spoken, the emperor, glorified before God and man, descended from his throne, and, passing out of the great portico by the equestrian statue of Trajan, proceeded to his palace at the Lateran in the midst of the applause of his subjects, Pagans as well as Christians, after which all the city was brilliantly illuminated. A spot consecrated in the history of Christianity, as was the Forum of Trajan, in itself the most architecturally beautiful monument in Rome, was spared even by the ruthless barbarians, but towards the ninth and tenth centuries Rome was given up to internal disorders and excesses of all kinds under the Popes John X. and XI., and to that period may be referred the ruin of this as well as many of its other most ancient edifices.
From the Forum of Trajan I hastened to the church of San Guiseppeof-the-Carpenters, near by, beneath which lie the Mamestine prisons, close under which was once the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, now the church of the Ara Cæli. The exterior (fronting the Roman Forum, only divided from that of Trajan by a small block of houses) is prettily painted in bright southern-looking frescoes—a double staircase conducts to the portico, somewhat raised from the ground. Standing under this portico, Pius IX. delivered, last October, that most affecting and beautiful sermon or homily which, by its tone of gentle remonstrance and meek reproachfulness, touched the hearts of the common Romans more than any similar appeal since the revolution that sent him forth an exile and a wanderer.
There was something inexpressibly interesting in the whole scene; the benignant countenance of the pontiff, his tall figure clad in white, backed by a retinue of cardinals, canons, and monsignores in their brilliant dresses of red and violet, side by side with the grotesque Swiss guard, starch, stiff, and immovable ; the splendid uniform and gallant bearing of the aristocratic Guardia Nobile (selected from the flower of the patrician families), who all love and respect and watch over the excellent Pope as if he were their real father; the mixed crowd beneath filling the streets, the windows, the very housetops ; lowering, dark-browed, inky-haired men, with features bearing the antique type indelibly engraven on them; the gaily-attired women, their raven hair and glancing eyes set off by the snowy headgear of white cotton, bristling with flowers, daggers, or great gold pins, with the scarlet, blue, pink, and yellow petticoats. peculiar to the south ; an assembly displaying all the various colours of the rainbow forming the foreground, with the Capitoline Hill rising abruptly behind the arch of Severus, the column of Phocus, the temple of
Concord, and the scattered pillars strewed around, breaking the blue of the heavens, now melting into the rich tints of sunset, forming altogether a scene that recalled those early days of Christian devotion and humility when believers sealed too often their faith in blood, and the papal father bore conspicuous in the army of martyrs the crown of thorns bequeathed to the head of the church by its divine master.
I passed into the interior of the small church-its walls almost covered with ex voto offerings—and after some difficulty procured the custode, whose presence was indispensable, as I intended descending to the Mamestine prisons below. The custode, good man, was well used to his trade, and soon produced the torch which was to lighten our darkness in our descent under the arch of Septimus Severus into the very bowels of classical Rome. An iron wicket guards the entrance into the vaults, from which we descended to the first dungeon, of rather large proportions when compared with the dismal prisons of Venice. But the rigour and sternness of the republican Romans is visible even in the architecture, the walls being formed of great blocks of solid stone of volcanic formation, joined without cement, like the cyclopean walls of the Etruscan cities that crown the Latin hills, bearing a stamp of barbarism only a too eloquent evidence of the ancient ferocity of manners.
On one side of the ceiling were the remains of what once was a trapdoor, now walled up, through which the bodies of prisoners condemned to the lingering tortures of starvation were drawn up after death. This upper prison is now converted into a chapel, and has an altar bearing hideous effigies of St. Peter and St. Paul, painted and coloured according to the profane ideas of Italian superstition. Nothing would have been visible but for the torch carried by our custode, a garrulous old man, who had no scruples in making the solemn walls echo to his gossiping, interlarded with many “Si signora"-" Mi favorisce di qui"“Buole vedere di la," &c. Down some steep and narrow stairs we descended to the lower prison-small, low, confined—the great masses of unhewn stone just over our heads. This is the Tullian prison, authentically traced as existing as far back as the reign of Aucus Martius, having been completed by Servius Tullius, whence its name. In this dark suffocating hole, where the infernal gods of darkness reign supreme, and a heavy and unwholesome air only penetrates through a small round hole opening into the upper prison, died by starvation that gallant son of the Desert, the brave Jugurtha, who nobly defended his country against the Roman arms. Here his ardent spirit burst its earthly bonds in solitude and darkness, deep down in the earth, while unpitying, and regardless of his unmerited fate, the Roman senators and the proud patricians, swelling in the pride of power, gathered their ample togas around them as they swept through the stately colonnades of the neighbouring Forum, where the poets declaimed and the philosophers harangued under the shadow of the echoing halls and porticos of the numerous temples lining the ascent of the Capitoline Mount, crowned by the costly fane of Jupiter, glittering with golden trophies. Here, too, were the wretched Romans concerned in Catiline's conspiracy strangled by order of Cicero, or rather of his wife, the haughty Terentia, who dwelt on the neighbouring Palatine, in the magnificent house which formerly belonged to Crassus, one of the murderers of Cæsar.