Interactive Map Lets You Take a Literary Journey Through the Historic Monuments of Rome

Arch­es on arch­es! as it were that Rome,

Col­lect­ing the chief tro­phies of her line,

Would build up all her tri­umphs in one dome,

Her Col­i­se­um stands; the moon­beams shine

As ’twere its nat­ur­al torch­es, for divine

Should be the light which streams here, to illume

This long-explored but still exhaust­less mine

Of con­tem­pla­tion; and the azure gloom

Of an Ital­ian night, where the deep skies assume

Hues which have words, and speak to ye of heav­en,

Floats o’er this vast and won­drous mon­u­ment,

And shad­ows forth its glo­ry.

—Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pil­grim­age (1818)

A mod­ern vis­i­tor to Rome, drawn to the Col­i­se­um on a moon­lit night, is unlike­ly to be so bewitched, sand­wiched between his or her fel­low tourists and an army of ven­dors aggres­sive­ly ped­dling light-up whirligigs, knock off design­er scarves, and acrylic columns etched with the Eter­nal City’s must-see attrac­tions.

These days, your best bet for tour­ing Rome’s best known land­marks in peace may be an inter­ac­tive map, com­pli­ments of the Mor­gan Library and Muse­um. Based on Paul-Marie Letarouil­ly’s pic­turesque 1841 city plan, each dig­i­tal pin can be expand­ed to reveal descrip­tions by nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry authors and side-by-side, then-and-now com­par­isons of the fea­tured mon­u­ments.

The endur­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty of the film Three Coins in the Foun­tain, cou­pled with the inven­tion of the self­ie stick has turned the area around the Tre­vi Foun­tain into a pickpocket’s dream and a claustrophobe’s worst night­mare.

Not so in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s day, though unlike Lord Byron, he cul­ti­vat­ed a cool remove, at least at first:

They and the rest of the par­ty descend­ed some steps to the water’s brim, and, after a sip or two, stood gaz­ing at the absurd design of the foun­tain, where some sculp­tor of Bernini’s school had gone absolute­ly mad in mar­ble. It was a great palace-front, with nich­es and many bas-reliefs, out of which looked Agrippa’s leg­endary vir­gin, and sev­er­al of the alle­goric sis­ter­hood; while, at the base, appeared Nep­tune, with his floun­der­ing steeds and Tri­tons blow­ing their horns about him, and twen­ty oth­er arti­fi­cial fan­tasies, which the calm moon­light soothed into bet­ter taste than was native to them. And, after all, it was as mag­nif­i­cent a piece of work as ever human skill con­trived. At the foot of the pala­tial façade was strown, with care­ful art and ordered irreg­u­lar­i­ty, a broad and bro­ken heap of mas­sive rock, look­ing as if it might have lain there since the del­uge. Over a cen­tral precipice fell the water, in a semi­cir­cu­lar cas­cade; and from a hun­dred crevices, on all sides, snowy jets gushed up, and streams spout­ed out of the mouths and nos­trils of stone mon­sters, and fell in glis­ten­ing drops; while oth­er rivulets, that had run wild, came leap­ing from one rude step to anoth­er, over stones that were mossy, slimy, and green with sedge, because in a cen­tu­ry of their wild play, Nature had adopt­ed the Foun­tain of Tre­vi, with all its elab­o­rate devices, for her own.

The human stat­ues garbed as glad­i­a­tors and char­i­o­teers spend hours in the blaz­ing sun at the foot of the Span­ish Stepsthe heirs to the artists and mod­els who pop­u­lat­ed William Wet­more Sto­ry’s Roba di Roma:

All day long, these steps are flood­ed with sun­shine in which, stretched at length, or gath­ered in pic­turesque groups, mod­els of every age and both sex­es bask away the hours when they are free from employ­ment in the stu­dios. … Some­times a group of artists, pass­ing by, will pause and steadi­ly exam­ine one of these mod­els, turn him about, pose him, point out his defects and excel­lences, give him a baioc­co, and pass on. It is, in fact, a mod­els’ exchange.

The Medici Vil­la hous­es the Académie de France, and its gar­dens remain a pleas­ant respite, even in 2017. Vis­i­tors who aren’t whol­ly con­sumed with find­ing a wifi sig­nal may find them­selves fan­ta­siz­ing about a dif­fer­ent life, much as Hen­ry James did in his Ital­ian Hours:

Such a dim light as of a fabled, haunt­ed place, such a soft suf­fu­sion of ten­der grey-green tones, such a com­pa­ny of gnarled and twist­ed lit­tle minia­ture trunks—dwarfs play­ing with each oth­er at being giants—and such a show­er of gold­en sparkles drift­ing in from the vivid West! … I should name for my own first wish that one didn’t have to be a French­man to come and live and dream and work at the Académie de France. Can there be for a while a hap­pi­er des­tiny than that of a young artist con­scious of tal­ent and of no errand but to edu­cate, pol­ish and per­fect it, trans­plant­ed to these sacred shades?…What morn­ings and after­noons one might spend there, brush in hand, unpre­oc­cu­pied, untor­ment­ed, pen­sioned, satisfied—either per­suad­ing one’s self that one would be “doing some­thing” in con­se­quence or not car­ing if one shouldn’t be.

The inter­ac­tive map was cre­at­ed to accom­pa­ny the Morgan’s 2016 exhi­bi­tion City of the Soul: Rome and the Roman­tics. Oth­er pit­stops include St. Peter’s, the Roman Forum, and The Eques­tri­an Mon­u­ment of Mar­cus Aure­lius on the Capi­tol. Begin your explo­rations here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

New Dig­i­tal Archive Puts Online 4,000 His­toric Images of Rome: The Eter­nal City from the 16th to 20th Cen­turies

Ancient Rome’s Sys­tem of Roads Visu­al­ized in the Style of Mod­ern Sub­way Maps

Rome Reborn: Take a Vir­tu­al Tour of Ancient Rome, Cir­ca 320 C.E.

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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  • F S Zot says:

    Does­n’t real­ly work.
    It’s not inter­ac­tive.
    Cer­tain­ly does­n’t let you take a lit­er­ary jour­ney any­where. Much less the Eter­nal City.
    Brochure-ware, at best.
    Waste of time, real­ly.

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