Rome is a world - some poems and vintage postcards about the city in Italy

St Peter's Basilica
St Peter's Basilica

Some poems about Rome

"Rome is a world, and it would take years to become a true citizen of it." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Letters from Italy, 23 December 1786.

NEAR ROME, IN SIGHT OF ST. PETER'S

LONG has the dew been dried on tree and lawn:
O'er man and beast a not unwelcome boon
Is shed, the languor of approaching noon;
To shady rest withdrawing or withdrawn
Mute are all creatures, as this couchant fawn,
Save insect-swarms that hum in air afloat,
Save that the Cock is crowing, a shrill note,
Startling and shrill as that which roused the dawn.
--Heard in that hour, or when, as now, the nerve
Shrinks from the note as from a mistimed thing,
Oft for a holy warning may it serve,
Charged with remembrance of 'his' sudden sting,
His bitter tears, whose name the Papal Chair
And yon resplendent Church are proud to bear.- From "Memorials of a Tour in Italy" by William Wordsworth (1837)

Roma, Roma, at thy feet

I lay this barren gift of song!

For, ah! the way is steep and long

That leads unto thy sacred street. - from "Rome Unvisited" by Oscar Wilde (1881)

"Rome" by Osip Mandelstam

Rome is but nature's twin, which has reflected Rome.
We see its civic might, the signs of its decorum
In the transparent air, the firmament's blue dome,
The colonnades of groves and in the meadow's forum.

The piazza and obelisk
The piazza and obelisk
The dome of St Peter's seen from the Vatican Gardens
The dome of St Peter's seen from the Vatican Gardens
St Peter's seen through the famous "Keyhole" in the garden of the Villa Malta.
St Peter's seen through the famous "Keyhole" in the garden of the Villa Malta.

St Peter's Basilica

"St Peter's has made me realise that Art, like Nature, can abolish all standards of measurement." Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Letters from Italy, 9 November 1786.

Built on a site which has had a Christian Church on it since the 4th Century, St Peter's Basilica, or, to give it its proper title, the Papal Basilica of St Peter, is probably the largest church in the world, being able to hold up to 60 000 people.

Tradition holds that it is built on the site of the grave of St Peter, an Apostle and first Bishop of Rome. It is situated in the Vatican City, on the west bank of the Tiber River.

The foundation stone of the present basilica was laid in 1506. The great dome was completed in 1590 with this inscription running around its base:

"Tv es Petrvs et svper hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam. Tibi dabo claves regni caelorvm"
("...you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. ... I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven..." Vulgate, Matthew 16:18–19.)

The dome is 136.57 metres high, the highest in the world, and is the third largest in terms of internal diameter after the Pantheon and the Cathedral of Florence.

Work on the basilica continued for another 100 years or more, with scores of architects and other artists contributing to its magnificence.

The colonnade around St Peter's Square was designed by Bernini, as were the two fountains in the square. The obelisk in the middle of the piazza is from Egypt and dates to the 13th Century BCE. It was brought to Rome by Nero and erected in the Circus of Nero in the first century of the Common Era.

In 1586 Pope Sixtus V ordered that it be removed to the piazza where it was placed centrally to the facade of the basilica. Bernini designed the features of the piazza around the obelisk.

Some of the great names associated with the design and construction of St Peter's Basilica are Michelangelo, Raphael, Donato Bramante, Gianlorenzo Bernini, Leonard da Vinci and Giacomo della Porta.

Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls
Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls
The nave of St Paul Outside the Walls
The nave of St Paul Outside the Walls

Basilica Papale di San Paolo fuori le Mura

One of the four Papal Basilicas of Rome, this church was founded by the Emperor Constantine. It is positioned over the burial site of St Paul, whose alleged remains have been found in a crypt below the altar.

The building of the original basilica was started by the Emperor Theodosius in 386 and completed in the 5th Century CE during the Papacy of Leo I.

The building was extensively modified in the early 7th Century, during which modifications the altar was placed directly over the tomb of St Paul.

Because of its location outside the Aurelian Walls the basilica was damaged during the 9th Century Saracen invasions.

The basilica was almost totally destroyed by a fire which broke out on 15 July 1823 and so the existing building, including the nave with its 80 columns, is from the 19th Century.

The original basilica had existed unchanged for almost one-and-a-half millenia, until that fateful fire.

The late Baroque faade of the Basilica of St. John Lateran was completed by Alessandro Galilei in 1735 after winning a competition for the design. (Wikipedia)
The late Baroque faade of the Basilica of St. John Lateran was completed by Alessandro Galilei in 1735 after winning a competition for the design. (Wikipedia)

San Giovanni in Laterano

This magnificent basilica is the oldest and first in rank of the four papal basilicas, the fourth being the basilica of St Mary Maggiore.

St John Lateran is first in rank as it is the seat of the Bishop of Rome, who is the Pope.

The façade shown in this postcard ws designed by Alessandro Galilei and completed in 1735. The church itself has undergone numerous reconstructions due to calamities that have befallen it since its first construction in the Fourth Century, including earthquakes, fires and plundering.


Panorama from the Pincio: The Piazza del Popolo.
Panorama from the Pincio: The Piazza del Popolo.
An Egyptian obelisk of Ramesses II from Heliopolis stands in the centre of the Piazza. In the background is the triple-arched nymphaeum on the Pincio designed by architect Giuseppe Valadier in 1811 to 1822.
An Egyptian obelisk of Ramesses II from Heliopolis stands in the centre of the Piazza. In the background is the triple-arched nymphaeum on the Pincio designed by architect Giuseppe Valadier in 1811 to 1822.

The Piazza del Popolo

I SAW far off the dark top of a Pine
Look like a cloud--a slender stem the tie
That bound it to its native earth--poised high
'Mid evening hues, along the horizon line,
Striving in peace each other to outshine.
But when I learned the Tree was living there,
Saved from the sordid axe by Beaumont's care,
Oh, what a gush of tenderness was mine!
The rescued Pine-Tree, with its sky so bright
And cloud-like beauty, rich in thoughts of home,
Death-parted friends, and days too swift in flight,
Supplanted the whole majesty of Rome
(Then first apparent from the Pincian Height)
Crowned with St. Peter's everlasting Dome.- from Memorials of a Trip to Italy by William Wordsworth.

The Piazza del Popolo in its present form was designed by architect Giuseppe Valadier and built between 1811 and 1822.

The obelisk in the centre of the piazza is the second oldest in Rome. It was originally erected in Heliopolis by Rameses II and was brought to Rome in 10 BCE by the Emperor Augustus and set up in the Circus Maximus. It was brought to its present location by Pope Sixtus V in 1589.

As mentioned in Wordsworth's sonnet, the dome of St Peter's can be seen across the piazza from the Pincio hill.

The Pyramic of Cestius and the Porta San Paolo
The Pyramic of Cestius and the Porta San Paolo

The Pyramid of Cestius

Who, then, was Cestius,
And what is he to me? -
Amid thick thoughts and memories multitudinous
One thought alone brings he.

I can recall no word
Of anything he did;
For me he is a man who died and was interred
To leave a pyramid

Whose purpose was exprest
Not with its first design,
Nor till, far down in Time, beside it found their rest
Two countrymen of mine.

Cestius in life, maybe,
Slew, breathed out threatening;
I know not. This I know: in death all silently
He does a kindlier thing,

In beckoning pilgrim feet
With marble finger high
To where, by shadowy wall and history-haunted street,
Those matchless singers lie . . .

--Say, then, he lived and died
That stones which bear his name
Should mark, through Time, where two immortal Shades abide;
It is an ample fame.

- from "Rome at the Pyramid of Cestius near the graves of Shelley and Keats" by Thomas Hardy

Hardy might not (or might well have) known who Caius Cestius was. No matter. Cestius was a magistrate in Rome and the pyramid was built to house his remains after his death. The construction of the pyramid took place between 18 and 12 BCE and at the time it would have been outside of the city.

In his poem"Adonais" Shelley described the pyramid as "one keen pyramid with wedge sublime".

Hardy visited the Protestant Cemetery where Shelley and Keats were buried which is nearby in 1887.

"Three coins in a fountain"

OK - so this is not that fountain! This is a 17th Century fountain by that great decorator of Rome, Gianlorenzo Bernini, who was asked to capture the essence of the triumphant poem by Ovid (from Metamorphoses Book I):

Already Triton, at his call, appears

Above the waves; a Tyrian robe he wears;

And in his hand a crooked trumpet bears.

The sovereign bids him peaceful sounds inspire,

And give the waves the signal to retire.

His writhen shell he takes; whose narrow vent

Grows by degrees into a large extent,

Then gives it breath; the blast with doubling sound,

Runs the wide circuit of the world around:

The sun first heard it, in his early east,

And met the rattling echos in the west.

The waters, list'ning to the trumpet's roar,

Obey the summons, and forsake the shore. —free translation by Sir Samuel Garth, John Dryden, et al..

This fountain is in the Piazza Barberini and was built during the years 1642 to 1643. The "crooked trumpet" which the Triton holds is a conch shell!

Villa Umberto

Located in the gardens of the Villa Borghese on the Pincian Hill, this "Temple of Aesculapius" is also called the Villa Umberto. It is a landscape feature rather than a real "Temple" or "Villa."

The Temple was modeled in the 19th Century on a similar one on the lake at Stourhead, Wiltshire, England.

Il Campidoglio

The Capitoline Hill, one of the seven on which Rome was originally built, is topped by the Palazzo Senatorio. In this picture the steps (cordonata) designed by Michaelangelo. The balustrade has two Egyptian lions in black basalt at the bottom and huge statues of the twins Castor and Pollux at the top. The stairway leads up to the piazza on the Hill also designed by Michaelangelo.

Ciociaria

An interesting postcard is this one, showing a group of Ciociari, the name used for people of the area in central Italy known as the Campagna. The name is derived from the type of footwear worn by people in the area in ancient times, and still worn by some shepherds in the Central Appenines. These open sandals are called ciocie.

The man in the centre of the postcard is wearing ciocie.

The Alberto Moravia novel La ciociara tells of tragic events in the area after World War II. The Vittorio de Sica movie "Two Women" starring Sophia Loren and Jean-Paul Belmondo is based on the novel.

Via Appia Nuova

Ancient Rome was noted for the roads it built for strategic and military purposes. One of the most impressive and important of these was the Via Appia, named after the Consul Appius Claudius Caecus. The road was started by him as a link to the south of Rome in 312 BCE, during the Samnite Wars.

After the fall of the Western Empire the Appian Way (Appia teritur regina longarum viarum "the Appian way is commonly said to be the queen of the long roads") fell into disrepair.

In 1784 Pope Pius VI wanted to restore the Appian Way and a new section was built parallel to the old road as far as the Alban Hills. This road became known as the Via Appia Nuova as opposed to the Via Appia Antica.

Finis

Rome is a world which cannot be encapsulated in a few postcards, nor can one learn all there is to know about this great city in a few short paragraphs.

Nor can one even capture the feel or soul of the city in a few poetic fragments, however beautiful.

I just hope you have enjoyed this all too brief journey through the Eternal City as shown in these old postcards and some related poems, which both have their own charm.

Copyright Notice

The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are by Tony McGregor who hereby asserts his copyright on the material. Should you wish to use any of the text or images feel free to do so with proper attribution and, if possible, a link back to this page. Thank you.

© Tony McGregor 2010

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Comments 42 comments

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

Hi Tony - it is many years since I was last in Rome, but this brought back memories: of great public art and statuary, but also of narrow lanes, cobbled streets and many small details of no significance other than their contribution to the sum of parts that is Rome. It was good to take time to read this one slowly and enjoy the selection of poetry too.


Mentalist acer profile image

Mentalist acer 5 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

Rome's remnent's of history Do Seem to be a Part of Nature,Tony,thanks for the unique tour and poetry;)


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 5 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

Very nice, Tony...love the poetry and the post catrds.


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 5 years ago from South Africa

History always keeps me in awe. Buildings like that – and so many others – proof the amazing abilities of the human race. When I read the biographies of ‘ancient’ leaders – kings and caesars – I can’t see any development (evolution) of human psyches. We may know more about more today, and we may have more ‘tools’ of all kinds and more luxuries that make our lives easier, and yes, miracles in the realm of medical care, but we are still just like those people who lived ages ago. A thought crossed my mind – Latin was the language of the ‘educated’, like English is today. What language will it be two hundred years from now? Thanks for an enjoyable read, Tony! Carpe diem! PS: Are those postcards your personal collection?


Sandyspider profile image

Sandyspider 5 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

Love all the vintage postcards.


Winsome profile image

Winsome 5 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

Hey Tony, thanks for the brief tour. I would like to visit and add my own poem of tribute. Holds 60,000 people? That's twice as much as our local Rose Bowl which has no cover--amazing! I was also surprised that the church fathers allowed Ramses' obelisk in the piazza. Have they translated the inscriptions? Looking forward to tour two with restaurants and gardens. =:)


Rebecca E. profile image

Rebecca E. 5 years ago from Canada

this is another one of these great hubs which make me drool, been to Rome once, and now want to go again, for longer! Bravo.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Dave - thanks for the visit and I'm glad you enjoyed it. Rome has a special magic and the poets picked up on it.

Thanks again

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Acer - you are very welcome. Thanks for stopping by.

Love and peace

Tony


Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 5 years ago

Great again Tony! I love your poems and postcards here. I do love the vintage! My daughter has been. Alas, Tony, I would just ride my bicycle in the Dolomites and Tuscany. I would ride around Italy and caress every view!


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Alek - thanks, glad you enjoyed!

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Martie - thanks for the great comment. Yes, the postcards are mine (and there are a lot more where they came from!). My great aunt Hettie was a collector and I have got a large number from her. This is not the first (nor will it be the last! LOL!) Hub written around her postcards.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Sandy - thanks for visiting and commenting. They are neat, aren't they?

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Winsome - thanks for stopping by. Not sure if the church fathers have translated the inscriptions but someone surely has! I will try to find out for interest's sake.

Love and peace

Tony


donna bamford profile image

donna bamford 5 years ago from Canada

Great site Tony. I am writing a novel now that takes place in italy and also taking thrid italian at the university here. italy is one of my favourite countries and Rome one omy favourite dities so this was a special treat!


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Dear Rebecca - thanks for the kind words and sorry about the drool! Rome is a fabulous place. I've also only been once, but I loved it and would really like to go back.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Micky - you are so supportive, thank you! I would love to ride with you on that "giro d'Italia"!

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Buon giorno, Bella Donna! And gracie for the visit and the comment. Look forward to the novel. Bet it comes out before mine!

Love and peace

Ciao

Tony


De Greek profile image

De Greek 5 years ago from UK

I just simply looooove Rome :-)


poetvix profile image

poetvix 5 years ago from Gone from Texas but still in the south. Surrounded by God's country.

This is such a gift. I have always wanted to see Rome. You combined the poems, pictures and your well written history and descriptions in such a way that I almost felt as if I were there. Thank you sir.


always exploring profile image

always exploring 5 years ago from Southern Illinois

Thank you Tony, esp. for the poems and pictures. Rome has such a magical history, 'Three coins in the fountain' comes to mind.A Great hub, well written.

Cheers God Bless


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Dimitris - I know. I was thinking of you when I wrote this one. Thanks for the visit.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Poetvix - thank you so muchn for your very kind words. I appreciate them very much indeed!

Love and peace

Tony


Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 5 years ago from TEXAS

What an awesome task, to encapsulate such a huge chunk of western civilization in an article which conveys the essence of it. No one short of our Tony could do it. I will read it more, as I like to do important and valuable pieces. I've never seen the city but have gleaned from kinfolks who have that it is almost beyond description, at least in total. Parts, perhaps. Unique experiences of it, yes. But the essence of itself is surely too blinding to look upon. And honestly, I'm not a big fan of Rome and all it stands for. But I'm so impressed. Thanks for this. I feel that in reading it I am closer to the heart of this major city.


loriamoore 5 years ago

I'm going to Rome in April 2011!!!


Lee B profile image

Lee B 5 years ago from New Mexico

Sure enjoyed the postcards and poetry. I frequently visit Rome but only in my dreams. Hope to get there for real someday!


nifty@50 profile image

nifty@50 5 years ago

Those buildings look so familiar, because it is the same style used in just about all of our buildings in the capital! Rome is the pillar of western civilization, no doubt about it. Great poetry & wonderful pictures!


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Ruby - thanks for the visit and the comment. It is a wonderful and interesting place indeed!

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Nellieanna - thanks for your kind words. A lot of what Rome stands for is not particularly pleasant, I agree. Yet so much of our Western Civilisation (so-called!) is based on Roman ideas that I think it worthwhile to try to understand it. As for the physical city itself, the beauty of it is awe -inspiring. I have only been once but was amazed by it - to stand in the Forum Romanum and see the place where old Julius was bumped off is an experience beyond words.

The contrast between the petty and the magnificent all lumped together also makes it a memorable place.

Thanks again

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Lori - aren't you the lucky one, then? Hope you enjoy it as much as I did my three days there some years back!

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Lee - dreams can become reality! It's a place worth visiting, to be sure.

Thanks for the visit and the comment,

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Thanks for the visit and the great comment, Nifty, I appreciate it.

Love and peace

Tony


msorensson profile image

msorensson 5 years ago

Wow..I have not been to Rome...ohhh...now I really really do want to go and visit St. Peter's Basilica...

A silly question, considering...:-) are people allowed to marry in St. Peter's Basilica? ...I can still dream Tony..no matter how old..

I love the hub. Thank you.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Melinda - I think you would enjoy Rome, even if you don't get married in St Peter's! LOL!

I'm not sure if any weddings are performed there, but why not dream? Can do no harm after all!

Thanks for stopping by.

Love and peace

Tony


eventsyoudesign profile image

eventsyoudesign 5 years ago from Nashville, Tennessee

Bravo my friend. Bravo!


hafeezrm profile image

hafeezrm 5 years ago from Pakistan

Last July I was in Rome. I moved around the city with only one-page tourist broucher which indicated which sub-way would take me where and moving around turned a breeze. You hub is awesome taking me to places I have never been. Thank you.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Teresa - brava to you too, my friend. Thanks for the visit and the comment.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Salaam, brother Hafeez! Thanks so much for your kind comment. I appreciate that you visited this Hub.

Love and peace

Tony


Garnetbird 5 years ago

Wonderful postcards and art!


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Garnetbird - thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

Love and peace

Tony


Doug Turner Jr. 5 years ago

Some really interesting poetry here. Proof that Rome inspires the most brilliant of minds. Perhaps the gods left a footprint there after all. Thanks for finding me and commenting, Tony. Glad to follow you.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Doug - thank you very much and I'm glad to follow you too!

Glad you enjoyed this one.

Love and peace

Tony

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