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Bill Thayer

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(as of 8/17/14 - 605 pages, 429 photos, 170 drawings, 21 plans, 10 maps)

A town of the Lazio, the capital of Italy: 41°54N, 12°29E. Altitude: 54 m. 2000 population: 2,640,000.

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The Arch of Constantine; background right, the Colosseum.

As the saying goes, Rome was not built in a day; nor will this site on Rome be. You can, however, expect frequent additions here: something big, like a book, every two or three months; individual pages almost every day. (The What's New page is here.)

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[ 436 pages, 216 drawings, 99 photos, 29 small maps & plans
plus 1 very large comprehensive map of Rome
divided into several hundred grid squares ]

TOPOGRAPHIA URBIS ROMAE: The good stuff. If you pass it by, you've no one but yourself to blame!

Pagan and Christian Rome by Rodolfo Lanciani: Rome from its foundation to the times of the Christian martyrs; full of fascinating stories.
Platner and Ashby's Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome: hundreds of detailed articles on the remains of antiquity within the city.
Il Foro Romano by Christian Hülsen: an entire book about the Forum; wonderful maps, some nice photos of my own.
Pitture, Sculture e Architetture esposte al pubblico in Roma: Filippo Titi's 1763 guide to Rome, complete.
Le chiese di Roma dal secolo IV al XIX by Mariano Armellini: the famous, classic work on the churches of Rome (1891); 900+ pages of text.
Also by Christian Hülsen, Le Chiese di Roma nel Medio Evo: an excellent piece of scholar­ship (1927). More or less complete; this is where that large map is.

Plus primary topographical sources in good editions:

  • Frontinus on the Aqueducts,
  • the Regionaries (Notitia, Curiosum)
  • the Ordo Benedicti.

Other Writers on Rome:

[image ALT: A heraldic flag: dexter, of France; sinister, of the Papal States.]

[ 6 pages, 10 photos not included elsewhere ]

In the fall of 1764, the English writer Tobias Smollett left England southwards in an attempt to cure or alleviate his tuberculosis. It was only a temporary fix, since he died of the disease (in Italy) on a second trip a few years later; but this foul-tempered old man left us Travels through France and Italy, one of the classics of travel literature. It includes four Letters on Rome: I've annotated them a bit, and illustrated them with a few of my own photos.

[image ALT: A stylized representation of a metal hand-mirror, taken from the binding of a book. It is an Etruscan mirror motif representing that book, George Dennis's 'Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria'.]

The 19c writer George Dennis, in The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria, has left us a chapter on the Etruscan antiquities in the city (mostly the Museo Gregoriano). Rome changes slowly over the centuries, and much of what he describes is still there, in the same rooms even. I've added several of my own photos of the Todi Mars.

My Gazetteer Pages, An Amateur's Contribution:

[image ALT: A large sort of gazebo of marble columns inside a church, with a fresco in the background. It is the ciborium over the main altar of the church of S. Giorgio in Velabro (Rome).]

[ 8/9/05: 103 churches: 49 pages, 160 photos;
plus the Pantheon, below ]

I hope to provide systematic coverage of the Churches of Rome: and if for now most are merely represented by a single large uncaptioned photo, a few already have more substantial sites: S. Barbara de' Librai, S. Bartolomeo all' Isola, S. Giorgio in Velabro, S. Maria dell' Anima, S. Maria in Cosmedin, S. Maria in Domnica, S. Maria Egiziaca, S. Maria in Trastevere, S. Sabina, S. Stefano Rotondo, S. Tommaso in Formis. The most recent item (Feb 03) is a look at some Late Antique inscriptions in S. Sabina.

[image ALT: A large stone temple with a columned porch crowned by a prominent pediment. It is the Pantheon in Rome.]

[ 10/12/01: 3 pages, 7 photos ]

Among these churches, the Pantheon is an unusual case, since it is also the best-preserved of all Roman temples, and an astonishing feat of engineering. (Other than an excellent collection of links and a major scholar­ly article cribbed from Platner, this is a rather weak site for the moment.)

[image ALT: on the left, a column; on the right, a stone relief of a battle showing the Roman army's 'testudo' technique]

[ 3 pages, 37 photos ]

Trajan's Column: built in the early 2d century AD to commemorate the emperor's campaigns in Dacia, this 30‑meter column was once the centerpiece of a major urban complex including libraries, a temple, a basilica, and markets: only these last remain in anything like their ancient state. The column, however, is virtually intact. Recognized as the single best extant example of Roman monumental sculpture, it is also a storehouse of information on the Roman army, trade in the empire, and daily life.

[image ALT: a triumphal arch with three archways]

[ 4 pp, 21 photos + the adjacent Meta Sudans: 1 p, 3 photos ]

The Arch of Constantine: built in the early 4th century A.D. to commemorate Constantine's tenth year in power, the arch was intended as yet another great monument of Roman propaganda. Over the long term, however, it fails miserably: in cobbling together for it some excellent sculpture of previous centuries and adding a few crabbed friezes of its own, the Romans created a fascinating comparative art gallery — in which the Constantinian age does not come out well.

[image ALT: a triumphal arch with one archway]

[ 2 pages, 6 photos ]

Sober, simple, restrained, and beautifully sited, the Arch of Titus is a much more successful monument, an architectural exemplification of the Roman virtue of gravitas. It's also of greater historical interest, since it commemorates the end of the Jewish Wars in AD 70: among its reliefs, a triumphal procession with a unique representation of the sacred furnishings of the Temple of Jerusalem.

[image ALT: the entrance to the marble enclosure of a Roman altar]

[ 7 pages, 8 photos ]

The Ara Pacis is one of the city's great sights: the great sacrificial altar consecrated by the Emperor Augustus himself in 9 B.C. is enclosed in a magnificent frieze of Roman portraiture at its best. It is essentially intact, or at least extraordinarily well reconstituted.

[image ALT: a hill with ruins and pine trees]

[ 3 pages, 8 photos ]

The Palatine Hill is a sort of 2800‑year‑old palimpsest of landscaping. Called the cradle of Rome because they found and raised babies in it — Romulus and Remus, according to tradition — it has by turns been the seat of the rich and powerful, an abandoned waste, a luxury escape for Renaissance popes, and now, less successfully, a mass of excavations. This rather weak subsite teases you with the so‑called House of Livia and the Farnese Gardens.

[image ALT: pines]

[ 3 pages, 10 photos ]

The gardens of the Villa Borghese are on yet another hill: a beautifully landscaped large park with just the right density of tempietti, fountains and statues. If you are a non-Italian visitor to Rome, you're probably not even giving this place a thought — mistake. The place to get some cool air surrounded by Roman families on their day off.

[image ALT: A high rounded brick wall with engaged brick columns.]

[ 2 pages, 3 photos, 1 old engraving ]

The Amphitheatrum Castrense is one of those flukes of archaeology: built by Elagabalus, this brick amphitheatre was very likely one of many in ancient times. Today, however, it's a rarity, having survived because it was incorporated into a great work of fortification.

[image ALT: A high rounded brick wall with engaged brick columns.]

[ 1½ pages, 4 photos ]

A building that every visitor to Rome has seen, and no one remembers: the Temple of Minerva Medica — not to worry, that's not what it is, anyway. . .

[image ALT: a tomb in a crowded cemetery]

[ 7/15/98: 1 page, 1 photo ]

The Protestant Cemetery (more properly il Cimitero Acattolico or Non-Catholic Cemetery) is an oasis of both history and great beauty, tucked away behind the Porta Ostiensis and the Pyramid of Cestius. Keats and Shelley are buried there, and so is Gramsci. It has been said that this is one of the few cemeteries that actually makes you want to die. . . For now, the only grave online here is that of Augustus Hare (only the uncle, mind you, of the famous writer).

[image ALT: A carving of a horse with a boy riding it. It is part of a Roman funerary inscription (tombstone) in the Capitoline Museums.]

[ 8/3/99: 4 pages, 4 photos ]

Inscriptions in the Capitoline Museums: some of them are fascinating, and they're out of the sun and rain, too. I'll be adding some of the more special ones from time to time.

[image ALT: A large stone bridge. It is the Ponte Sisto over the Tiber in Rome.]

Bridge-lovers will find Bridges of Rome a convenient orientation page to both ancient and modern bridges in the City.

Looking for a specific monument that you don't see here? The odds are it is, in fact: try the index of monuments or use the search engine below.

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Site updated: 17 Aug 14