Some years ago, shortly before returning to Rome, I stumbled upon H.V. Morton’s work, A Traveller in Rome. Even though it was penned in  the mid-twentieth century, so little has changed in the Caput Mundi, the work takes on the timelessness of the city.  It’s not the Eternal City for nothing, after all.

Before returning the book to the library, I took copious notes of Morton’s stories — personal and historical — to incorporate into my own tours of Rome’s landmarks.  He marvelously weaves explanations and history into his vignettes, making the city come alive on each of the numerous levels it possesses– religious, historical, artistic, culinary, modern…  When I found the book for sale recently, I didn’t think twice before purchasing a copy for my personal collection.

Here is an excerpt from the first chapter.

After a few days I would not have exchanged my balcony for the finest view in Rome.  The little slice of street life below was a perpetual entertainment.  The little slice of Martial’s Rome.  That great journalist anticipated the camera by many centuries: he was the photographer of imperial Rome.  It came to me one day that his room on the Quirnal must have been similar to mine; and he had just as many steps to climb!  He was horrified and dismayed by the noise of Rome; and so was I.  He found it difficult to sleep in Rome; and so did I.  I smiled to think what a fuss Martial made of the human noises of first century Rome: the hammering of the coppersmiths; the schoolmaster rebuking his class; the stray trumpet call; the masons chipping a new statue of Caesar; the money-changers chinking their gold; a delightful man-made symphony I should have thought.  Yet Martial in ancient Rome, and also Hogarth in eighteenth century London, found such sounds intolerable.  What would they have said to the mechanical pandemonium of modern Rome, a city where men judge a motor-car by its noise and the splendour of its backfires?  What would Martial have thought of that absurd vehicle, the motor-scooter?  The desire of every Italian to be mechanically propelled, and in the loudest possible way, has created a population of neatly dressed men sitting primly on these machines as if their office chairs had suddenly flown out into the streets with them. …  It is extraordinary that a modern capital should allow itself to be turned into bedlam.  London and Paris would not tolerate the noise of Rome for twenty-four hours.  I have come to the conclusion, however, that the Italians do not hear the noise, or, if they do, they enjoy it.  Like the Spaniard, I think the Italian is stimulated by tumult; it helps him to achieve that cerebral excitement in which he prefers to dwell.

Emphasis mine… because it’s just so darn true.

I realize that my header photo could have been taken from Morton’s flat to illustrate this Italian tumult.  But alas, it was taken from the Spanish Steps.

As Morton closes this first chapter, his words bring peace and longing to this Rome-sick soul, who shares his preference:

Sometimes I would leave the pensione at six o’clock in the morning, which is the best time of all in the Roman summer.  The air has been freshened during the night and seems to hold a faint scent of flowers.  At such times–wonderful moment–the sound of Rome is the whisper and fall of her fountains.

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