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"AGAIN this date of Rome; the most solemn and interesting that my hand can ever write, and even now more interesting than when I saw it last," wrote Dr. Arnold to his wife in 1840—and how many thousands before and since have experienced the same feeling, who have looked forward to a visit to Rome as one of the great events of their lives, as the realization of the dreams and longings of many years.
An arrival in Rome is very different to that in any other town of Europe. It is coming to a place new and yet most familiar, strange and yet so well known. When travellers arrive at Verona, for instance, or at Arles, they generally go to the amphitheatres with a curiosity to know what they are like; but when they arrive at Rome and go to the Coliseum, it is to visit an object whose appearance has been familiar to them from childhood, and, long ere it is reached, from the heights of the distant Capitol, they can recognize the well-known form;—and as regards St. Peter's, who is not familiar with the aspect of the dome, of the wide-spreading piazza, and the foaming fountains, for long years before they come to gaze upon the reality?
"My presentiment of the emotions with which I should behold the Roman ruins, has proved quite correct," wrote Niebuhr. "Nothing about them is new to me; as a child I lay so often, for hours together, before their pictures, that their images were, even at that early age, as distinctly impressed upon my mind, as if I had actually seen them."
Yet, in spite of the presence of old friends and landmarks, travellers who pay a hurried visit to Rome, are bewildered by the vast mass of interest before them, by the endless labyrinth of minor objects, which they desire, or, still oftener, feel it a duty, to visit. Their Murray, their Baedeker, and their Bradshaw indicate appalling lists of churches, temples, and villas which ought to be seen, but do not distribute them in a manner which will render their inspection more easy. The promised pleasure seems rapidly to change into an endless vista of labour to be fulfilled and of fatigue to be gone through; henceforward the hours spent at Rome are rather hours of endurance than of pleasure—his cicerone drags the traveller in one direction,—his antiquarian friend, his artistic acquaintance, would fain drag him in others,—he is confused by accumulated misty glimmerings from historical facts once learnt at school, but long since forgotten,—of artistic information, which he feels that he ought to have gleaned from years of society, but which, from want of use, has never made any depth of impression,—by shadowy ideas as to the story of this king and that emperor, of this pope and that saint, which, from insufficient time, and the absence of books of reference, he has no opportunity of clearing up. It is therefore in the hope of aiding some of these bewildered ones, and of rendering their walks in Rome more easy and more interesting, that the following chapters are written. They aim at nothing original, and are only a gathering up of the information of others, and a gleaning from what has been already given to the world in a far better and fuller, but less portable form; while, in their plan, they attempt to guide the traveller in his daily wanderings through the city and its suburbs.