Rome the Eternal City, From the Dome of St. Peter's
( Originally Published 1907 )
The gigantic statues on the top of the facade are now in full view ; the Piazza with its wonderful features lies before us as the map promised; the little piazza at the end of the colonnades empties into two narrow streets whose lines carry our eyes towards the yellow Tiber in the distance. There lies Rome spread out before us!
Almost the first inquiry we make concerns the round building close to the river and the bridge. That is the Castle of St. Angelo. It was built centuries ago by one of the ablest of the Roman emperors, Adrian, who intended it as his tomb. It was built with the utmost magnificence. In the sixth century the attacks of northern barbarians upon the city forced the Popes to turn the tomb into a fortress, and so it remained for many centuries. Its new name was given to it from a vision accorded to Pope Gregory the Great, during a plague which devastated the city in 590. In prayer he saw the Archangel Michael with drawn sword standing above the ancient pile ; and, as the Pope looked in awe, the Archangel sheathed his sword and vanished. Pope Gregory took this as a sign that the pestilence was over. As a matter of fact it ceased about that time, and a statue of the great Archangel was placed in its present position to commemorate the event. The castle became a refuge for the Popes in the tempestuous times of the Middle Ages, while the Christian principle was shaping that Europe with which we are today so familiar. If you look closely at the houses to the left, you will see what to an American looks like an elevated railway running from a point at the end of the left colonnade down to the castle. It really is a covered passage connecting the Vatican palace with the castle, so the Popes in a critical moment could fly to this place of refuge without exposing themselves to the attacks of enemies in the streets.
Far beyond the castle to the right is a huge mass of buildings known as the Palace of the Quirinal, once the residence of the Popes, now the home of the King of Italy. It was built by Gregory XIII in 1574 and continued to be the residence of the Popes until Victor Immanuel put an end to their temporal power by taking possession of the city in 187o. Since that date it has been the palace of the King on the other side of the Tiber, while the Vatican palace re-mains the residence of the King on this side of the Tiber. The Italian government declared the Pope sovereign over the territory occupied by St. Peter's and the Vatican, voted him an annual revenue of $100,000 as recompense for the seizure of his kingdom, and treated his territory as that of a neutral sovereign where he may receive ambassadors and carry on the government of the Church with some freedom. The Pope declined the money, and refused to recognize the King as sovereign of Rome, pro-testing to this day against the usurpation. Time promises to heal their differences, which have caused great embarrassment to the diplomats and monarchs of the world.
The territory over which you are gazing between here and the Tiber was formerly a place of popular resort for the ancient Romans. There were gardens on the slopes leading down to the river, and on this very spot stood the circus of Nero, in which thousands of Christians perished by crucifixion, burning and the wild beasts. The region west of the Tiber was of very little importance in the days of the Empire. Very likely Constantine would not have thought of erecting here the basilica of St. Peter but for the fact of the martyrdom and burial of the Prince of the Apostles having taken place in the vicinity of Nero's circus. The throng of pilgrims from all parts of the world soon made the place populous. As it was outside the walls of the city it was ex-posed to the inroads of every marauder who sought the spoils of Rome, and therefore Pope Leo IV was compelled in the ninth century to fortify it by itself. He surrounded it with a wall, and the district was called in his honor the Leonine City. Up to the sixteenth century the growth of Rome was entirely in this direction. After that it declined, and not all the favor of Popes and the devotion of pilgrims have been able to draw the business of the city to this side of the river. Probably the movement away from the Vatican has been of real benefit to the sublime and ancient buildings, which remain unmolested by the aggressive advance of trade, and will more and more take on the remote and venerable character of the shrine, dear to Catholics all over the world. The modern city stretches away to the east and the south. Far beyond are the hills of the Sabines. We pass from the thought of present magnificence to the greater thought of what this city has done for the advancement of the world. Across this region flew the leg-ions of Caesar to the subjugation of the earth : back came the same legions under Constantine to establish the new principle of progress under the banner of Christ; always the city remained the Eternal City, in one fashion or another, directing and illuminating the world.
We are to turn now to the left, in a direction almost at right angles with the direction in which we have been looking. Consult the red lines on the map and find those marked 8. They start from the dome as before, but one (marked 8) extends into the right margin of the map, the other into the upper margin, including between them no part of the Piazza, but a large part of the Vatican Palace. Their direction shows that we are to transfer our gaze from the east to the northeast.