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The Fourteen Regions

Here and there, in out-of-the-way places, overlooked in the modern rage for improvement, little marble tablets are set into the walls of old houses, bearing semi-heraldic devices such as a Crescent, a Column, a Griffin, a Stag, a Wheel and the like. Italian heraldry has always been eccentric, and has shown a tendency to display all sorts of strange things, such as comets, trees, landscapes and buildings in the escutcheon, and it would naturally occur to the stranger that the small marble shields, still visible here and there at the corners of old streets, must be the coats of arms of Roman families that held property in that particular neighbourhood. But this is not the case. They are the distinctive devices of the Fourteen Rioni, or wards, into which the city was divided, with occasional modifications, from the time of Augustus to the coming of Victor Emmanuel, and which with some further changes survive to the present day. The tablets themselves were put up by Pope Benedict the Fourteenth, who reigned from 1740 to 1758, and who finally brought them up to the ancient number of fourteen; but from the dark ages the devices themselves were borne upon flags on all public occasions by the people of the different Regions. For 'Rione' is only a corruption of the Latin 'Regio,' the same with our 'Region,' by which English word it will be convenient to speak of these divisions that played so large a part in the history of the city during many successive centuries.

For the sake of clearness, it is as well to enumerate them in their order and with the numbers that have always belonged to each. They are:

I. Monti,
II. Trevi,
III. Colonna,
IV. Campo Marzo,
V. Ponte
VI. Parione,
VII. Regola,
VIII. Sant' Eustachio,
IX. Pigna,
X. Campitelli,
XI. Sant' Angelo,
XII. Ripa,
XIII. Trastevere,
XIV. Borgo.

Five of these names, that is to say, Ponte, Parione, Regola, Pigna and Sant' Angelo, indicate in a general way the part of the city designated by each. Ponte, the Bridge, is the Region about the Bridge of Sant' Angelo, on the left bank at the sharp bend of the river seen from that point; but the original bridge which gave the name was the Pons Triumphalis, of which the foundations are still sometimes visible a little below the Ælian bridge leading to the Mausoleum of Hadrian. Parione, the Sixth ward, is the next division to the preceding one, towards the interior of the city, on both sides of the modern Corso Vittorio Emmanuele, taking in the ancient palace of the Massimo family, the Cancelleria, famous as the most consistent piece of architecture in Rome, and the Piazza Navona. Regola is next, towards the river, comprising the Theatre of Pompey and the Palazzo Farnese. Pigna takes in the Pantheon, the Collegio Romano and the Palazzo di Venezia. Sant' Angelo has nothing to do with the castle or the bridge, but takes its name from the little church of Sant' Angelo in the Fishmarket, and includes the old Ghetto with some neighbouring streets. The rest explain themselves well enough to anyone who has even a very slight acquaintance with the city.

At first sight these more or less arbitrary divisions may seem of little importance. It was, of course, necessary, even in early times, to divide the population and classify it for political and municipal purposes. There is no modern city in the world that is not thus managed by wards and districts, and the consideration of such management and of its means might appear to be a very flat and unprofitable study, tiresome alike to the reader and to the writer. And so it would be, if it were not true that the Fourteen Regions of Rome were fourteen elements of romance, each playing its part in due season, while all were frequently the stage at once, under the collective name of the people, in their ever-latent opposition and in their occasional violent outbreaks against the nobles and the popes, who alternately oppressed and spoiled them for private and public ends. In other words, the Regions with their elected captains under one chief captain were the survival of the Roman People, for ever at odds with the Roman Senate. In times when there was no government, in any reasonable sense of the word, the people tried to govern themselves, or at least to protect themselves as best they could by a rough system which was all that remained of the elaborate municipality of the Empire. Without the Regions the struggles of the Barons would probably have destroyed Rome altogether; nine out of the twenty-four Popes who reigned in the tenth century would not have been murdered and otherwise done to death; Peter the Prefect could not have dragged Pope John the Thirteenth a prisoner through the streets; Stefaneschi could never have terrorized the Barons, and half destroyed their castles in a week; Rienzi could not have made himself dictator; Ludovico Migliorati could not have murdered the eleven captains of Regions in his house and thrown their bodies to the people from the windows, for which Giovanni Colonna drove out the Pope and the cardinals, and sacked the Vatican; in a word, the strangest, wildest, bloodiest scenes of mediæval Rome could not have found a place in history. It is no wonder that to men born and bred in the city the Regions seem even now to be an integral factor in its existence.

There were two other elements of power, namely, the Pope and the Barons. The three are almost perpetually at war, two on a side, against the third. Philippe de Commines, ambassador of Lewis the Eleventh in Rome, said that without the Orsini and the Colonna, the States of the Church would be the happiest country in the world. He forgot the People, and was doubtless too politic to speak of the Popes to his extremely devout sovereign. Take away the three elements of discord, and there would certainly have been peace in Rome, for there would have been no one to disturb the bats and the owls, when everybody was gone.

The excellent advice of Ampère, already quoted, is by no means easy to follow, since there are not many who have the time and the inclination to acquire a 'superficial knowledge' of Rome by a ten years' visit. If, therefore, we merely presuppose an average knowledge of history and a guide-book acquaintance with the chief points in the city, the simplest and most direct way of learning more about it is to take the Regions in their ancient order, as the learned Baracconi has done in his invaluable little work, and to try as far as possible to make past deeds live again where they were done, with such description of the places themselves as may serve the main purpose best. To follow any other plan would be either to attempt a new history of the city of Rome, or to piece together a new archæological manual. In either case, even supposing that one could be successful where so much has already been done by the most learned, the end aimed at would be defeated, for romance would be stiffened to a record, and beauty would be dissected to an anatomical preparation.

F. Marion Crawford