In Imperial times, the street now called the Tritone, from the Triton on the fountain in Piazza Barberini, led up from the Portico of Vipsanius Agrippa's sister in the modern Corso to the temple of Flora at the beginning of the Quattro Fontane. It was met at right angles by a long street leading straight from the Forum of Trajan, and which struck it close to the Arch of Claudius. Then, as now, this point was the meeting of two principal thoroughfares, and it was called Trivium, or the 'crossroads.' Trivium turned itself into the Italian 'Trevi,' called in some chronicles 'the Cross of Trevi.' The Arch of Claudius carried the Aqua Virgo, still officially called the Acqua Vergine, across the highway; the water, itself, came to be called the water 'of the crossroads' or 'of Trevi,' and 'Trevi' gave its name at last to the Region, long before the splendid fountain was built in the early part of the last century. The device of the Region seems to have nothing to do with the water, except, perhaps, that the idea of a triplicity is preserved in the three horizontally disposed rapiers.
The legend that tells how the water was discovered gave it the first name it bore. A detachment of Roman soldiers, marching down from Præneste, or Palestrina, in the summer heat, were overcome by thirst, and could find neither stream nor well. A little girl, passing that way, led them aside from the high-road and brought them to a welling spring, clear and icy cold, known only to shepherds and peasants. They drank their fill and called it Aqua Virgo, the Maiden Water. And so it has remained for all ages. But it is commonly called 'Trevi' in Rome, by the people and by strangers, and the name has a ring of poetry, by its associations. For they say that whoever will go to the great fountain, when the high moon rays dance upon the rippling water, and drink, and toss a coin far out into the middle, in offering to the genius of the place, shall surely come back to Rome again, old or young, sooner or later. Many have performed the rite, some secretly, sadly, heartbroken, for love of Rome and what it holds, and others gayly, many together, laughing, while they half believe, and sometimes believing altogether while they laugh. And some who loved, and could meet only in Rome, have gone there together, and women's tears have sometimes dropped upon the silvered water that reflected the sad faces of grave men.
The foremost memories of the past in Trevi centre about the ancient family of the Colonna, still numerous, distinguished and flourishing after a career of nearly a thousand years—longer than that, it may be, if one take into account the traditions of them that go back beyond the earliest authentic mention of their greatness; a race of singular independence and energy, which has given popes to Rome, and great patriots, and great generals as well, and neither least nor last, Vittoria, princess and poetess, whose name calls up the gentlest memories of Michelangelo's elder years.
The Colonna were originally hill men. The earliest record of them tells that their great lands towards Palestrina were confiscated by the Church, in the eleventh century. The oldest of their titles is that of Duke of Paliano, a town still belonging to them, rising on an eminence out of the plain beyond the Alban hills. The greatest of their early fortresses was Palestrina, still the seat and title estate of the Barberini branch of the family. Their original stronghold in Rome was almost on the site of their present palace, being then situated on the opposite side of the Basilica of the Santi Apostoli, where the headquarters of the Dominicans now are, and running upwards and backwards, thence, to the Piazza della Pilotta; but they held Rome by a chain of towers and fortifications, from the Quirinal to the Mausoleum of Augustus, now hidden among the later buildings, between the Corso, the Tiber, the Via de' Pontefici and the Via de' Schiavoni. The present palace and the basilica stood partly upon the site of the ancient quarters occupied by the first Cohort of the Vigiles, or city police, of whom about seven thousand preserved order when the population of ancient Rome exceeded two millions.
The 'column,' from which the Colonna take their name, is generally supposed to have stood in the market-place of the village of that name in the higher part of the Campagna, between the Alban and the Samnite hills, on the way to Palestrina. It is a peaceful and vine-clad country, now. South of it rise the low heights of Tusculum, and it is more than probable that the Colonna were originally descended from the great counts who tyrannized over Rome from that strong point of vantage and, through them, from Theodora Senatrix. Be that as it may, their arms consist of a simple column, used on a shield, or as a crest, or as the badge of the family, and it is found in many a threadbare tapestry, in many a painting, in the frescos and carved ornaments of many a dim old church in Rome.
In their history, the first fact that stands out is their adherence to the Emperors, as Ghibellines, whereas their rivals, the Orsini, were Guelphs and supporters of the Church in most of the great contests of the Middle Age. The exceptions to the rule are found when the Colonna had a Pope of their own, or one who, like Nicholas the Fourth, was of their own making. 'That Pope,' says Muratori, 'had so boundlessly favoured the aggrandizement of the Colonna that his actions depended entirely upon their dictates, and a libel was published upon him, entitled the Source of Evil, illustrated by a caricature, in which the mitred head of the Pontiff was seen issuing from a tall column between two smaller ones, the latter intended to represent the two living cardinals of the house, Jacopo and Pietro.' Yet in the next reign, when they impeached the election of Boniface the Eighth, they found themselves in opposition to the Holy See, and they and theirs were almost utterly destroyed by the Pope's partisans and kinsmen, the powerful Caetani.
Just before him, after the Holy See had been vacant for two years and nearly four months, because the Conclave of Perugia could not agree upon a Pope, a humble southern hermit of the Abruzzi, Pietro da Morrone, had been suddenly elevated to the Pontificate, to his own inexpressible surprise and confusion, and after a few months of honest, but utterly fruitless, effort to understand and do what was required of him, he had taken the wholly unprecedented step of abdicating the papacy. He was succeeded by Benedict Caetani, Boniface the Eighth, keen, learned, brave, unforgiving and the mortal foe of the Colonna; 'the magnanimous sinner,' as Gibbon quotes from a chronicle, 'who entered like a fox, reigned like a lion and died like a dog.' Yet the judgment is harsh, for though his sins were great, the expiation was fearful, and he was brave as few men have been.
Samson slew a lion with his hands, and the Philistines with the jaw-bone of an ass. Men have always accepted the Bible's account of the slaughter. But when an ass, without the aid of any Samson, killed a lion in the courtyard of the Palazzo dei Priori, in Florence, the event was looked upon as of evil portent, exceeding the laws of nature. For Pope Boniface had presented the Commonwealth of Florence with a young and handsome lion, which was chained up and kept in the court of the palace aforesaid. A donkey laden with firewood was driven in, and 'either from fear, or by a miracle,' as the chronicle says, at once assailed the lion with the utmost ferocity, and kicked him to death, in spite of the efforts of a number of men to drag the beast of burden off. Of the two hypotheses, the wise men of the day preferred the supernatural explanation, and one of them found an ancient Sibylline prophecy to the effect that 'when the tame beast should kill the king of beasts, the dissolution of the Church should begin.' Which saying, adds Villani, was presently fulfilled in Pope Boniface.
For the Pope had a mortal quarrel with Philip the Fair of France whom he had promised to make Emperor, and had then passed over in favour of Albert, son of Rudolph of Hapsburg; and Philip made a friend and ally of Stephen Colonna, the head of the great house, who was then in France, and drove Boniface's legate out of his kingdom, and allowed the Count of Artois to burn the papal letters. The Pope retorted by a Major Excommunication, and the quarrel became furious. The Colonna being under his hand, Boniface vented his anger upon them, drove them from Rome, destroyed their houses, levelled Palestrina to the ground, and ploughed up the land where it had stood. The six brothers of the house were exiles and wanderers. Old Stephen, the idol of Petrarch, alone and wretched, was surrounded by highwaymen, who asked who he was. 'Stephen Colonna,' he answered, 'a Roman citizen.' And the thieves fell back at the sound of the great name. Again, someone asked him with a sneer where all his strongholds were, since Palestrina was gone. 'Here,' he answered, unmoved, and laying his hand upon his heart. Of such stuff were the Pope's enemies.
Nor could he crush them. Boniface was of Anagni, a city of prehistoric walls and ancient memories which belonged to the Caetani; and there, in the late summer, he was sojourning for rest and country air, with his cardinals and his court and his kinsmen about him. Among the cardinals was Napoleon Orsini.
Then came William of Nogaret, sent by the King of France, and Sciarra Colonna, the boldest man of his day, and many other nobles, with three hundred knights and many footmen. For a long time they had secretly plotted a master-stroke of violence, spending money freely among the people, and using all persuasion to bring the country to their side, yet with such skill and caution that not the slightest warning reached the Pope's ears. In calm security he rose early on the morning of the seventh of September. He believed his position assured, his friends loyal and the Colonna ruined for ever; and Colonna was at the gate.
Suddenly, from below the walls, a cry of words came up to the palace windows; long drawn out, distinct in the still mountain air. 'Long live the King of France! Death to Pope Boniface!' It was taken up by hundreds of voices, and repeated, loud, long and terrible, by the people of the town, by men going out to their work in the hills, by women loitering on their doorsteps, by children peering out, half frightened, from behind their mothers' scarlet woollen skirts, to see the armed men ride up the stony way. Cardinals, chamberlains, secretaries, men-at-arms, fled like sheep; and when Colonna reached the palace wall, only the Pope's own kinsmen remained within to help him as they could, barring the great doors and posting themselves with crossbows at the grated window. For the Caetani were always brave men.
But Boniface knew that he was lost, and calmly, courageously, even grandly, he prepared to face death. 'Since I am betrayed,' he said, 'and am to die, I will at least die as a Pope should!' So he put on the great pontifical chasuble, and set the tiara of Constantine upon his head, and, taking the keys and the crosier in his hands, sat down on the papal throne to await death.
The palace gates were broken down, and then there was no more resistance, for the defenders were few. In a moment Colonna in his armour stood before the Pontiff in his robes; but he saw only the enemy of his race, who had driven out his great kinsmen, beggars and wanderers on the earth, and he lifted his visor and looked long at his victim, and then at last found words for his wrath, and bitter reproaches and taunts without end and savage curses in the broad-spoken Roman tongue. And William of Nogaret began to speak, too, and threatened to take Boniface to Lyons where a council of the Church should depose him and condemn him to ignominy. Boniface answered that he should expect nothing better than to be deposed and condemned by a man whose father and mother had been publicly burned for their crimes. And this was true of Nogaret, who was no gentleman. A legend says that Colonna struck the Pope in the face, and that he afterwards made him ride on an ass, sitting backwards, after the manner of the times. But no trustworthy chronicle tells of this. On the contrary, no one laid hands upon him while he was kept a prisoner under strict watch for three days, refusing to touch food; for even if he could have eaten he feared poison. And Colonna tried to force him to abdicate, as Pope Celestin had done before him, but he refused stoutly; and when the three days were over, Colonna went away, driven out, some say, by the people of Anagni who turned against him. But that is absurd, for Anagni is a little place and Colonna had a strong force of good soldiers with him. Possibly, seeing that the old man refused to eat, Sciarra feared lest he should be said to have starved the Pope to death. They went away and left him, carrying off his treasures with them, and he returned to Rome, half mad with anger, and fell into the hands of the Orsini cardinals, who judged him not sane and kept him a prisoner at the Vatican, where he died soon afterwards, consumed by his wrath. And before long the Colonna had their own again and rebuilt Palestrina and their palace in Rome.
Twenty-five years later they were divided against each other, in the wild days when Lewis the Bavarian, excommunicated and at war with the Pope, was crowned and consecrated Emperor, by the efforts of an extraordinary man of genius, Castruccio degli Interminelli, known better as Castruccio Castracane, the Ghibelline lord of Lucca who made Italy ring with his deeds for twenty years, and died of a fever, in the height of his success and glory, at the age of forty-seven years. Sciarra Colonna was for him and for Lewis. Stephen, head of the house, was against them, and in those days when Rome was frantic for an Emperor, Stephen's son Jacopo had the quiet courage to bring out the Bull of Excommunication against the chosen Emperor and nail it to the door of San Marcello, in the Corso, in the heart of Rome and in the sight of a thousand angry men, in protest against what they meant to do—against what was doing even at that moment. And he reached Palestrina in safety, shaking the dust of Rome from his feet.
But on that bright winter's day, Lewis of Bavaria and his queen rode down from Santa Maria Maggiore by the long and winding ways towards Saint Peter's. The streets were all swept and strewn with yellow sand and box leaves and myrtle that made the air fragrant, and from every window and balcony gorgeous silks and tapestries were hung, and even ornaments of gold and silver and jewels. Before the procession rode standard-bearers, four for each Region, on horses most richly caparisoned. There rode Sciarra Colonna, and beside him, for once in history, Orsino Orsini, and others, all dressed in cloth of gold, and Castruccio Castracane, wearing that famous sword which in our own times was offered by Italy to King Victor Emmanuel; and many other Barons rode there in splendid array, and there was great concourse of the people. So they came to Saint Peter's; and because the Count of the Lateran should by right have been the Emperor's sponsor at the anointing, and had left Rome in anger and disdain, Lewis made Castruccio a knight of the Empire and Count of the Lateran in his stead, and sponsor; and two excommunicated Bishops consecrated the Emperor, and anointed him, and Sciarra Colonna crowned him and his queen. After which they feasted in the evening at the Aracœli, and slept in the Capitol, because they were all weary with the long ceremony, and it was too late to go home. The chronicler's comment is curious. 'Note,' he says, 'what presumption was this, of the aforesaid damned Bavarian, such as thou shalt not find in any ancient or recent history; for never did any Christian Emperor cause himself to be crowned save by the Pope or his legate, even though opposed to the Church, neither before then nor since, except this Bavarian.' But Sciarra and Castruccio had their way, and Lewis did what even Napoleon, master of the world by violent chance, would not do. And twenty years later, in the same chronicle, it is told how 'Lewis of Bavaria, who called himself Emperor, fell with his horse, and was killed suddenly, without penitence, excommunicated and damned by Holy Church.' It is a curious coincidence that Boniface the Eighth, Sciarra's prisoner, and Lewis the Bavarian, whom he crowned Emperor, both died on the eleventh of October, according to most authorities.
The Senate of Rome had dwindled to a pitiable office, held by one man. At or about this time, the Colonna and the Orsini agreed by a compromise that there should be two, chosen from their two houses. The Popes were in Avignon, and men who could make Emperors were more than able to do as they pleased with a town of twenty or thirty thousand inhabitants, so long as the latter had no leader. One may judge of what Rome was, when even pilgrims did not dare to go thither and visit the tomb of Saint Peter. The discord of the great houses made Rienzi's life a career; the defection of the Orsini from the Pope's party led to his flight; their battles suggested to the exiled Pope the idea of sending him back to Rome to break their power and restore a republic by which the Pope might restore himself; and the rage of their retainers expended itself in his violent death. For it was their retainers who fought for their masters, till the younger Stephen Colonna killed Bertoldo Orsini, the bravest man of his day, in an ambush, and the Orsini basely murdered a boy of the Colonna on the steps of a church. But Rienzi was of another Region, of the Regola by the Tiber, and it is not yet time to tell his story. And by and by, as the power of the Popes rose and they became again as the Cæsars had been, Colonna and Orsini forgot their feuds, and were glad to stand on the Pope's right and left as hereditary 'Assistants of the Holy See.' In the petty ending of all old greatnesses in modern times, the result of the greatest feud that ever made two races mortal foes is merely that no prudent host dare ask the heads of the two houses to dinner together, lest a question of precedence should arise, such as no master of ceremonies would presume to settle. That is what it has come to. Once upon a time an Orsini quarrelled with a Colonna in the Corso, just where Aragno's café is now situated, and ran him through with his rapier, wounding him almost to death. He was carried into the palace of the Theodoli, close by, and the records of that family tell that within the hour eight hundred of the Colonna's retainers were in the house to guard him. In as short space, the Orsini called out three thousand men in arms, when Cæsar Borgia's henchman claimed the payment of a tax.
Times have changed since then. The Mausoleum of Augustus, once a fortress, has been an open air theatre in our time, and there the great Salvini and Ristori often acted in their early youth; it is a circus now. And in less violent contrast, but with change as great from what it was, the palace of the Colonna suggests no thought of defence nowadays, and the wide gates and courtyard recall rather the splendours of the Constable and of his wife, Maria Mancini, niece of Cardinal Mazarin, than the fiercer days when Castracane was Sciarra's guest on the other side of the church.
The Basilica of the Apostles is said to have been built by Pelagius the First, who was made Pope in the year 555, and who dedicated it to Saint Philip and Saint James. Recent advances in the study of archæology make it seem more than probable that he adapted for the purpose a part of the ancient barracks of the Vigiles, of which the central portion appears almost to coincide with the present church, at a somewhat different angle; and in the same way it is likely that the remains of the north wing were rebuilt at a later period by the Colonna as a fortified palace. In those times men would not have neglected to utilize the massive substructures and walls. However that may be, the Colonna dwelt there at a very early date, and in eight hundred years or more have only removed their headquarters from one side of the church to the other. The latter has been changed and rebuilt, and altered again, like most of the great Roman sanctuaries, till it bears no resemblance to the original building. The present church is distinctly ugly, with the worst defects of the early eighteenth century; and that age was as deficient in cultivated taste as it was abhorrent of natural beauty. Some fragments of the original frescos that adorned the apse are now preserved in a hall behind the main Sacristy of Saint Peter's. Against the flat walls, under the inquisition of the crudest daylight, the fragments of Melozzo da Forli's masterpiece are masterpieces still; the angelic faces, imprisoned in a place not theirs, reflect the sadness of art's captivity; and the irretrievable destruction of an inimitable past excites the pity and resentment of thoughtful men. The attempt to outdo the works of the great has exhibited the contemptible imbecility of the little, and the coarse-grained vanity of Clement the Eleventh has parodied the poetry of art in the bombastic prose of a vulgar tongue. Pope Pelagius took for his church the pillars and marbles of Trajan's Forum, in the belief that his acts were acceptable to God; but Clement had no such excuse, and the edifice which was a monument of faith has given place to the temple of a monumental vanity.
It is remarkable that the Colonna rarely laid their dead in the Church of the Apostles, for it was virtually theirs by right of immediate neighbourhood, and during their domination they could easily have assumed actual possession of it as a private property. A very curious custom, which survived in the sixteenth century, and perhaps much later, bears witness to the close connection between their family and the church. At that time a gallery existed, accessible from the palace and looking down into the basilica, so that the family could assist at Mass without leaving their dwelling.
On the afternoon of the first of May, which is the traditional feast of this church, the poor of the neighbourhood assembled within. The windows of the palace gallery were then thrown open and a great number of fat fowls were thrown alive to the crowd, turkeys, geese and the like, to flutter down to the pavement and be caught by the luckiest of the people in a tumultuous scramble. When this was over, a young pig was swung out and lowered in slings by a purchase of which the block was seized to a roof beam. When just out of reach the rope was made fast, and the most active of the men jumped for the animal from below, till one was fortunate enough to catch it with his hands, when the rope was let go, and he carried off the prize. The custom was evidently similar to that of climbing the May-pole, which was set up on the same day in the Campo Vaccino. May-day was one of the oldest festivals of the Romans, for it was sacred to the tutelary Lares, or spirits of ancestors, and was kept holy, both publicly by the whole city as the habitation of the Roman people, and by each family in its private dwelling. It is of Aryan origin and is remembered in one way or another by all Aryan races in our own time, and it is not surprising that in the general conversion of Paganism to Christianity a new feast should have been intentionally made to coincide with an old one; but it is hard to understand the lack of all reverence for sacred places which could admit such a scene as the scrambling for live fowls and pigs in honour of the twelve Apostles, a pious exercise which is perhaps paralleled, though assuredly not equalled, in crudeness, by the old Highland custom of smoking tobacco in kirk throughout the sermon.
At the very time when we have historical record of a Pope's presence as an amused spectator of the proceedings, Michelangelo had lately painted the ceiling of the Sixtine chapel, and had not yet begun his Last Judgment; and 'Diva' Vittoria Colonna, not yet the friend of his later years, was perhaps even then composing those strangely passionate spiritual sonnets which appeal to the soul through the heart, by the womanly pride that strove to make the heart subject to the soul.
The commonplace romance which has represented Vittoria Colonna and Michelangelo as in love with each other is as unworthy of both as it is wholly without foundation. They first met nine years before her death, when she was almost fifty and he was already sixty-four. She had then been widowed twelve years, and it was long since she had refused in Naples the princely suitors who made overtures for her hand. The true romance of her life was simpler, nobler and more enduring, for it began when she was a child, and it ended when she breathed her last in the house of Giuliano Cesarini, the kinsman of her people, whose descendant married her namesake in our own time.
At the age of four, Vittoria was formally betrothed to Francesco d'Avalos, heir of Pescara, one of that fated race whose family history has furnished matter for more than one stirring tale. Vittoria was born in Marino, the Roman town and duchy which still gives its title to Prince Colonna's eldest son, and she was brought up in Rome and Naples, of which latter city her father was Grand Constable. Long before she was married, she saw her future husband and loved him at first sight, as she loved him to her dying day, so that although even greater offers were made for her, she steadfastly refused to marry any other man. They were united when she was seventeen years old, he loved her devotedly, and they spent many months together almost without other society in the island of Ischia. The Emperor Charles the Fifth was fighting his lifelong fight with Francis the First of France. Colonna and Pescara were for the Empire, and Francesco d'Avalos joined the imperial army; he was taken prisoner at Ravenna and carried captive to France; released, he again fought for Charles, who offered him the crown of the kingdom of Naples; but he refused it, and still he fought on, to fall at last at Pavia, in the strength of his mature manhood, and to die of his wounds in Milan when Vittoria was barely five and thirty years of age, still young, surpassingly beautiful, and gifted as few women have ever been. What their love was, their long correspondence tells,—a love passionate as youth and enduring as age, mutual, whole and faithful. For many years the heartbroken woman lived in Naples, where she had been most happy, feeding her soul with fire and tears. At last she returned to Rome, to her own people, in her forty-ninth year. There she was visited by the old Emperor for whom her husband had given his life, and there she met Michelangelo.
It was natural enough that they should be friends. It is monstrous to suppose them lovers. The melancholy of their natures drew them together, and the sympathy of their tastes cemented the bond. To the woman-hating man of genius, this woman was a revelation and a wonder; to the great princess in her perpetual sorrow the greatest of creative minds was a solace and a constant intellectual delight. Their friendship was mutual, fitting and beautiful, which last is more than can be said for the absurd stories about their intercourse which are extant in print and have been made the subject of imaginary pictures by more than one painter. The tradition that they used to meet often in the little Church of Saint Sylvester, behind the Colonna gardens, rests upon the fact that they once held a consultation there in the presence of Francesco d'Olanda, a Portuguese artist, when Vittoria was planning the Convent of Saint Catherine, which she afterwards built not very far away. The truth is that she did not live in the palace of her kinsfolk after her return to Rome, but most probably in the convent attached to the other and greater Church of Saint Sylvester which stands in the square of that name not far from the Corso. The convent itself is said to have been originally built for the ladies of the Colonna who took the veil, and was only recently destroyed to make room for the modern Post-office, the church itself having passed into the hands of the English. The coincidence of the two churches being dedicated to the same saint doubtless helped the growth of the unjust fable. But in an age of great women, in the times of Lucrezia Borgia, great and bad, of Catherine Sforza, great and warlike, Vittoria Colonna was great and good; and the ascetic Michelangelo, discovering in her the realization of an ideal, laid at her feet the homage of a sexagenarian's friendship.
In the battle of the archæologists the opposing forces traverse and break ground, and rush upon each other again, 'hurtling together like wild boars,'—as Mallory describes the duels of his knights,—and when learned doctors disagree it is not the province of a searcher after romance to attempt a definition of exact truths. 'Some romances entertain the genius,' quotes Johnson, 'and strengthen it by the noble ideas which they give of things; but they corrupt the truth of history.'
Professor Lanciani, who is probably the greatest authority, living or dead, on Roman antiquities, places the site of the temple of the Sun in the Colonna gardens, and another writer compares the latter to the hanging gardens of Babylon, supported entirely on ancient arches and substructures rising high above the natural soil below. But before Aurelian erected the splendid building to record his conquest of Palmyra, the same spot was the site of the 'Little Senate,' instituted by Elagabalus in mirthful humour, between an attack of sacrilegious folly and a fit of cruelty.
The 'Little Senate' was a woman's senate; in other words, it was a regular assembly of the fashionable Roman matrons of the day, who met there in hours of idleness under the presidency of the Emperor's mother, Semiamira. Ælius Lampridius, quoted by Baracconi, has a passage about it. 'From this Senate,' he says, 'issued the absurd laws for the matrons, entitled Semiamiran Senatorial Decrees, which determined for each matron how she might dress, to whom she must yield precedence, by whom she might be kissed, deciding which ladies might drive in chariots, and which in carts, and whether the latter should be drawn by caparisoned horses, or by asses, or by mules, or oxen; who should be allowed to be carried in a litter or a chair, which might be of leather or of bone with fittings of ivory or of silver, as the case might be; and it was even determined which ladies might wear shoes adorned only with gold, and which might have gems set in their boots.' Considering how little human nature has changed in eighteen hundred years it is easy enough to imagine what the debates in the 'Little Senate' must have been with Semiamira in the chair ruling everything 'out of order' which did not please her capricious fancy: the shrill discussions about a fashionable head-dress, the whispered intrigues for a jewel-studded slipper, the stormy divisions on the question of gold hairpins, and the atmosphere of beauty, perfumes, gossip, vanity and all feminine dissension. But the 'Little Senate' was short-lived.
Some fifty years after Elagabalus, Aurelian triumphed over Zenobia of Palmyra, and built his temple of the Sun. That triumph was the finest sight, perhaps, ever seen in imperial Rome. Twenty richly caparisoned elephants and two hundred captive wild beasts led the immense procession; eight hundred pairs of gladiators came next, the glory and strength of fighting manhood, with all their gleaming arms and accoutrements, marching by the huge Flavian Amphitheatre, where sooner or later they must fight each other to the death; then countless captives of the East and South and West and North, Syrian nobles, Gothic warriors, Persian dignitaries beside Frankish chieftains, and Tetricus, the great Gallic usurper, in the attire of his nation, with his young son whom he had dared to make a Senator in defiance of the Empire. Three royal equipages followed, rich with silver, gold and precious stones, one of them Zenobia's own, and she herself seated therein, young, beautiful, proud and vanquished, loaded from head to foot with gems, most bitterly against her will, her hands and feet bound with a golden chain, and about her neck another, long and heavy, of which the end was held by a Persian captive who walked beside the chariot and seemed to lead her. Then Aurelian, the untiring conqueror, in the car of the Gothic king, drawn by four great stags, which he himself was to sacrifice to Jove that day according to his vow, and a long line of wagons loaded down and groaning under the weight of the vast spoil; the Roman army, horse and foot, the Senate and the people, a million, perhaps, all following the indescribable magnificence of the great triumph, along the Sacred Way, that was yellow with fresh strewn sand and sweet with box and myrtle.
But when it was over, Aurelian, who was generous when he was not violent, honoured Zenobia and endowed her with great fortune, and she lived for many years as a Roman Matron in Hadrian's villa at Tivoli. And the Emperor made light of the 'Little Senate' and built his Sun temple on the spot, with singular magnificence, enriching its decoration with pearls and precious stones and with fifteen thousand pounds in weight of pure gold. Much of that temple was still standing in the seventeenth century and was destroyed by Urban the Eighth, the Pope who built the heavy round tower on the south side of the Quirinal palace, facing Monte Cavallo.
Monte Cavallo itself was a part of the Colonna villa, and its name, only recently changed to Piazza del Quirinale, was given to it by the great horses that stand on each side of the fountain, and which were found long ago, according to tradition, between the Palazzo Rospigliosi and the Palazzo della Consulta. In the times of Sixtus the Fifth, they were in a pitiable state, their forelegs and tails gone, their necks broken, their heads propped up by bits of masonry. When he finished the Quirinal palace he restored them and set them up, side by side, before the entrance, and when Pius the Sixth changed their position and turned them round, the ever conservative and ever discontented Roman people were disgusted by the change. On the pedestal of one of them are the words, 'Opus Phidiae,' 'the work of Phidias,' A punning placard was at once stuck upon the inscription with the legend, 'Opus Perfidiae Pii Sexti'—'the work of perfidy of Pius the Sixth.'
The Quirinal palace cannot be said to have played a part in the history of Rome. Its existence is largely due to the common sense of Sixtus the Fifth, and to his love of good air. He was a shepherd by birth, and it is recorded that the first of his bitter disappointments was that the farmer whom he served set him to feed the pigs because he could not learn how to drive sheep to pasture; a disgrace which ultimately made him run away, when he fell in with a monk whose face he liked. He informed the astonished father that he meant to follow him everywhere, 'to Hell, if he chose,'—which was a forcible if not a pious resolution,—and explained that the pigs would find their way home alone. Later, when he had quarrelled with all the monks in Naples, including his superiors, he came to Rome, and, being by that time very learned, he was employed to expound the 'Formalities' of Scotus to the 'Signor' Marcantonio Colonna, abbot of the Monastery of the Apostles; and there he resided as a guest for a long time till his brilliant pupil was himself master of the subject, as well as a firm friend of the quarrelsome monk; and in their intercourse the seeds were no doubt sown of that implacable hatred against the Orsini which, under the great and just provocation of a kinsman's murder, ended in the exile and temporary ruin of the Colonna's rivals. No doubt, also, the abbot and the monk often strolled together in the Colonna gardens, and the future Pope breathed the high air of the Quirinal hill with a sense of relief, and dreamed of living up there, far above the city, literally in an atmosphere of his own. Therefore, when he was Pope, he made the great palace that crowns the eminence, completing and extending a much smaller building planned by the wise Gregory the Thirteenth, and ever since then, until 1870, the Popes lived there during some part of the year. It is modern, as age is reckoned in Rome, and it has modern associations in the memory of living men.
It was from the great balcony of the Quirinal that Pius the Ninth pronounced his famous benediction to an enthusiastic and patriotic multitude in 1846. It will be remembered that a month after his election, Pius proclaimed a general amnesty in favour of all persons imprisoned for political crimes, and a decree by which all criminal prosecutions for political offences should be immediately discontinued, unless the persons accused were ecclesiastics, soldiers, or servants of the government, or criminals in the universal sense of the word.
The announcement was received with a frenzy of enthusiasm, and Rome went mad with delight. Instinctively, the people began to move towards the Quirinal from all parts of the city, as soon as the proclamation was published; the stragglers became a band, and swelled to a crowd; music was heard, flags appeared and the crowd swelled to a multitude that thronged the streets, singing, cheering and shouting for joy as they pushed their way up to the palace, filling the square, the streets that led to it and the Via della Dateria below it, to overflowing. In answer to this popular demonstration the Pope appeared upon the great balcony above the main entrance; a shout louder than all the rest burst from below, the long drawn 'Viva!' of the southern races; he lifted his hand, and there was silence; and in the calm summer air his quiet eyes were raised towards the sky as he imparted his benediction to the people of Rome.
Twenty-four years later, when the Italians had taken Rome, a detachment of soldiers accompanied by a smith and his assistants marched up to the same gate. Not a soul was within, and they had instructions to enter and take possession of the palace. In the presence of a small and silent crowd of sullen-looking men of the people, the doors were forced.
The difference between Unity under Augustus and Unity under Victor Emmanuel is that under the Empire the Romans took Italy, whereas under the Kingdom the Italians have taken Rome. Without pretending that there can be any moral distinction between the two, one may safely admit that there is a great and vital one between the two conditions of Rome, at the two periods of history, a distinction no less than that which separates the conqueror from the conquered, and the fruits of conquest from the consequences of subjection. But thinking men do not forget that they look at the past in one way and at the present in another; and that while the actions of a nation are dictated by the impulses of contagious sentiment, the judgments of history are too often based upon an all but commercial reckoning and balancing of profit and loss.
When Sixtus the Fifth was building the Quirinal palace, he was not working in a wilderness resembling the deserted fields of the outlying Monti. The hill was covered with gardens and villas. Ippolito d'Este, the son of Alfonso, Duke of Ferrara, and of Lucrezia Borgia, had built himself a residence on the west side of the hill, surrounded by gardens. It was in the manner of his magnificent palace at Tivoli, that Villa d'Este of which the melancholy charm had such a mysterious attraction for Liszt, where the dark cypresses reflect their solemn beauty in the stagnant water, and a weed-grown terrace mourns the dead artist in the silence of decay.
Further on, along the Via Venti Settembre, stretched the pleasure grounds of Oliviero, Cardinal Carafa, who is remembered as the man who first recognized the merits of the beautiful mutilated group subsequently known as 'Pasquino,' and set it upon the pedestal which made it famous, and gave its name a place in all languages, by the witty lampoons and stinging satires almost daily affixed to the block of stone. Many other villas followed in the same direction, and in those insecure days not a few Romans, when the summer days grew hot, were content to move up from their palaces in the lower parts of the city to breathe the somewhat better air of the Quirinal and the Esquiline, instead of risking a journey to the country.
Sixtus the Fifth died in the Quirinal palace, and twenty-one other Popes have died there since, all following the curious custom of bequeathing their hearts and viscera to the parish Church of the Saints Vincent and Anastasius, which is known as the Church of Cardinal Mazarin, because the tasteless front was built by him, though the rest existed much earlier. It stands opposite the fountain of Trevi, at one corner of the little square; the vault in which the urns were placed is just behind and below the high altar; but Benedict the Fourteenth built a special monument for them on the left of the apse, and a tablet on the right records the names of the Popes who left these strange legacies to the church.
In passing, one may remember that Mazarin himself was born in the Region of Trevi, the son of a Sicilian,—like Crispi and Rudinì. His father was employed at first as a butler and then as a steward by the Colonna, married an illegitimate daughter of the family, and lived to see his granddaughter, Maria Mancini, married to the head of the house, and his son a cardinal and despot of France, and himself, after the death of his first wife, the honoured husband of Porzia Orsini, so that he was the only man in history who was married both to an Orsini and to a Colonna. In the light of his father's extraordinary good fortune, the success of the son, though not less great, is at least less astonishing. The magnificent Rospigliosi palace, often ascribed by a mistake to Cardinal Scipio Borghese, was the Palazzo Mazarini and Mazarin's father died there; it was inherited by the Dukes of Nevers, through another niece of the Cardinal's, and was bought from them between 1667 and 1670, by Prince Rospigliosi, brother of Pope Clement the Ninth, then reigning.
Urban the Eighth, the Barberini Pope, had already left his mark on the Quirinal hill. The great Barberini palace was built by him, it is said, of stones taken from the Colosseum, whereupon a Pasquinade announced that 'the Barberini had done what the Barbarians had not.' The Barbarians did not pull down the Colosseum, it is true, but they could assuredly not have built as Urban did, and in that particular instance, without wishing to justify the vandalisms of the centuries succeeding the Renascence, it may well be asked whether the Amphitheatre is not more picturesque in its half-ruined state, as it stands, and whether the city is not richer by a great work of art in the princely dwelling which faces the street of the Four Fountains.
Among the many memories of the Quirinal there is one more mysterious than the rest. The great Baths of Constantine extended over the site of the Palazzo Rospigliosi, and the ruins were in part standing at the end of the sixteenth century. It is related by a writer of those days and an eye-witness of the fact, that a vault was discovered beneath the old baths, about eighty feet long by twenty wide, closed at one end by a wall thrown up with evident haste and lack of skill, and completely filled with human bodies that fell to dust at the first touch, evidently laid there all at the same time, just after death, and probably numbering at least a thousand. In vain one conjectures the reason of such wholesale burial—one of Nero's massacres, perhaps, or a plague. No one can tell.
The invaluable Baracconi, often quoted, recalls the fact that Tasso, when a child, lived with his father in some house on the Monte Cavallo, when the execrable Carafa cardinal and his brother had temporarily succeeded in seizing all the Colonna property; and he gives a letter of Bernardo, the poet's father, written in July to his wife, who was away just then.
'I do not wish the children to go to the vineyard because they get too hot, and the air is bad there this summer, but in order that they may have a change, I took steps to have the use of the Boccaccio Vineyard [Villa Colonna], and the Duke of Paliano [then a Carafa, for the latter had stolen the title as well as the lands] has let me have it, and we have been here a week and shall stay all summer in this good air.'
The words call up a picture of Tasso, a small boy, pale with the heat of a Roman summer, but restless and for ever running about, overheated and catching cold like all delicate children, which brings the unhappy poet a little nearer to us.
Of those great villas and gardens there remain the Colonna, the Rospigliosi and the Quirinal, by far the largest of the three, and enclosing between four walls an area almost, if not quite, equal to the Pincio. The great palace where twenty-two popes died is inhabited by the royal family of Italy and crowns the height, as the Vatican, far away across the Tiber, is also on an eminence of its own. They face each other, like two principles in natural and eternal opposition,—Rome the conqueror of the world, and Italy the conqueror of Rome. And he who loves the land for its own sake can only pray that if they must oppose each other for ever in heart, they may abide in that state of civilized though unreconciled peace, which is the nation's last and only hope of prosperity.
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