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The head of the world

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SPQR, "The Senate and People of Rome"

"The capitol was the head of the world, where the consuls and senators abode to govern the earth": these are the first words in the twelfth century Mirabilia Romae (The Marvels of Rome), the earliest guidebook to ancient Rome. They are echoed in possibly the most famous, certainly the most gripping, modern guide to Rome, written by Georgina Masson in the mid-1960s.

Masson offers her readers concrete advice about how to begin the journey of discovery in the eternal city:

"So let us begin with the Capitol and let us time our first visit, ideally, to coincide with the hour after sunset, when the sky on a fine night is a translucent shade of green and the monuments imperceptibly lit by a master hand are beginning to glow softly in the gathering darkness"

The legends surrounding this hill, Masson reveals, provide "a link between the ancient world and our own"; the experience of walking up the gentle ramp designed by Michelangelo in the hours after sunset has the effect of a Time Machine:

"to Europeans of the Renaissance its history was part and parcel of their own inheritance, and men like Montaigne could truthfully say that they were more familiar with the temples which once stood there than with the existing palaces of their own kings. It was in 1764 that Gibbon was inspired to write his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and in succeeding centuries it has given its name to the seats of government of the new nations that have come into being."

The Companion Guide to Rome. Georgina Masson. 2006.
[ / Companion Guides]

February 2007
Gerald Knaus

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