Archives are full of references to locations that don’t exist anymore – landscapes and cityscapes change constantly as roads and railways are put down, old buildings are demolished and new ones put in their place. Unsurprisingly Rome is no different to any other place in that respect.
I went to Rome for the first time this summer. Although the trip was meant to be a holiday, it’s hard to abandon research interests entirely – even when supposedly ‘taking a break’. Rome was an important stop for 19th and early 20th century British tourists to the Continent, as it is today. I wanted to find the Rome that archaeologist Agnes Conway would have known: the Rome of 1912.
Early that year she travelled to Rome to live for a few months as a student at the British School. At that time the archaeologists Thomas Ashby (Director) and Eugenie Sellers Strong (Assistant Director) were running operations. This was a moment of transition in the School’s history. Founded in 1901, for the first decade of its existence it had occupied space in the Palazzo Odescalchi, a 17th century building between the Via del Corso and the Piazza S. S. Apostoli in the heart of Rome.
Agnes and a friend rented a flat that overlooked the then newly-finished Monument to Victor Emmanuel II. The flat’s location on the Via delle Pedecchia was significant too; the area was undergoing major transformation (read demolition) as a result of the Monument’s construction.
Via delle Pedecchia no longer exists, but as far as I can work out it was a stone’s throw away from the Capitoline Museums that were critical to Agnes’s interests, and five minutes walk away from the British School. When they weren’t working, Agnes and her friend spent a considerable amount of time discovering Rome’s many restaurants.
Though some of the museums Agnes visited are still there, others, like the Kircherian, have disappeared. The British School moved in 1916 to an Edwin Lutyens building in the Valle Giulia; its facade had been the entrance to the British Pavilion for the 1911 International Art Exhibition. I did manage to find an exhibition at the Museo di Roma of satirical cartoons and sketches of the festivals of Rome that illuminated the city’s 19th-century history brilliantly. There were even some cartoons of archaeologists – a bonus.
On a slightly more seasonal note, the 19th-century traveller and author Amelia Edwards also spent time in Rome. She first arrived there in the 1850s; her biographer Brenda Moon describes Edwards' fascination with the city. On her return from the Continent, Edwards solidified her reputation as a writer of short stories and novels, with gothic tales of murder and hauntings a frequent product of her pen.
These have been collected at various times and republished. In Night on the Borders of the Black Forest, for example, is a tale of murder set in Rome, “The Tragedy in the Palazzo Bardallo”. Its value, beyond the pull of the storyline (death and insanity), is Edwards’ vivid portrait of a Victorian British resident’s experience of the city.
Moon, B. 2006. More Usefully Employed: Amelia Edwards, writer, traveller and campaigner for ancient Egypt. London: Egypt Exploration Society
Thornton, A. 2011. The Allure of Archaeology: Agnes Conway and Jane Harrison at Newnham College, 1903–1907. Bulletin of the History of Archaeology, 21 (1): 37–56.
Wallace-Hadrill, A. 2001. The British School at Rome: One Hundred Years. Rome: British School at Rome.
Dalby, R. 2008. Introduction. In A. B. Edwards All Saint's Eve. (Tales of Mystery and the Supernatural). Wordsworth Editions Ltd.