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Ferdinand Gregorovius' Walks - On the Latin shores - part one


Ferdinand Gregorovius

Ferdinand Gregorovius was born in 1821 in Neidenburg a town in Eastern Prussia. He studied theology and philosophy in Konigsberg and became a teacher and a writer for the local paper. In 1852 he made his first trip to Italy and he started researching the history of Rome after the fall of the Roman Empire. His studies were finalized in 1872 by publishing the History of the City of Rome in the Middle Ages (8 vol.), which is still today regarded as a fundamental text by modern historians.
His fame however came from the accounts he made of various sites of Italy in Wanderjahre in Italien (Italian Wanderings).
This page is based on a description of the shores of Latium (Idyllen vom Lateinischen Ufer) around the town of Anzio. Gregorovius visited Anzio in 1854.

Anzio

Gregorovius leaves Rome on June 24 from Porta S. Giovanni. The road to Anzio follows Via Appia Nuova until Frattocchie and then Via Nettunense. The journey takes five hours: the last two hours are spent crossing the wood which bordered the coastline of southern Latium. At the time it was populated by wild animals and it was a brigands' favourite retreat.
Gregorovius had already seen the coasts of Naples and Sicily, so at first the low coast of Antium disappointed him, although it reminded him of the dunes of the Baltic sea. Day after day his feelings changed: Anzio is located at the edge of a little promontory and the view towards the East is extraordinary ample (by Mediterranean standards). With the exception of Nettuno, a little town a few miles from Anzio, the coast was totally unpopulated. Gregorovius saw herds of cattle being brought out of the woods to the beach.
Gregorovius gives to his readers an account of ancient Anzio: Antium, the capital of the Volsci, was conquered by Rome in 338 BC and became at the time of Augustus and his immediate successors a favourite sea resort: both Claudius and Nero were born in Antium and the main villa on the sea is named after the latter.
The Roman villas were built right on the sea in a rocky spot above caves which were used as a sort of bath (this is clearly evident in the Villa di Tiberio near Sperlonga).
Antium was sacked by the Goths and several times by the Saracens causing the inhabitants to seek refuge by fortifying former temples a few miles to the east (town of Nettuno).
The Roman villas were decorated with statues (among them the Apollo del Belvedere).

Roman ruins
Views of Villa e Grotte di Nerone

Palazzo Albani

In 1697 Pope Innocentius XII restored the port of Anzio and set up a penal colony to provide the workforce for dredging the sea bottom. Anzio became again a resort for the richest Roman families. The health conditions were however worse than in Roman times, so the villas were built at a certain distance from the sealine to minimize the risk of malaria. The villas were used just for a few weeks in May and June, because the heat of the summer spread the fever.
Cardinal Albani had a villa with a large park, where excavations brought to light many Roman statues. J. J. Winckelmann who acted as secretary to Cardinal Albani lived here.

Palazzo Albani
Fašade of Villa Albani

When Gregorovius came to Anzio, the villa had been bought by Pius IX, who used to come to Anzio every year. His heraldic symbols (rampant lion and stripes) are still noticeable in the very much run down Palazzo Albani: the balcony however shows the star of the Albani. Few of the XVIIIth century villas have resisted the expansion of modern Anzio, but still here and there the eye notices signs of that period.

XVIIIth century buildings
Details of Villa Albani and Palazzo Sarsina

Pius IX

Pius IX was elected pope in 1846 at the age of 54. His first acts raised great hopes among the Italians and for a while the achievement of the unity of the country was sought through a federation of states under the leadership of the Pope.
The reaction of Austria forced Pius IX to moderate his inclination to reforms. In 1854 when Gregorovius writes this account of his stay in Anzio, the popularity of the pope has vanished. In 1848 he was forced to leave Rome where the republicans had taken power and only in 1850 was he able to return due to the interventions of the French in Rome and of the Austrians in Bologna.
Pius IX promoted the development of Anzio and built an imposing church. The main square of the town is still called after him. During his stay, some celebrations (usually ending with fireworks) were held in the harbour. In 1858 he watched these celebrations from a little house, where the owner put an inscription to record the event. But the temporal power of the pope was soon to come to its end in 1870.
The inscription became an embarrassment and the new owner of the little building managed in 1875 to host for one night Giuseppe Garibaldi (a bandit in 1858 and a national hero in 1875) and recorded this event too, thus showing that inclination to shift views, which is often regarded as a distinctive feature of Machiavelli's heirs.

Pius IX
Coat of arms of Pius IX and inscriptions in a house overlooking the harbour.

Memories

The port of Anzio was protected by a little fortress, today greatly renovated and of which only the entrance has some flavour of the past. Near this building a modern map shows the landing of the US VIth Army in January 1944.
The purpose of the landing was to hasten the liberation of Rome, but the result was achieved only in June. Large war cemeteries around Anzio are testimony to the fierce fights which followed. The red dots I added show Anzio, Nettuno and Torre Astura.


The Landing
Entrance to the fortress and map of the landing.


Villa Borghese



Villa Borghese
Watch tower in Villa Borghese

In 1831 Prince Borghese acquired the whole area of Anzio and Nettuno. Midway between the two towns the Borghese had their Villa, which is now partly a public garden and partly a private property. The background of this page shows the coat of arms of the Borghese in a late XIXth century building in Anzio. The Villa had its own watch tower, which today hosts a little restaurant commanding a view over the coast.

Torre Astura
Torre Astura and Monte Circello (today Circeo)

Gregorovius was fascinated by this view. His interest in medieval history made him eager to visit Torre Astura, the site where the fortunes of the Hohenstaufen came to their last turning point.

Move to part two


Other walks with Ferdinand Gregorovius:

Roman Campagna (Aus der Campagna von Rom):
Palestrina
Genazzano
Paliano
Anagni

The Ernici Mountains (Aus den Bergen der Herniker):
Ferentino
Alatri

The Volsci Mountains (Aus den Bergen der Volsker):
Valmontone
Segni
Norma
Cori

On the Latin shores (Idyllen vom Lateinischen Ufer):
Anzio
Nettuno and Torre Astura

Circe's Cape (Das Kap der Circe):
Terracina
San Felice

The Orsini Castle in Bracciano

Subiaco, the oldest Benedictine monastery




Go to or to The Coats of Arms of the Popes or to My Home Page on Baroque Rome or to My Home Page on Rome in the footsteps of an XVIIIth century traveller




All images © 1999 - 2003 by Roberto Piperno. Write to romapip@quipo.it