One of my favourite books is H.V. Morton’s A Traveller in Rome. Written in the 1950s, it’s a charming and highly informative account of Morton’s summer in Rome, combining top-notch travel writing with some fascinating insights into Rome’s long and illustrious history.
Although some of the archaeological information supplied by Morton is inevitably rather out of date, many of the scenes he describes could have been written yesterday: whether it’s the coach-loads of tourists paying a fleeting visit to the Eternal City, or the animated Italian conversations taking place beneath the balcony of his lodgings near the Borghese Gardens. Even his description of the pensione lift – “I have never known a more evil-minded piece of machinery” – will ring bells with anybody who’s experienced the tiny and erratic lifts in some of Rome’s older apartment buildings.
Morton gives the reader a comprehensive introduction to all things Rome: everything from the Colosseum to the innumerable stray cats which famously frequent the archaeological ruins. But above all, his writing is extremely evocative, and highly successful in conveying the rich tapestry of Rome’s incredible history. His history is not presented in a chronological format, but rather in exactly the sort of way you would encounter it on a walk around any part of Rome: ancient Roman alongside Napoleonic near Fascist on top of early Christian and goodness knows what else.
Morton also penned the wonderful words which sum up how Rome-lovers like me feel when we are forced temporarily to leave the Eternal City: “one does not say goodbye to Rome.”