The traveller who should leave Rome without a visit to Tivoli, would lose much that he could never regain, it is a quaint old town, older by four hundred years than Rome. Rich in natural beauty, and interesting from its historical surroundings, there are few places in the vicinity of Rome pleasant to visit. By starting from Rome at early morn, the traveller can, if time presses, visit the temples and cascades, and return to the city before sundown. One leaves Rome by the Porta S. Lorenzo, near which are the beautiful cloisters we have shown in our illustration. After a drive of some twenty miles over an ancient Roman road, whose pavement is, in many places, in as perfect preservation as when, two thousand years ago, Horace loitered along it on his way to his Sabine farm, Tivoli is reached. The ancient name of Tivoli was Tibur, a city of the Sicani, and in its early days it was a formidable rival to Rome. Its fine scenery has been depicted in the lyrics of Horace, and it was the residence of the poets, philosophers, and statesmen of ancient Rome. Here Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, after having graced the triumph of Aurelian, retired to spend the remaining years of her existence with the pomp and circumstance of her early life. To this place Brutus and Cassius fled after the murder of Cæsar. During the middle ages the city was subject to sieges and struggles innumerable between emperors and popes. In the wars between Guelphs and Ghibellines, Tivoli bore a prominent part. But the chief charm of Tivoli, aside from its historic recollections and classical associations, is its situation. Hanging on the slope of Nonte Ripoli, eight hundred feet above the Mediterranean, clotted here and there with villas and masses of Roman ruins, it presents from its eminence a prospect of unspeakable beauty. The semicircular range of the Sabine Mountains shelter it on one side, while the other commands an open and extensive view of the Roman Campagna, while beyond repose the blue waves of the Mediterranean Sea. The following fine description of the place is from Forsyth: —
“ The Hill of Tivoli is all over picture. The town, the villas, the ruins, the rocks, the cascades in the foreground, the Sabine Hills, the three Monticelli, Soracte, Frascati, the Campagna, and Rome in the distance, — these form a succession of landscapes superior, in the delight produced, to the richest cabinet of Claude’s. Tivoli cannot be described: no true portrait of it exists. All views alter and embellish it : they are poetical translations of the matchless original. Indeed, when you come to detail the hill, some defect of harmony will ever be found in the foreground or distance, — something in the swell or channelling of its sides, something in the growth or the grouping of its trees,— which painters, referring every object to its effect on canvas, will often condemn as bad Nature. In fact, the beauties of the landscape are all accidental. Natures intent on more important ends, does nothing exclusively to please the eye. No stream flows exactly as the artist would wish it. He wants mountains where he finds only hills; he wants hills where he finds a plain. Nature gives him but scattered elements; the composition is his own.”
The little River Anio, in which tradition asserts that Silvia, the mother of Romulus and Remus, exchanged her earthly life to become a river goddess, rises in the Simbrivian Hills, and flows onward until it reaches the city of’ Tivoli, where it forms, by falling over the edge of an abrupt precipice, a most romantic and picturesque cascade, which is, as it was in ancient times, the pride and ornament of Tivoli. In 1826 an inundation occurred which was so destructive to the city that it was deemed advisable to provide for the river an artificial outlet. Two tunnels were therefore bored through Monte Catillo, through which a portion of the water passes and forms a magnificent cascade; another portion of the water passes under the bridge of S. Gregorio, and again joins the river in the valley beneath: the third portion of the Anio passes through the town, and forms the cascade which is the chief glory of the place.
On the rockes above the falls a small, round temple stands perched upon the very edge of the precipice. Nothing can be more striking and felicitous than its situation. It is built in the style of an ancient Greek temple, and is by some antiquaries referred to the republican era. It is called the Temple of Hercules. It is surrounded with ten Corinthian columns, which support an entablature adorned with festoons of flowers and heads of oxen. Near this temple is another, called the Temple of the Sibyl, — so called from the fact that a bass-relief was here found representing the Tiburtine Sibyl sitting, and in the act of delivering an oracle. This temple has an open portico of four columns, of the Ionic order. Beneath this temple, a half century ago, the waters of the Anio poured; but from the reason previously mentioned, the course of the river subsequently changed. Nothing can exceed the extreme beauty of the site of this temple. Of delicate form and rich color, it hangs, as it were, between heaven and earth, on the very edge of a cliff. It is covered with rich masses of ivy and clematis; near it the ruined arch of a bridge is visible, while at our feet
In floods of snow-white foam.”
In the vicinity of Tivoli are numerous remains of ancient villas, which, with more or less truth, have attached to them the names of celebrated Romans. The city was at one time the favorite country residence of influential men. Here poets and states-men erected villas, and at evening wandered among the groves and cool pastures of the surrounding country, or gazed upon the extended and picturesque landscape.
Just outside the town of Tivoli, near the Porta Santa Croce, is the Villa d’ Este. It takes its name from the Cardinal Ippolito d’ Este, son of Alfonso II., Duke of Ferrara, by whom it was built, in the sixteenth century, from designs by Ligorio. Though the site is picturesque, the beautiful surroundings have been marred by too much artificial landscape gardening ; the hedges are too accurately trimmed, the trees cut with rigor into fantastic shapes, and the impression conveyed to the tourist is one of unreality and affectation. The beautiful ilex trees, the cypress, and the acacias, form a cool and shady retreat from the summer’s sun, and the place is often resorted to by picnic parties, not only for its secluded walks and picturesque paths, but for the fine views which are obtained from the terrace of the far-reaching Campagna, with its lovely monuments and distant encircling mountains.
On his return to Rome the traveller passes again through the Porta S. Lorenzo, — anciently the Porta Tiburtina, —— near which is the Acqua Felice, of which we give a representation. Near this spot is connected the following legend of the favorite saint of the Roman people: “When Sta. Francesca Romana had no resource but to beg for the sick under her care, she went to the Basilica of S. Lorenzo fuori Mura, where was the station of the day, and seated herself amongst the crowd of beggars, who, according to custom, were there assembled. From the rising of the sun to the ringing of the vesper bell she sate there, side by side with the lame, the deformed, and the blind. She held out her hand as they did, gladly enduring, not the semblance, but the reality, of that deep humiliation. When she had received enough wherewith to feed the poor at home, she rose, and entering the old basilica, adored the blessed sacrament, and then walked back the long and weary way, blessing God all the while.”
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© 2001, by Lynn Waterman