A Side Aisle In St. Paul S.
Leaving this noble sanctuary, a short drive brought us to the most interesting historic thoroughfare in the world, the Appian Way. As we have seen, the Romans were the road-builders of antiquity, and this military highway to the south was admirably constructed more than three hundred years before the birth of Christ. It is an impressive hour that one spends in driving on this "Queen of Roads," as it was fondly called. The desolate Campagna, on the right and left, was once so thickly strewn with towns and villages that it was difficult to tell just where the city ended and its environs began. To-day, beneath its undulating shroud of turf, which faithful Nature every springtime strews with flowers, there seems to lie a buried world; while, here and there, like scattered companies in an irregular procession of prehistoric giants, the fragments of Rome's mighty aqueducts stride across the lonely plain.
The Via Appia.
For miles, on both sides of the Appian Way, are the vestiges of ruined sepulchres, no less than thirty thousand of which have been counted. Once they were beautiful specimens of Roman art, encased in marble and adorned with statues; but all that ornamentation has long since been stolen from the dead, to decorate the structures of the living. It seems to us extremely inappropriate that this busy thoroughfare should have been the fashionable burial-place of ancient Rome; but the Romans were not fond of quiet cemeteries. They wished their bodies to be laid away near some great artery of human life, where their elaborate monuments might recall them to their passing friends, and, possibly, remind them to enjoy life while it still was theirs. That some of these funeral monuments were imposing as well as elegant in appearance, is proved by the well-known tomb of Caecilia Metella, that "stern round tower of other days Firm as a fortress with its fence of stone".
Tomb Of Caecilia Metella.
Though it has greatly suffered at the hands of Rome's despoilers, its ponderous form still grandly dominates the road of Appius Claudius and hints to us of what its former appearance must have been, when its huge circular mass, no less than two hundred and ten feet in circumference, was sheathed with marble which, like the ornaments of all the other tombs along this highway, has been stripped off to be converted into lime or to adorn modern structures.
Byron's immortal lines upon this "woman's grave" are too well known to be cited here, but they exemplify the priceless debt which tourists in Italy owe the author of "Childe Harold" for the incomparable stanzas devoted to descriptions of this land of art and history. In Rome, especially, our greatest pleasure does not come to us from what we know, but from what we feel; and no other writer has interpreted the exalted sentiments of admiration, wonder, sympathy, and sadness inspired by the "Mother of dead empires" as has Byron, who imparts to every object the indubitable touch of genius.
The Graves Of Keats And His Friend Severn.
There is almost no limit to the historic memories awakened by this ancient highway. Along this route, for example, came the imposing funeral procession of the Emperor Augustus, bringing his body back to Rome for burial; by this road, also, was conveyed to figure in a Roman triumph the beautiful captive, Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra; along this highway, as he went to Baiae on the Bay of Naples, Nero was followed by a retinue of one thousand wagons, and his wife Poppaea by a train of five hundred she-asses, that she might enjoy a bath in their milk every day; and it was from the Appian Way that St. Paul gained his first view of the Eternal City, as he advanced to preach there a religion which was to make of Rome the central city of Christianity.
Behind the marble pyramid which for two thousand years has held the dust of Caius Cestius, lies the beautiful Protestant Cemetery, dear to all English-speaking visitors because of the illustrious dead who slumber in its sacred precincts. What traveler has not breathed a sigh in standing here beside the violets and daisies which, even in winter, grow above the grave of the poet Keats, who died in Rome at the age of twenty-five, the victim of malignant criticism which his sensitive nature could not bear? Who unmoved can read upon his tombstone the words which he requested should be there inscribed, "Here lies one whose name was writ in water"? Poor Keats! he is admired and honored now. Why is it that in so many instances it is only Death that clears our vision, and makes us generous and just?