The Column Of Marcus Aurelius.
"There is but one appropriate place to lead you at the start," he answered, "most travelers seek at once some ruin of old Rome, forgetting that there is something older here than any work of man, - it is the Tiber".
When, a few moments later, we had reached it I understood why he had led me hither at the outset; for, amid all the changes that have swept over Rome, one thing at least remains unchanged. It is the yellow, legend-laden Tiber, still rolling on, like molten gold, beneath its arches toward the setting sun, and guarding in its tawny breast some of the mightiest memories of the world. How many lives it has remorselessly engulfed, from those of brave defenders of the city to countless victims of imperial tyranny! And oh, what treasures, statues, ornaments, and spoils of vanquished nations lurk within its sands! For this historic river has never been satisfactorily explored. The French once offered to divert its channel that they might seek beneath its present bed the objects which are no doubt lying there; but the authorities of Rome, fearing an increase of malaria from such excavations, would not give their consent.
Midway between the river's banks I recognized the Isola Tiberina, - the solitary island of the Tiber. It is still sharply pointed at one end, and one can understand why the old Romans compared it to a ship, the bow of which faced down the stream. Tradition states that to further carry out this likeness they built a wall around the entire island like the bulwarks of a ship, and erected an obelisk in the centre to represent a mast. However that may be, the narrow end at least of the Isola Tiberina was certainly fashioned like a prow; and there, carved on a block of the old wall constructed twenty centuries ago, my comrade pointed out to me a portion of the symbolic staff of AEsculapius encircled by a serpent. How far back into antiquity that bit of sculpture carries the imagination! Nearly three hundred years before the Christian era a plague was devastating Rome, and messengers were sent to Greece to bring thence to the afflicted city a statue of AEscula-pius, the god of medicine. They were successful in obtaining it, but when their returning ship was sailing up the Tiber a serpent, the emblem of AEsculapius, glided from it and landed on the island. The Romans hailed the omen with delight, and built upon the spot a temple, which is mentioned by the writers of antiquity, but has now completely disappeared; destroyed perhaps by a thunderbolt of Jupiter who, according to mythology, is said to have thus killed AEsculapius himself, because, forsooth, Pluto had complained that on account of his cures Hades was fast becoming depopulated!
Statue Of Garibaldi, And Dome Of St. Peter's.
"The bridge upon your right," remarked my friend, "connecting the island with the mainland, is the famous Pons Fabric-ius, erected here nearly a century before Christ to replace a still more ancient bridge of wood; and you remember the poet, Horace, speaks of it as a favorite place for those who wished to commit suicide by drowning".
"You mean, of course," I said, "that this bridge is a successor of the ancient one on the same site ?"
"No, no," was his reply, "these very arches spanned the Tiber in the days of Caesar, and part of the original inscription is still visible".
What grand conceptions of their future greatness and the permanency of their city the old Romans had when they made roads, built bridges, and erected edifices! Thus, when the recent entry of the railroad into Rome made necessary the destruction of a part of the old wall, built by King Servius Tullius five hundred and sixty-four years before the Christian era, it still remained so solid after two thousand four hundred years that powder had to be used to blow it into fragments. It is significant, also, that the title of one of the oldest and most important of Roman officials was that of Pontifex, which meant, originally, "bridge builder"; and to be Pontifex Maximus was an honor that gave additional glory even to a Roman emperor.