An 1843 guidebook to Italy, Rome and the Papal states

Quite by accident I have stumbled across an old guide-book on Google books.  It was published in 1843 by John Murray, and is full of interesting details on how to travel in these now vanished lands.  On page 8 there are details of arrangements for carriage travel, and then something on inns, concluding with some very wise words:

In cases of this kind it would be absurd to carry English habits and prejudices so far as to expect the comforts and conveniences of the great cities.  Travellers never gain anything by exacting or requiring more than the people can supply and if they have sufficient philosophy to keep their temper they will generally find that they are treated with civility and kindness.

That advice still holds, in hotels in places like Egypt.

The arrival in Rome on p.247 descends into details of inns and rental arrangements, all clearly the product of much experience. 

The ordinary currency of Rome is the “paul”, which ran at about 50 pauls to the pound sterling of those undepreciated days. How much is that, one wonders?  The National Archives calculator reckons that a pound in those days is equivalent to 50 GBP ($75) today, which would make the “paul” about the same as a modern pound, or $1.50.  The numbers do “feel” roughly right, although probably a little on the low side.  But such conversions are really valueless, and the reader must assess comparative value for himself.

On p.254 we get a survey of Rome, which includes this:

To the south and east of this district are the Palatine, the Aventine, the Esquiline and the Caelian, all of which, though included within the modem walls, are little better than a desert; their irregular surface is covered with vineyards or the gardens of uninhabited villas and they present no signs of human habitations but a few scattered and solitary convents.

It is different today, of course.

Another difference may be found on p.297.

Close to the Coliseum is the ruin the conical fountain called the Meta Sudans, which formed an important appendage of the amphitheatre. It appears to have been a simple jet issuing from a cone placed in the centre of brick basin, 80 feet in diameter. It was rebuilt by Domitian and is supposed to have been intended for the use of the gladiators after the labours of the arena. It is represented on several medals of the amphitheatre of the time of Vespasian, Titus, Severus &c. The fountain was constructed of brick work in the best style; the central cavity and the channels for carrying off the water are still visible. It was repaired a few years since, but these modern restorations may easily be distinguished from the ancient work.

Sadly the remaining concrete core of the meta sudans was demolished by Mussolini in 1936A photograph from 1922 must be one of the last:

The Meta Sudans outside the arch of Constantine, ca. 1922

This one from the 1880′s gives an excellent impression of the fountain, and its surrounding basin:

The Meta Sudans, ca. 1880

There are many images of the meta sudans to be found in Google Images.

2 Responses to “An 1843 guidebook to Italy, Rome and the Papal states”


  1. Mike

    Until the introduction of the Papal Lira in 1866 (in imitation and close correspondence with the Lira of the new Kingdom of Italy) the basic monetary denomination of the Papal States was the Papal Scudo.

    The Scudo was a large silver piece of identical size with the US silver dollar or the British 5 shillings piece (“crown”) of the time, albeit with a very slightly lower silver content. The Scudo also came in gold multiples of 2.50, 5 and 10 Scudi.

    The Scudo was divided into 100 Baiocchi and the ten Baiocchi piece was popularly known as the Paolo (harking back to a monetary reform introduced by Pope Paul III in the 1540s).

    The Paolo was, then, rougly the equivalent of a British sixpence piece or a US Dime but because prices were generally lower in the Papal States than in either the UK or the US it had greater purchasing power there than either a British 6 d. or a US 10 c. did in those countries.

    I read somewhere that a Paolo was the standard fee charged by a prostitute in Rome at the time…

  2. Roger Pearse

    That’s a clearer explanation than I got from the intro to the Murray guide – thank you.