Rome from the Ground Upby James H. S. McGregor
Rome is not one city but many, each with its own history unfolding from a different center: now the trading port on the Tiber; now the Forum of antiquity; the Palatine of imperial power; the Lateran Church of Christian ascendancy; the Vatican; the Quirinal palace. Beginning with the very shaping of the ground on which Rome first rose, this book conjures all
Rome is not one city but many, each with its own history unfolding from a different center: now the trading port on the Tiber; now the Forum of antiquity; the Palatine of imperial power; the Lateran Church of Christian ascendancy; the Vatican; the Quirinal palace. Beginning with the very shaping of the ground on which Rome first rose, this book conjures all these cities, past and present, conducting the reader through time and space to the complex and shifting realities--architectural, historical, political, and social--that constitute Rome.
A multifaceted historical portrait, this richly illustrated work is as gritty as it is gorgeous, immersing readers in the practical world of each period. James McGregor's explorations afford the pleasures of a novel thick with characters and plot twists: amid the life struggles, hopes, and failures of countless generations, we see how things truly worked, then and now; we learn about the materials of which Rome was built; of the Tiber and its bridges; of roads, aqueducts, and sewers; and, always, of power, especially the power to shape the city and imprint it with a particular personality--like that of Nero or Trajan or Pope Sixtus V--or a particular institution.
McGregor traces the successive urban forms that rulers have imposed, from emperors and popes to national governments including Mussolini's. And, in archaeologists' and museums' presentation of Rome's past, he shows that the documenting of history itself is fraught with power and politics. In McGregor's own beautifully written account, the power and politics emerge clearly, manifest in the distinctive styles and structures, practical concerns and aesthetic interests that constitute the myriad Romes of our day and days past.
Where history, architecture, and travel find common ground is where this author dwells... The text, peppered with crisp illustrations, is recommended for the erudite traveler.
Despite the organized chaos of its streets and squares, Rome was not a planned city, but a group of cities that gradually became one. In Rome From the Ground Up, James H. S. McGregor describes how this happened in prose so clear you'll think it came from one of Rome's many springs.
This survey of Rome's past, as it evolved over 3,000 years from a string of small cities that sprung up along the Tiber into the seat of empire and finally today's city, is part history, part architecture, part travelogue...McGregor metaphorically digs into the soil beneath Rome's present-day monuments to 'reconnect the modern city with its ancient counterparts.' Each chapter considers the monuments in the order that a visitor would encounter them while walking through the city, resulting in a guide for the thoughtful traveler as well. Color photos, engravings, historical maps, architectural plans and drawings bring Rome's past to life.
An important addition to the already jam-packed library of books on Rome...Unlike the standard Baedecker guidewhich leads the reader through meticulously detailed tours of specific sitesMcGregor takes on the whole magnificent sweep of Roman history, from Romulus to Rutelli (to quote my cicerone friend). In a novel approach, he tells the city's story by taking you on a neighborhood by neighborhood visit, starting with the oldest part, the Tiber Island and the Ancient Port, and then moving slowly away from the river and into the Forum, the Imperial City, the Vatican, Trastevere and the Quirinale hill...Rome from the Ground Up provides just the kind of overarching structure that the visitor to Rome needs, either on the way to or back from the Italian capital. It is also a beautifully-written work, providing a prose that is a very fitting tribute to the sights that it describes. So while the politicians are slugging it out in buildings with glorious names like Palazzo Madama and Montecitorio, why not take an excursion through history, in the comfort of your own armchair?
While no single book can ever do justice to such a city, McGregor's study provides an illuminating and practical introduction to Rome...For those lucky enough to find themselves in Rome for the first time, McGregor's integrated approach to the architecture, culture and history of the city would be a useful and reliable aid to understanding its manifold complexities.
I can't really have a favorite book on Rome, can I? No, but...well, this comes close. In three hundred pages of clean, muscular prose, McGregor has done the almost impossible task of pulling the glories of this city together in a neat, readable, incredibly well informed study. He takes us through the history of Rome as reflected through its physical presence, as he briskly describes with a wonderful eye what we can still see around us, and how we can place these wonders into a coherent sense of the city.
The author chronicles Rome's evolution over 3,000 years from a group of small cities along the Tiber River, showcasing the architecture, history and culture that made it what it is today. The lush images and maps are unusually rich for a paperback edition. Planning a trip to Rome this year? Be sure to slip this book into your valise.
What People are Saying About This
Ingrid Rowland, author of From Heaven to Arcadia
Anthony Grafton, author of Bring out Your Dead
Alexander Purves, Professor, Yale University School of Architecture
Meet the Author
James H. S. McGregor is Emeritus Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Georgia.
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