This episode was published on Sunday, September 20, 2020, a very important date in the history of Rome. It will continue the effort of the Trailer to let you know how and why I think getting ready is so important for maximizing the value of a trip to Rome.

Description: How we need to get ready for Rome before we find ourselves in the midst of Rome’s chaos. How this series of pods will organize the Eternal City on the basis of its two most important transformations, from Pagan to Christian and from Catholic to Modern.

Show Notes: I suggest that the most important way to Get Ready for Rome is to begin learning the main contours of the city’s long history and, especially, the ways it has changed in its art, architecture, and attitudes toward religion and morality. The goal of this whole series is to encourage this kind of readiness, which promises to raise—though not to settle—the big questions about the history of Western Civilization more generally.

I also claim, perhaps improbably for a defender and veteran of study abroad programs, that you don’t have to go to Rome to become entranced by the city, a point advanced also in a poem by Emily Dickinson, “There is no frigate like a book.” Shakespeare implies the same, since he set three of his great tragedies in Rome, even though he never walked its streets. Let’s not let the easy pleasures of literal travel undervalue books, thought, and imagination.

I list the sorts of subjects I will take up in subsequent pods: there are no surprises here, as I mention, history, art history, politics, theology, and such important building materials as travertine, bricks, and cement.

To organize the chaos of the Eternal City, I look for its moments of greatest crisis, when opinions were most polarized and the Romans faced a fork in the road. Of many such crises, two stand out, and they thus divide Rome into three different cities. The first crisis was the Christian challenge to pagan Rome; the second was the modern challenge to papal Rome. For starters, the labels used by Giuseppe Mazzini work well enough. These are “Rome of the Caesars,” “Rome of the Popes,” and “Rome of the People.” My main goal is then to introduce the art, architecture, monuments, and worldview of each of these three Romes.

I start by paying special attention to Modern Rome, since tourists generally overlook it. In fact, I’ve scheduled this podcast series to begin on September 20, the day the troops of Modern Italy broke through the ancient walls of Rome in 1870 and seized political power from the popes, who had exercised it for well over a millennium.

The music with which my podcast begins and ends is drawn from the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves in Giuseppe Verdi’s Nabucco, because this chorus was Verdi’s indirect way of referring to the enslaved Italian people, whom he hoped would rise up. They did so in the movement known as the Risorgimento, which united most of Italy in 1860 and succeeded in winning Rome a decade later.

Giacomo Puccini composed another operatic tribute to the Risorgimento in his Tosca, but we will postpone consideration of it in favor of a good look at a tangible introduction to the quarrel between Modern Rome and Papal Rome. I refer to the statue of Giordano Bruno in the charming piazza of Campo de’ Fiori, which will be the subject of the next podcast.

This introductory pod also includes a reminder that I have a website that supports these pods with additional discussion, pictures, diagrams, maps, timelines, and other such resources. Find it at

Related Visit in Rome:

On September 20, it will have been 150 years to the day since the soldiers of the New Italy blasted their way through the Aurelian Walls and seized political power from the Popes. As a result, a millennium of Catholic rule was replaced by the rule of a modern nation state that sought to promote individual liberty and to keep religion out of politics. If we take this occasion to seek out this famous breech (breccia) in the walls near the gate at Porta Pia, we find several monuments dedicated to the memory of this historic event. They prompt reflection on how dramatically Rome has changed in this last century and a half, both in its size and in its character.

The photo below is of the main monument at Porta Pia:

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