“Gripping” and “delicious”: Harry Mount reviews The Blue Guide’s latest offerings for Chapter House.
Ever since 1918, Blue Guides have been the best guides to European cities.
No other guide has the sheer quantity of facts. For people who want to know why a building is where it is, who built it, when and in what style, they’re the only option.
Alta Macadam, a Florence expat, has been writing Blue Guides since 1970. Annabel Barber, Editorial Director of the Blue Guides, has, like Macadam, tramped every cobble (or black, basalt sanpietrino) of Rome’s roads, and the roads leading to Rome – the entry on the Via Appia is peerless.
The Blue Guide is so overflowing with Rome’s treasures that they collide with each other, hugger-mugger, ancient and modern. – Harry Mount
The Greatest Hits of Rome are beautifully covered. Take the Forum – which should really be called the Fora, thanks to the palimpsest of fora built by, inter alia, Caesar, Augustus and Trajan. It is a five-star sight but, in all its complications, can be overwhelming to the British tourist stunned by the Roman midday sun. The Blue Guide peels away the layers and explains them separately and clearly before stuffing them back into your brain in neat, ordered fashion.
All in all, it’s the perfect vademecum to Rome – and that’s whether you know what vademecum means in Latin (‘go with me’) or not.
All the basic facts of Rome’s history are here. But, on top of them, the Blue Guide provides, in handy little boxes, extra nuggets with extra charm – and, sometimes, extra Latin. Boxes include the ‘talking’ statues of Rome, like that of Marforio, in Palazzo Nuovo, considered a talking statue because people still stuff their satirical comments and epigrams in its fissures.
The descriptions go beyond facts to human emotion, most notably in the guide to the expressions and looks of emperors’ statues. Hadrian wears a hipster’s beard. Poor Caracalla is always tense and irascible.
The guide to Roman hairstyles is gold dust. In the Flavian age, they went for tight curls piled high in front. During the Antonine period, elaborate, coiled braids were the order of the day.
How I long to return to Arcadian Rome, with both these books in my bag. – Harry Mount
It isn’t just Ancient Roman history. There’s a gripping box on the Jacobites in Rome, principally Bonnie Prince Charlie: born in Palazzo Balestra in 1720, died in Palazzo Balestra in 1788.
The Blue Guide is so overflowing with Rome’s treasures that they collide with each other, hugger-mugger, ancient and modern. Next to Isis’s colossal marble foot on Via del Pie di Marmo, you’ll find Moriondo & Gariglio, Rome’s smartest confectioner’s, piled high with chocolates and jellied fruits.
The Blue Guide to Pilgrim’s Rome is more specialist, dealing in intricate detail with Christian Rome. It tells you how to get to the Holy Grail of Rome, the tomb of St Peter, beneath the great cathedral. It tells you, deliciously, the Latin the Pope uses in his noon blessing: “Angelus domini nuntiavit…”.
The pilgrim’s guide also points you to Poussin’s tomb in San Lorenzo in Lucina, with its stone copy of his ‘Et in Arcadia Ego’ picture. How I long to return to Arcadian Rome, with both these books in my bag.
The Blue Guide to Rome – Alta Macadam and Annabel Barber – (£19.95)
The Blue Guide to Pilgrim’s Rome – Annabel Barber -(£9.95)
Having been unable to sell in churches for well over a year due to the pandemic, we are now inviting readers to support the Herald by investing in our future. We have been a bold and influential voice in the church since 1888, standing up for traditional Catholic culture and values.
Please join us on our 130 year mission by supporting us. We are raising £250,000 to safeguard the Herald as a world-leading voice in Catholic journalism and teaching. For more information from our chairman on contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund, click here
Make a Donation
Donors giving £500 or more will automatically become sponsor patrons of the Herald. This includes two complimentary print/digital gift subscriptions, invitations to Patron events, pilgrimages and dinners, and 6 gift subscriptions sent to priests, seminaries, Catholic schools, religious care homes and prison and university chaplaincies. Click here for more information on becoming a Patron Sponsor. Click here for more information about contributing to the Herald Patron's Fund