REVIEW: Article

A One-of-a-Kind Guide to Rome

If you are thinking about a vacation in Italy, this elegant guide is a must.  If you simply pick it up in a book shop to peruse, be advised you will soon be talking to your spouse or friend about a trip to Rome. It is simply that seductive! The handsome book is organized into several sections: Ancient Rome, Christian Rome, Renaissance and Baroque Rome as well as a section titled “Shopping and the Grand Tour” and finishing with 50 pages of essentials on hotels, restaurants, museums, activities for children and helpful Italian phrases.

So there is something there for everyone, as might there be in a guide authored by a diplomat and his artist wife. The diplomat/historian is evident particularly in the Ancient Rome section with its glimpse of the first great European empire through the monuments and ruins which remain. My favorite is the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius in the Capitoline Museums. To see that alone is worth the trip to Rome. The historical notes and comments are enjoyable. Some, similar to Seutonius’ observations, make the Caesars come alive in their lusty natures, as well as their imperial power.

Christian Rome is a series of notations about the great churches of Rome and the art collections within their walls. This history of Christianity and the papacy is interwoven with the history of Rome, its assault by the Northern tribes, the virtual desertion of the city by its population during the invasions by Vandals, Goths and Lombards.  In this section, as in the following one, the comments on art, city design and architecture are clever and enjoyable. The Vreelands also give good advice on how best to visit the Sistine Chapel and the Raphael rooms because there are exhausting kilometers of galleries in the Vatican Museums. Their notes on the Dark Millennium and the Byzantine iconoclasm when the emperor in Constantinople ordered the destruction of all images of Christ and the saints which the papacy refused to obey are interesting facts. In the middle of the ninth century, Saracens, who then occupied Sicily, warred on Rome and were repelled by Pope Leo IV.  It was more than 150 years later that the Normans conquered Sicily and drove the Saracens out. Then in 1096, Pope Urban II started the first crusade. Things really never change!

The section on the Renaissance and the Baroque is further evidence that the Vreelands have produced a travel guide of truly superior merit. This section was my favorite for its interposition of notes on architecture and history and sophisticated artistic observations such as the appreciation expressed for Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Theresa found on page 174. Interesting also are the notes contrasting Bernini and Barromini.

Finally, with respect to the section on “Shopping and Other Facts,” clearly these pages have been prepared by a practiced and, indeed, devoted shopper.  Also, the guide has helpful maps of the shops as well as comments on their wares.

There is so much in this beautiful little book; excellent maps, great color reproduction, useful notes, worldly comments all in clear, easy to read print. The combination of a brilliant diplomat and his talented artist wife, both of them in love with Rome, has produced a one-of-a-kind, most enjoyable guide to Rome.

Issue Date


United States Ambassador to Sweden, 2001-2004