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Walk Description

From the late 1600s until the advent of large-scale rail transportation in the 1800s, young members of the British elite ventured on the European Grand Tour in search of art, culture and the roots of Western civilization. The primary value of this journey, with Rome a mandatory stop, laid in the exposure both to the cultural legacy of classical antiquity and the Renaissance, and to the aristocratic and fashionably polite society of the European continent.

A Grand Tour could last from several months to several years and from the very beginning, it represented as much a literary endeavor as a touristic one: travelers recorded their observations and thoughts in travel diaries, letters home and emotive poetry.

When Romantic poets Byron, Shelley and Keats arrived in Rome, each for distinct reasons, the rich cultural history of Rome inspired some of the most sensitive and insightful poetry ever written. Romanticism was not, of course, confined to Europe’s artistic output but quickly spread to America, where writers were ready to revolt against the neo-classical philosophy of rationale and order. Romanticism emphasized emotion, individualism and personality over rationality and the constraints of religion. Many important American writers were influenced to write some of their most classic pieces here in Rome.

During the three hours in the company of our docent, we will sample Rome through the narratives crafted by various British and American authors who travelled to, lived in, and wrote about Rome during the Age of Romanticism, which broadly spans the period between the French Revolution in 1789 and the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1837. Although we will focus on works by the British Romantic poets Keats, Shelley and Byron, we will also consider their later influence on American writers such as Henry James.

By the end of the walk we will have a better understanding of Romantic poetry and of the very places that inspired it in Rome. We will also reflect on Romanticism and its wider social and political European context. With the aid of images and texts we will have built up a sense of how Grand Tour visitors viewed the city, both physically and imaginatively and how writing enhanced the awareness of traveling as a transformative experience.


Duration: 3 hours
Category: History
Venues: Keats-Shelley House, Non-catholic cemetery
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    Hilary Bockham

    A former art teacher, Hilary Bockham has spent the last ten years designing major European art exhibitions of both contemporary and historical art. She has been a visiting lecturer at several U.K. design colleges and designed costumes for theatre internationally.