A portrait, a history and a superb guide book - this beautifully written, informative study captures the seductive beauty and the many-layered past of the Eternal City. From its quasi-mythical origins, through the opulent glory of classical Rome, the decadence and decay of the Middle Ages and the beauty and corruption of the Renaissance, to its time at the heart of Mussolini's fascist Italy, Christopher Hibbert details the turbulent and dramatic history of this extraordinary place.
A knowledgeable, entertaining, generously illustrated survey of the history and culture of Rome, more or less from Romulus and Remus to the present, with (inevitably) some large lacunae. Hibbert (Africa Explored, The Great Mutiny) stresses politics and religion, art and architecture. He hangs his narrative on the convenient hooks provided by emperors, popes, and other autocrats, especially the more colorful ones: Nero, Cola di Rienzo, Alexander VI, Julius II, Mussolini. He says a good deal about Bramante, Michelangelo, and Bernini among the artists most closely associated with Rome (though he neglects Poussin and Piranesi). He spotlights many of the famous visitors whose lives were changed by Rome - Luther, Gibbon, Goethe, Henry James - and does a handsome job on the indispensable Great Moments: the assassination of Julius Caesar, the sack of the city by the troops of Charles V, the battle between Garibaldi's Republicans and the French, the liberation by the Allies on June 4, 1944. Unfortunately, that's pretty much where his story ends, so we get very little sense of Rome as it is today. Hibbert shows us the Rome of Petrarch and Mazzini, not the Rome of Moravia and Fellini, of horrendous traffic, notoriously unstable governments, and increasing anomie: in a word, the whole postwar scene. Still, Hibbert wants to focus on la cittaeterna, and in this he succeeds admirably. (Kirkus Reviews)