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September 15, 2019 | Rome, Italy

Rome with a Baedeker

By | 2018-03-21T18:23:22+02:00 October 12th, 2013|Features Archive|
Pope Pius XI, who signed the Concordat with Mussolini.

ere’s what only a good guidebook can tell you. Rome has three reputable vegetarian restaurants, though you might want to pass on the third, Brizielli, at Piazza di Pietra. The editors call it “plain.” If you crave an imported cigar, avoid tobacco stores and head instead for a good hotel — preferably one with a sauna (which speaks well of its plumbing). Try the Excelsior; 450 rooms, 200 with bath.

The street life of “a great modern city” is “rendered extremely noisy by trams and motor-traffic, particularly with new tunnels and widened boulevards.” If necessary, Mingazzini, a “nerve specialist” on Via Borgogna, can help you cope with stress. And if you happen to need a cardiologist there’s Dott. Galata on Via delle Terme. Gunnhild Petterson performs Swedish massage on Via di Porta Pinciana. Ladies only!

A discreet word of warning to men: Don’t pick up a girl on a third-class train. Also, stay away from prostitutes: the government frowns on them. But if you do lose your head, remember you can buy her silk stockings on Via Sistina (Sirotti) or lingerie at De Maio, a few blocks away. Or splurge on Roman pearls (with your wife, of course) at Rey, on Via del Babuino. Should you purchase marble, Piermattei on Via Sistina will polish it — but be prepared to pay handsomely. As for seeing the sights, turn to Miss Weedon Cooke for a guided tour of the city in English. But book ahead. She’s at Palazzo Moroni.

Oh yes, the movies. Rome has three large movie houses, the Capranica, the Corso, and the Supercinema. There’s a 30-minute variety show before the flick begins.

By now you’re probably wondering about phone numbers, never mind URLs. You’re entitled to an explanation. The year is 1930, and my Bible is my Baedeker.

The Baedeker handbook for Rome and Central Italy (excerpts below) was first published in 1867. The 1930 edition, with its characteristic red cover, was the 16th revision of the original text. Until World War II, Baedeker guides were faithful companions to European travelers. Karl Baedeker started the family business in 1829, in Leipzig, effectively introducing the prototype for the modern travel guidebook.

The thick, small print guides rose to prominence in the first half of the 20th century as rail, car, and sea travel boomed following World War I, the “Great War,” as it’s referred to in the guide. But the handbooks had entered European folklore long before then.

Mark Twain, H.G. Wells, and E.M. Forster mentioned Baedeker guides in novels and travel stories. In 1920, T.S. Eliot published the poem “Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar,” in which his man Burbank ambles through Venice with a Baedeker in hand.

Gradually, the word Baedeker became a synonym for guidebook (Webster’s still lists it accordingly). Rumors of their influence spread globally. Austrian Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm insisted on taking a break from morning meetings to watch the changing of the guard from a particular window because, he said: “‘Baedeker is on record as saying that I do this every day and I mustn’t disappoint his readers.'” It was a triumph of branding long before the development of targeted public relations and costly product placement.

After World War II, with Germany divided and discredited, Baedeker lost its niche to growing French and American competitors. In France, Michelin surged into prominence while American Eugene Fodor launched his continental guide in 1936. Arthur Frommer published the first edition of his famous budget guide, “Europe on $5 a Day,” in 1957.

But many concepts adopted by newer travel handbooks owe a debt to Baedeker, which introduced the idea of revising and updating country profiles by hiring freelance writers who lived in the nation being written about or visited the region regularly. Baedeker editors also sought the advice of specialists, including art historians and architects, to provide detailed descriptions of local treasures.

The 1930 Rome handbook, more than 600 pages of miniscule text, contains nearly 200 pages on Vatican art works alone. Its pullout maps were yet another enduring innovation, a concept that’s now been copied online.

The 1930 guide was also ahead of its time in its sensitivity toward consumers. The vegetarian restaurant list, albeit short, was a good example. The guide also noted places where smoking was not permitted.

What it didn’t do was list children’s facilities, let alone “child-friendly” ones. The prevailing assumption was that most travelers were upscale and would leave children at home with nannies or relatives (or bring nannies with them).

“The long interval since the appearance of the last edition and the drastic changes that have taken place since the Great War,” reads the introduction to the 1930 Rome guide, “have necessitated a particularly thorough revision, with the result that the book has had to be completely rewritten.”

The drastic changes included the rise of Fascist leader Benito Mussolini (“Fascist legislation has pervaded the entire public life,” noted the guide.) While Mussolini didn’t remake Rome, he did seek to modernize it in keeping with cultural trends. He established an electric railway link with Ostia, banned tipping, introduced taxi meters, and made peace with the Vatican through the 1929 Lateran Pact. The Vatican deal led to mass evictions and the demolishing of low income housing around St. Peter’s and the construction of Via della Conciliazione. As a further concession to the Roman Catholic Church, the regime closed prominent brothels — known as case di tolleranza — that had set up shop on Via Sistina and Via Capo le Case in the heart of the city center.

Rome of the late 1920s had a population of about 900,000, with an urban illiteracy rate of about 15 percent among men and 25 percent among women.

Baedeker generally avoided the political fray, though occasional unctuous deference creeps in. Mussolini is “Signor Mussolini” and the book’s detached approach to him is in keeping with his own view of himself. “I am hardly a dictator,” he once said, “because my power has coincided perfectly with the desire of the Italian people for discipline. I tapped the ‘unconscious’ Fascism within Italians.” The book does note that’s Mussolini’s Rome “is fired with the memory of Rome’s ancient grandeur.”

The guide made it a constant point to insist that it had no interest in promoting businesses or personalities, finding the idea vulgar. “Fair dealing and courtesy toward travelers” is the “sole passport” of the guide’s recommendations, said the preface, written in the traditional second person in which the editor was your guide. “Advertisements of every kind are strictly excluded from his handbook.”

Here are verbatim excerpts from the 1930 Rome guide.

OVERVIEW: The population of Rome was 663,848 in 1921 (as an urban district, including the garrison) and 902,500 in April 1929. The city is divided into 22 Rioni and 16 Quartieri. Rome is the residence of the king and the seat of the government. Heavy industries are absent, and its commerce is unimportant.

HEALTH: Travelers from the north may be required to modify their habits to some extent in Italy. Moderation in diet should be observed. Cheese, fruit, macaroni, and some of the greasy Italian dishes should be sparingly partaken of. Oysters and raw shellfish of all kinds are not devoid of danger. The safest drink is the red wine of the country or mineral water.

GOVERNMENT: Since 1925, Fascist legislation has pervaded the entire public life and has controlled the social and economic development of the country. In addition to the usual method, time is reckoned according to the Fascist Era (1930 = Anno VIII).

WATER: The Roman drinking water has a just reputation for sweetness and purity, and may be drunk with impunity in spite of the large quantity of lime contained in it.

AIR TRAVEL: Imperial Airways (England-Egypt-India service) twice weekly from London (Croydon Aerodrome) viâ Paris, Bâle, and Genoa (Bâle-Genoa by railway) to Rome (Ostia) in 27 hours. Each passenger is allowed a total weight of 100 kg. (221 lb.), including the weight of the passenger.

RAILWAYS: As a rule the trains are now very punctual. Several sections are electrified. The 3rd class (and even the 2nd) is generally crowded, especially on the express trains (worst in the afternoon and evening), but Italian travelers are always polite, even in crushes, especially to ladies (there are no compartments “for ladies only.”)

MOTORBUSES: Motorbus services, mostly subsidized by the state, are now very numerous in the country districts; the fare is 30-40 c. per km., sometimes less. Certain routes are served by a superior type of motor coach; otherwise the passengers are generally peasants.

PENSIONS: At Pensions, which are generally kept by ladies, the average daily charge is 30-50 lire. As, however, luncheon is usually included, the traveler has either to sacrifice that meal or lose some of the best hours for visiting galleries or taking excursions. Inquiry should be made as to the extra charge for light, heating, washing, etc.

LANGUAGE: English and French are spoken at large hotels, but seldom or never off the beaten track. Those who know the language preserve their independence and find officials more obliging.

CAFES: The Cafes are most frequented in the evening. Italians and foreigners who put up in the hôtels garnis often breakfast at a café. Coffee is generally drunk black (caffè or caffè nero; 60 c.-1 1/2 lire per cup); it is often prepared in a machine specially for the customer (espresso) and is then usually very good.

OSTERÍE: The Osteríe (wine-shops; known also as bottiglíere) are the paradise of the lower classes. The best wine is available at those attracting the most customers. As a rule, bread and cheese are the only eatables; sandwiches, etc., can be bought from the ham and beef shop (pizzacaròlo, pizzacágnolo). In Tuscany, the best wines (nearly all red) are: Chianti (best, Pomíno, Ruffino, Castel di Bròglio, Nipozzanno, Altomena, and Aleático (the last is sweet).

TOBACCO: It is advisable to patronize the government shops (spaccio normale). The Italians usually smoke the strong cigars (sígari) called Toscani, Napoletani, and Virginia. Government cigarettes are of various qualities. The three most popular brands: Serraglio, Eja, Eva. The matches commonly used are wax vestas (cerini); wooden safety matches (svedesi) are more difficult to obtain.

NEWSPAPERS: Italian newspapers (all Fascist, except for the Osservatore Romano) are sold in the streets. Foreign newspapers (some prohibited in Italy) are procurable at certain kiosks, railways stations, and shops. Popular journals are Corriere della Sera and Popolo d’Italia (edited by Arnaldo Mussolini, Benito’s brother), of Milan, and the Stampa of Turin, Rugantino (in the Roman dialect).

PAPAL COLLECTIONS: To obtain free tickets for the Papal Collections, students (archeaologists, historians, and artists) apply to the Sottoprefetto dei Santi Palazzi Apostolici. The following form of application may be used for addressing a Papal Sottoprefetto: Illustrissimo e Reverendissimo Monsignore, Il sottoscritto si rivolge alla Signoria Vostra Illa e Revma perchè voglia concederli il permesso di entrare gratuita nei Musei Pontefici. Sperando di essere favorito prega di gradire anticipatamente I più sinceri ringraziamenti. Col Massimo ossequio della S.V. Illma a Revma devotissimo.

THEATRES: Italian theatres have no permanent staff of actors, but are occupied by touring companies. A national dramatic company for Rome, Milan, and Turin was created in 1927 under the direction of Luigi Pirandello. Performances begin at 8, 8:30, or 9 p.m. and end about midnight.

GRATUITIES: Gratuities or “tips” (mancia) have been abolished in hotels and restaurants, in return for a percentage of the bill, but cabmen, porters, sacristans, etc., continue to expect them. The traveler should, therefore, be well provided with small change. No reward should be given for unasked services.

CABMEN: Having chosen a carriage, the hirer should name his destination (e.g. al Pincio, al Campidoglio), ascertain the fare (quanto è?), if there is no taximeter, and in dubious cases ask for the tariff (la tariffa). In all cases let the traveler beware of losing his temper; his best weapons are patience and good humor.

POLICE: The traveler should refrain from airing his political views, from taking photographs of beggars, etc. After nightfall the remote quarters of large cities should be avoided, and excursions to the environs of Rome should be arranged so as to be back in the city before dusk.

PEDESTRIANS: Pedestrians must walk on the left side of the street (pedoni a sinistra; except on very hot days), especially on busy thoroughfares.

CLIMATE OF ROME: The Scirocco, a general name for the S.E., S., and S.W. winds, is especially prevalent in the autumn and in March and April. It has an alleviating effect upon colds and coughs, but is apt to take away the appetite and impair the nervous energy. In December, the N. and S. winds contend for mastery, and wet weather alternates with cold.

DISEASE: In the pasture-lands of Campania (Naples) an attack of Malaria or intermittent fever is possible during the summer and autumn (end of June to beginning of Nov.), although the danger is far less than it used to be.

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