The Colosseum and a Cluster of Charming Accidents

Henry James, A Roman Holiday:

“One of course never passes the Colosseum without paying it one’s respects–without going in under one of the hundred portals and crossing the long oval and sitting down a while, generally at the foot of the cross in the centre. I always feel, as I do so, as if I were seated in the depths of some Alpine valley. The upper portions of the side toward the Esquiline look as remote and lonely as an Alpine ridge, and you raise your eyes to their rugged sky-line, drinking in the sun and silvered by the blue air, with much the same feeling with which you would take in a grey cliff on which an eagle might lodge. This roughly mountainous quality of the great ruin is its chief interest; beauty of detail has pretty well vanished, especially since the high-growing wild-flowers have been plucked away by the new government, whose functionaries, surely, at certain points of their task, must have felt as if they shared the dreadful trade of those who gather samphire. Even if you are on your way to the Lateran you won’t grudge the twenty minutes it will take you, on leaving the Colosseum, to turn away under the Arch of Constantine, whose noble battered bas-reliefs, with the chain of tragic statues–fettered, drooping barbarians–round its summit, I assume you to have profoundly admired, toward the piazzetta of the church of San Giovanni e Paolo, on the slope of Caelian. No spot in Rome can show a cluster of more charming accidents.”

Veduta dellAnfiteatro Flavio detto il Colosseo, from: Vedute di Roma (Views of Rome)

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