Rome > The Place of Literature

The Place of Literature

The itinerary starts in Piazza di Spagna where, at no. 26, we find the house where John Keats lived for a few months before dying there of tuberculosis, on 23 February 1821. In the little house – ‘like living in a violin’, Alberto Savinio later said - Keats lived with his painter friend Joseph Severn, who stayed by his side until he died. In the Keats-Shelley Memorial House there is also a collection of documents concerning the English Romantic poets, such as Percy Bysshe Shelley and George Byron.

From Piazza di Spagna it is easy to reach the Antico Caffé Greco at Via Condotti 86, a famous resort of Italian and foreign artists and literati present in 19th-century Rome. Founded in 1760 by Nicola della Maddalena, a Greek, the café achieved fame later when it began to serve a better coffee, served in small cups. Much appreciated by foreigners was also the service, which made it possible to receive mail in a characteristic wooden box situated near the entrance. Among the most famous habitués of the café were Liszt, Gounod, Stendhal, Heine, Wagner, Schopenauer, Twain, Gogol, Trilussa and D’Annunzio.

Another customer of the Caffè Greco was Giacomo Leopardi (Recanati 1798-Naples 1837), who stayed in Rome in 1822-23, in Palazzo Mattei di Giove, at Via Caetani 32, as a guest of his uncle Carlo Teodoro Antici. Instead, during his second stay, in 1831-32, Leopardi lived between Via delle Carrozze and Via dei Condotti, since he found his uncle's house too disorderly and dirty for him. Leopardi, who loved neither Rome nor the Romans, was however struck by the classical ruins and the sculptural works exalting the ancient world. It was thus that, after visiting the studio of sculptor Pietro Tenerani, he wrote the lyrical poems Sopra un bassorilievo antico sepolcrale (On an Ancient Sepulchral Bas-relief and Sopra il ritratto di una bella donna (On the Portrait of a Beautiful Woman).

It is worthwhile to remember that Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol (Sorocincy, Ukraine 1809 - Moscow 1852) composed most of his Dead Souls in Rome, according to the tradition of the Caffé Greco, where he stayed several times between 1836 and 1848, and where he became friends with Belli. In the papal city Gogol also wrote the story Rome, which remained unfinished and was published against his will in 1841. 

There are numerous traces in Rome of Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli, the city's greatest bard, who was born in 1791 and died in 1863. Memorial tablets can be found at his house of birth at Via Monterone 76 and residence of Via del Corso 391, where he lived until the death of his mother in 1807. The poet also lived in Piazza San Lorenzo, at Via Lucina 35 and Via Capo di Ferro 28. His study, in the l home of Prince Stanislao Poniatowsky, was at Via della Croce 78/A, while his tomb is in the Verano Cemetery.

Via Condotti ends at Largo Goldoni. which takes its name from the famous writer Carlo Goldoni (Venice 1707-Paris 1793), who arrived in Rome in 1758, at the peak of his career. He stayed in the house of Pietro Poloni located between Via del Corso and Via Condotti, where he wrote the comedy The Lovers.

At Via del Corso 18, near Piazza del Popolo, is the Goethe Museum, set up in the rooms of a small boarding house, Casa Moscatelli, where the poet stayed when he was in Rome. The guests of the house also included other German travellers such as Johann Heinrich Tischbein, who painted Goethe in famous portrait with the Roman countryside in the background.

Wolfgang Johann Goethe (Frankfurt am Main 1749-Weimar 1832) arrived in Rome for the first time in 1786 incognito, under the name of Jean Philippe Moeller, and stayed until 1787, the year he left for Naples and Sicily. Returning to Rome in 1788, and staying for just a few months. the poet left for his homeland after stating 'Leaving this capital of the world, of which I have been a citizen for so long, and without hopes of returning, gives a feeling that cannot be expressed in words. No one, except for those who have felt it, can understand it’.

In Rome Goethe, who had perhaps come to escape from his office as a functionary of the State of Weimar and from his companion, Charlotte von Stein, also found the love of Faustina Antonini, a young girl he met in an inn at Via Monte Savello 78.

In the Museo di Roma in Trastevere, in Piazza Sant'Egidio, the study of the Roman poet and journalist Carlo Alberto Salustri, better known with his pseudonym Trilussa, born on Via del Babuino on 26 October 1871, has been recreated. This section is temporarily closed for restoration. The museum also has autograph writings by Gioacchino Belli, to whom a monument is dedicated in the square of the same name in Trastevere.

If there is still time at your disposal, we recommend that you visit the monastic complex of Sant'Onofrio al Gianicolo, in whose convent lived, during the last years of his life, Torquato Tasso (Sorrento 1544-Rome 1595). An enchanting, atmospheric place, it was also visited by Giacomo Leopardi who, in a letter to his brother Carlo, wrote: “I went to visit Tasso's tomb and cried on it. This is the first and only pleasure I have felt in Rome”. In the Museo Tassiano there are manuscripts by the poet, editions of his books, his death mask, and his tombstone from the Church of Sant'Onofrio where Tasso is buried (first chapel on the left). The oak tree, in whose shade the poet, alone and depressed, loved to rest during his walks, is still there today, along the promenade of the Janiculum, near the Piazzetta dell'Anfiteatro.

Also outside the centre, near Porta San Paolo, behind the Pyramid of Cestius, is the Protestant Cemetery, the final resting place for non-Catholic foreigners who have died in Rome since the late 18th century. There are numerous tombs, including that of Keats, with the simple epitaph "Here lies one whose name was write in water”, and the tomb of Goethe's only son, August (1 789-1830), born of the poet's affair with Christiane Vulpius, the inspiring muse of the “Erotikon”. On the tomb there is only a marble portrait, without a name, accompanied by the simple indication "Goethe filius”.