Timeline of Roman Travel Guides

306 CE – Constantine becomes Emperor of the Roman Empire, Christians allowed to practice their faith.

324 CE – Capitol moved to Constantinople (modern day Istanbul, Turkey).

359 CE – Roman Empire separates into the Western Roman Empire and Eastern Roman Empire. Rome is the seat of the Western Roman Empire.

380 CE – Theodosius I declares Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire.

4th – 8th centuries – Early itineraries for pilgrims are written, these consist of lists of shrines and the cemeteries where they are found. The sites are usually listed topographically and have the pilgrim move around the city either clockwise (Via Flaminia to Vatican) or counterclockwise (Via Aurelia to Via Appia). These guides exist only as parts of larger manuscripts and may have been copied by the pilgrims themselves upon their arrival to Rome.

8th/9th century – Pilgrimage guides that included Christian monuments and buildings began to be produced in manuscripts. The first guides were titled Libri indulgentarium and contained information on Roman churches and the indulgences that could be received by visiting them, these documents are the precursor to early travel guides to Rome and set the standard format for those guides.

12th centuryMirabilia urbis Romae was written, this topographical description of Rome included both historical and legendary accounts. Although not originally intended as a guidebook, it became extremely popular and existed under varying titles until well into the 16th century. Mirabilia can be understood as a product of the “Twelfth Century Renaissance,” where church reforms and centralization in the 11th and 12th centuries led to an increased interest in classical history and culture.

12th century – 16th centuryLibri indulgentarium continue to be published

1517 CE – Protestant Reformation begins

16th century – The range and ambition of guides to Rome change due to the development and spread of humanist ideas, sophistication of printing technologies, expansion of the book market, changing profiles and expectations of Roman tourists, and the changing political and religious ambitions of the Papacy (counter-reformation). Antique Rome is presented as an independent and less important aspect of the city, information on antique Rome is consistently published as an appendix to a larger guide to Christian Rome.

1565Dell’Antichita della Citta di Roma, Bernardo Gamucci

17th century – During the 17th century guidebooks are carefully curated to present a vision of Rome that is sympathetic to the views of the patron and author. While guides are careful to portray Rome as the seat of the Christian empire they also want to appeal to ever expanding tourist market. Ancient Rome is described as the predecessor to Christian Rome. Illustrations show contemporary views of the city depicting the layering of ancient and sacred Rome. Guidebooks adopt the name Roma Antica e Moderna, eroding the previous distinction between the ancient and sacred city. With the proliferation of Grand Tour tourists Rome becomes the subject of study in her own right, modern Rome is seen as an object that contains the Christian and antique cities but that has a significance that is deeper than the sum of those parts. This change can be understood as part of the development of Rome as a travel destination related to the development of the grand tour and its guidebooks.

1643Descrittione di Roma Antica e Moderna, Federico Franzini

18th century – This century is the height of the Grand Tour in Rome. The tourists, while large in number, still belong to an elite class of travelers. Tour guides, like Vasi’s offer a view of contemporary Rome which appeals both to the religious pilgrim and tourist. Guides tended to be more broad and were increasingly illustrated. While guides listed the important religious monuments, they continued to portray Rome as an entity containing historical periods with religious and secular components.

1777Itinerario Istrutivo Diviso in Otto Giornate, Giuseppe Vasi

19th century – Increased tourism from the rise of the railway system allowed Italy and Rome to be accessed by a larger group of tourists. Tour guides were aimed at a much broader group of individuals as travel became safer, more easily accessible, and more affordable.