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Rome literary walking tour launched by Philadelphia's Context Travel

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See Rome through the eyes and words of writers like Keats, Shelley, and Byron, in the new walking tour, "Timeless Inspiration: the Grand Tour and Romantic Poets", launched by Philadelphia-based Context Travel.

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The three-hour "walking seminar" is based on British and American writers who lived in, and wrote about, Rome during the Age of Romanticism.

"The great Roman background," as Anglophile American expatriate Henry James described it.

Rome was a key destination on the Grand Tour of Europe, a requirement for centuries of young British elites (males only) to learn about the culture and the roots of Western civilization.

This tour's focus is on British Romantic poets Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, and Lord Byron, but it also delves into their influence on other major writers including James, Twain, Goethe, and Stendhal.

The route encompasses:

  • The Keats-Shelley House, where each of the two poets lived -- Keats' bedroom is a shrine. The house has one of the world's greatest collections of Romantic era literature, with more than 8,000 volumes, plus artifacts and curiosities of the poets. It's beside the Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Stairs).
  • The nearby "Ghetto Inglese", where many British luminaries lived during the late 18th to early 19th centuries: Lord Byron (George Gordon), the most flamboyant, notorious, and popular of the major Romantics poets; Robert and Elizabeth Browning; George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans); Sir Walter Scott; as well as that honorary Brit and Roman, Henry James.
  • Caffe Greco, est. 1760, was a regular gathering place for Keats, Shelley, Goethe, Stendhal, Liszt, and Mendelssohn, among other writers, composers, and artists.

Not long before Shelley drowned at age 29 along Italy's Tuscan coast, he wrote of the Non-Catholic Cemetery, "It might make one in love with death, to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place."

Its full name is "The Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners in Testaccio, Rome", a.k.a. "The Protestant Cemetery", and dates back almost 300 years. It's somewhat like Paris' Père Lachaise Cemetery.

A few of many other notables buried at the Non-Catholic Cemetery:

  • Here lies Daisy Miller, the heroine of Henry James' novella "Daisy Miller".
  • William Wetmore Story, the most prominent American sculptor in Rome for 40 years in the late 19th century, designed the cemetery's sculpture "Angel of Grief", a monument to his wife, Emelyn. They're buried in the same tomb. The two-volume "William Wetmore Story and his Friends", which James published in 1903, was somewhat less negative than James' biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Oscar Wilde visited the cemetery in 1877, two decades before he was imprisoned for homosexuality, and immediately after his Vatican audience with the Pope. Wilde proclaimed the Non-Catholic Cemetery "the holiest place in Rome."

The "Timeless Inspiration: the Grand Tour and Romantic Poets" can be taken as regularly scheduled shared group walks, or private walks (maximum of eight people). Private walks cost 380 Euros (about $520 at the time this story was posted) for the party, and group walks are 85 Euros (about $116 at the time this story was posted) per person. Rates fluctuate widely, as we know.

This new tour expands extensive Rome offerings by Context, an organizer of critically acclaimed walking tours in 24 U.S. and international cities, including Paris (follow Thomas Jefferson's footsteps) and Washington.

Context's new tour could be entitled "Ode to Rome".

For more info: "Timeless Inspiration: the Grand Tour and Romantic Poets", Context Travel,, 800-691-6036, 2216 South Street, Philadelphia, Penn.



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