Rome from the Ground Up

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9780674022638: Rome from the Ground Up

Rome is not one city but many, each with its own history unfolding from a different center: now the trading port on the Tiber; now the Forum of antiquity; the Palatine of imperial power; the Lateran Church of Christian ascendancy; the Vatican; the Quirinal palace. Beginning with the very shaping of the ground on which Rome first rose, this book conjures all these cities, past and present, conducting the reader through time and space to the complex and shifting realities--architectural, historical, political, and social--that constitute Rome.

A multifaceted historical portrait, this richly illustrated work is as gritty as it is gorgeous, immersing readers in the practical world of each period. James McGregor's explorations afford the pleasures of a novel thick with characters and plot twists: amid the life struggles, hopes, and failures of countless generations, we see how things truly worked, then and now; we learn about the materials of which Rome was built; of the Tiber and its bridges; of roads, aqueducts, and sewers; and, always, of power, especially the power to shape the city and imprint it with a particular personality--like that of Nero or Trajan or Pope Sixtus V--or a particular institution.

McGregor traces the successive urban forms that rulers have imposed, from emperors and popes to national governments including Mussolini's. And, in archaeologists' and museums' presentation of Rome's past, he shows that the documenting of history itself is fraught with power and politics. In McGregor's own beautifully written account, the power and politics emerge clearly, manifest in the distinctive styles and structures, practical concerns and aesthetic interests that constitute the myriad Romes of our day and days past.

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About the Author:

James H. S. McGregor is Emeritus Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Georgia.

Review:

Rome from the Ground Up is an enthralling book. McGregor's sensitive, lively writing rises to the beauties of the city and, miraculously, does so with the same economy that characterizes Roman Baroque architecture. McGregor obviously sees Rome's most sublime realms and writes a sublime prose to match, as far away from Rococo ornament as it is from the Rome that is grubby, gruff, crowded, boorish and bureaucratic―and this is perfectly true to the city, for that remarkably pure vision that is the Rome of the imagination has always floated above the Rome of reality, certainly since the time of Cicero and Vergil, probably since Romulus emerged from his mud hut alongside the Forum stream. (Ingrid Rowland, author of From Heaven to Arcadia)

McGregor has produced a guide to Rome like no other known to me. An astonishing feat of exposition and compression, Rome from the Ground Up would be immensely useful for any intelligent visitor in Rome for the first time. (Anthony Grafton, author of Bring out Your Dead )

This intricate, literary traveler's guide explores the contiguous cities of Rome built on the Tiber floodplain over the centuries. McGregor, co-head of the University of Georgia's department of comparative literature, chronologically traces the successive periods of intense architecture and planning that helped Rome achieve strategic greatness, from the Etruscan management of the Tiber Island ford 3,000 years ago, to the city's unparalleled
artistic stamp by Bramante and Michelangelo during the Renaissance, to Mussolini's monumental Fascist vision, to the precarious repairs heralding the Jubilee Year of 2000. The ancient historian Strabo remarked that while Greek cities were esteemed for their beauty and wealth, Rome excelled in the construction of roads, aqueducts and sewers, and on this theme McGregor dwells expertly, giving readers an excellent tour of ancient landmarks. As an official residence of emperors until the fourth-century displacement of the capital to Constantinople, Rome gushed with water in the form of baths and fountains; with the return of the popes from Avignon in 1377, the Vatican assumed prominence, and Bramante's restructuring of Old St. Peter's became a beacon for Rome's new mission. Here is a walking tour in stately, inviting prose that renders wonderfully manageable a massive history lesson for the intellectually curious and adept. (Publishers Weekly 2005-07-18)

A pleasing history of Rome from antiquity to the modern era, tied to monuments, buildings and other structures throughout the city...Well worth consulting before planning a tour of the Eternal City. (Kirkus Reviews 2005-08-15)

Where history, architecture, and travel find common ground is where this author dwells... The text, peppered with crisp illustrations, is recommended for the erudite traveler. (Brad Hooper Booklist 2005-09-15)

Rome from the Ground Up is splendid. It is an informative and intriguing introduction to the city, not only for those on their first visit but also for many who have been beguiled by the city but have wanted a guide to lead them step by step, illuminating buildings as they go, who may not need (nor want) the quantities of information supplied by a more thoroughgoing architectural guide. As such it fills a distinct need and has done it handsomely. I will certainly recommend it to our students-- and to anyone else heading to Rome. (Alexander Purves, Professor, Yale University School of Architecture)

Despite the organized chaos of its streets and squares, Rome was not a planned city, but a group of cities that gradually became one. In Rome From the Ground Up, James H. S. McGregor describes how this happened in prose so clear you'll think it came from one of Rome's many springs. (John Freeman Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 2005-12-17)

McGregor has written an informative architectural history of Rome, a cumulative portrait that can serve as a walking guide to the city as well. Some have described Rome as a palimpsest, a metaphor McGregor believes is of limited use. Rome was not a sequence of cities built on top of another, but a series of power centers that shifted location across the Tiber floodplain over some 2800 years. The author begins at Tiber Island, with its river ford, and at the river port that served this most ancient of Romes. After an excellent description of the structures in the area and the activities that took place around them, McGregor relates the changes that have occurred in the region over the centuries. This successful formula is applied through the end of the 20th century in chapters on the Roman forums, the imperial palaces, the early Christian churches, the Vatican, the Renaissance City, and the Baroque expansion of Rome. (Robert Andrews Library Journal 2006-02-01)

This survey of Rome's past, as it evolved over 3,000 years from a string of small cities that sprung up along the Tiber into the seat of empire and finally today's city, is part history, part architecture, part travelogue...McGregor metaphorically digs into the soil beneath Rome's present-day monuments to 'reconnect the modern city with its ancient counterparts.' Each chapter considers the monuments in the order that a visitor would encounter them while walking through the city, resulting in a guide for the thoughtful traveler as well. Color photos, engravings, historical maps, architectural plans and drawings bring Rome's past to life. (Christine Delsol San Francisco Chronicle 2006-01-26)

An important addition to the already jam-packed library of books on Rome...Unlike the standard Baedecker guide--which leads the reader through meticulously detailed tours of specific sites--McGregor takes on the whole magnificent sweep of Roman history, from Romulus to Rutelli (to quote my cicerone friend). In a novel approach, he tells the city's story by taking you on a neighborhood by neighborhood visit, starting with the oldest part, the Tiber Island and the Ancient Port, and then moving slowly away from the river and into the Forum, the Imperial City, the Vatican, Trastevere and the Quirinale hill...Rome from the Ground Up provides just the kind of overarching structure that the visitor to Rome needs, either on the way to or back from the Italian capital. It is also a beautifully-written work, providing a prose that is a very fitting tribute to the sights that it describes. So while the politicians are slugging it out in buildings with glorious names like Palazzo Madama and Montecitorio, why not take an excursion through history, in the comfort of your own armchair? (Michael Moore US Italia Weekly 2006-05-01)

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