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Rome, History Of, Viii - The Modern City 1870-1910

ROME, HISTORY OF, VIII - THE MODERN CITY 1870-1910 Great changes in the municipal and social conditions of Rome followed the occupation of the city by the Italians (20th September 1870), and the rapid increase of population due to immigration from other parts of Italy. It is a mistake, however, to attribute all the works undertaken and executed since 1870 to the initiative of the new government. The first plan for modernizing and improving Rome was that of Pope Julius II., who aimed at the enlargement of the lower city on both sides of the Tiber. The modern Via Giulia shows in part what he meant to do. Following him, Sixtus V. did his best to develop the upper part of the city by laying out the Via Sistina, from the Trinita dei Monti to S. Maria Maggiore and Porta S. Giovanni. Almost in our own time a plan for the improvement of the city was made, under the direction of Mgr. de Merode, during the reign of Pius IX.; and although but a small portion of the projected changes were carried out under the pope, the general scheme was in most respects satisfactory, and proved a good foundation for further extensive developments. He was able to complete the construction of the beautiful ascent to S. Pietro in Montorio, as well as that which leads up to the Quirinal Palace; and the Via Nazionale, which was to have been called Via De Merode, was also begun. His plan did not include, however, the destruction of villas such as the Ludovisi, nor the wholesale removal of trees, which is so greatly to be deplored. These acts of barbarism were the consequences of the reckless speculations in land and buildings that accompanied and followed the active and excellent "work done by the municipality, and might have been checked by vigorous and timely action of the government. As it was, a number of the most important Roman families were ruined. At the outset, and as soon as'political circumstances admitted the consideration of such matters, the municipality set to work; and though a comprehensible love of the picturesque has caused many persons to regret the result, altogether or in part, it is not to be denied that the improvements carried out have been of the highest advantage to the city, and that the work is in many instances of creditable solidity Two principal problems presented themselves. The more important was the confinement of the Tiber in such a manner as to render impossible the serious floods which had from time to time inundated the city, often causing great damage to property and rendering the lower streets more or less impassable. There were floods which almost reached the level of the first storey near San Carlo in the Corso, and it was common to see the great Piazza. Navona and the neighbourhood of the Pantheon full of water for days together during the winter. The interruption of traffic can be imagined, and the damage to property was serious. The other urgent matter was one of which the government of Pius IX. had been partially aware, namely, the necessity for opening better thoroughfares between different parts of the city. In the middle ages the population of Rome had dwindled to twenty or thirty thousand inhabitants, who lived huddled together about the strongholds of the barons, and the modern city had slowly grown again upon the exiguous foundation of a medieval town. The need for changing this condition of things, which had been felt under Pius IX., became overwhelmingly apparent as the population rapidly increased. That which under a continuance of the old government might have been done by degrees during a long period, had to be accomplished in the shortest possible time, with means which, though considerable, were far from adequate, and in the face of opposition by many holders of real estate, the most important of whom were conservatively attached to the papal government, and resisted change for no other reason. In what was now done it is necessary to distinguish clearly between the work undertaken and carried out by the municipality, under considerable pressure of circumstances, and that which was done in the way of private speculation. The first was on the whole good, and has proved enduring; the second was in many cases bad, and resulted in great loss. As soon as the opening of such streets as the Via Nazionale and the Via Cavour, the widening and straightening of the Via dell' Angelo Custode, now the Via del Tritone Nuovo, and similar improvements, such as the construction of new bridges over the Tiber, had demonstrated that the value of property could be doubled and quadrupled in a short time, and as soon as the increase of population had caused a general rise in rents, owners of property awoke to the situation of affairs, and became as anxious as they had at first been disinclined to improve their estates by wholesale building.

The most important and expensive work executed by the government with the assistance of the municipality was the construction of the embankments along the Tiber. Though damaged by the great flood of December 1900, their truly Roman solidity saved the city from the disastrous consequences of a wide inundation. It is impossible not to admire them, and not to feel respect for a people able to carry out such a plan in such a manner and in so short a time, in the face of such great difficulties. But so far as the life of the city was concerned, the cutting of new streets and the widening of old ones produced a more apparent immediate result. The opening of such a thoroughfare as the Via Nazionale could not but prove to be of the greatest value. It begins at the Piazza, delle Terme, in which the principal railway station is situated, and connects the upper part of the city by a broad straight road, and then, by easy gradients, with the Forum of Trajan, the Piazza dei Santi Apostoli and the Piazza di Venezia, whence, as the Corso Vittorio Emanuele, it runs through the heart of the old city, being designed to reach St Peter's by a new bridge of the same name, near the bridge of S. Angelo. It is true that, in order to accomplish this, the Villa Aldobrandini had to be partially destroyed, but this is almost the only point which lovers of beauty can regret, and in compensation it opened to full view the famous palace of the Massimo family, the imposing church of S. Andrea della Valle, and the noble pile of the Cancelleria, one of the best pieces of architecture in Rome. Another great artery is the Via Cavour, which was intended to connect the railway station with the south-western part of Rome, descending to the Forum, and thence turning northwards to reach the Piazza di Venezia on the east side of the monument to Victor Emanuel II. These are only examples of what was done, for it would be impossible to give a just idea of the transformation of the city. Rome is now divided clearly into two parts, the old and the new, of which the old is incomparably the more artistic and the more beautiful, as it will always remain the more interesting. Among the works carried out by the government and municipality the fine tunnel under the Quirinal Hill (completed in 1902) deserves mention; it forms a connecting channel for the traffic between the streets at the north end of the old city, the Corso, Babuino, etc., and the upper part of Rome, including the Via Nazionale and the Esquiline. Another difficult undertaking, successfully completed in April 1908, was the construction of the enormous causeway and bridge which now unite the Pincio with the Villa Borghese, or, as it is now called, the Villa Umberto Primo, to the immense advantage of the public. In the same year the building for the new law courts was finished; it stands near S. Angelo, and presents, on the whole, an imposing appearance, though overloaded with clumsy stone ornamentation.

It is unnecessary to mention a number of public buildings and government offices which have little architectural merit, but we cannot overlook such a magnificent group of buildings devoted to scientific purposes as the Policlinico, on the Macas, which is admittedly one of the finest hospitals in Europe, and the military hospital on the Coelian. The rebuilding of the Palazzo dei Parlamento is only second to the enormous monument of Victor Emanuel II. The majority of the buildings erected by individuals and corporations since 1870 present no original or characteristic features, and the best of them are copies or imitations of well-known models. The Cassa del Risparmio, in the Corso, reproduces a Florentine palace; the Palazzo Negroni, near the Piazza Nicotia, is modelled on the Cancelleria and the Palazzo Giraud; many of the large residences in the new quarters beyond the Tiber are fairly good copies of palaces in the Florentine style, though the magnificent carved stone of earlier centuries is disadvantageous^ replaced by stucco, a material tvhich lasts tolerably well in the mild climate of Rome. Opposite the beautiful and severe Palazzo di Venezia, what might have been a faultless reproduction of it is marred by tasteless ornament. Finally, so far as the construction of new streets is concerned, which lovers of the picturesque so greatly deplore, it must be admitted that they have been rendered necessary by the great increase of traffic and population, and it should be remembered that after the 16th century the wisest of the popes did their best to open up the city by widening and straightening the thoroughfares.

Municipal Administration. After the taking of Rome, those persons who remained loyal to Pius IX. took no part whatever in public affairs, and the municipal administration was entirely in the hands of the monarchists. The expression " ne eletti He" elettori," meaning that Catholics are to be neither voters nor candidates, which came to be regarded as a sort of rule of the party, was invented at that time by an epigrammatic journalist, and it seems at first to have been applied also to municipal matters, whereas it was later understood to refer only to parliamentary elections. Leo XIII. encouraged the formation of a Catholic party in the municipal administration, and the municipal government drifted largely into the hands of Catholics, though circumstances make it necessary that the Syndic (Mayor) should always be a royalist. Between 1870 and the end of the century the socialist party had no great influence in Rome, which can never be a city of manufacturing interests. For purposes of municipal government the division of the city into districts has been modified, but the old division into fourteen rioni is adhered to in principle, the new quarters of Castro Pretorio and the Esquiline having been included in the first Rione, which still bears the name of " Monti." The municipality consists of a mayor and eighty communal councillors, of whom a large proportion were for many years members of the aristocracy. Later, however, the three democratic parties, known as the monarchist, socialist and republican, united to form a popular coalition, and succeeded in completely excluding the conservative, aristocratic and Catholic elements.

Population. The population in 1870 was 226,022, as against 462,743 in 1901 (communal population). It therefore more than doubled in thirty years. The increase, however, did not take place at a regular rate, owing to the changes in the rates of immigration and emigration. The largest increase was in 1870, reaching 22,186; the next most important in 1884, 1885, 1886, 1887, in which years it constantly remained near 20,000. The least increase in later years was 4417 in 1891. The garrison of Rome is about 10,000 men. Careful inquiry has placed it beyond doubt that there are in Rome about the same number of ecclesiastics of all orders, including about 1500 students in the theological seminaries. The average birth-rate is lower in Rome than in the majority of great cities. The number of births increased after 1870 very nearly in proportion with the increase of population.

Climate and Hygiene. The climate of Rome is mild and sunny, but the variation in temperature between day and night is very great. December and February appear to be the coldest months, the thermometer then averaging 47 F. ; the greatest heat, which averages 75, is felt in July and August. The surrounding Campagna is still not all habitable during the summer, though the dangerous malaria has been checked by the planting of numerous eucalyptus trees. A remarkable instance of the effect produced upon the marshy soil by these plantations may be studied at the Trappist monastery of the Tre Fontane, situated on the Via Ardeatina, about 4 m. from Rome. Whereas in former times it was almost always fatal to spend the whole summer there, the monks have so far dried the soil by means of the eucalyptus that they reside hi the monastery throughout the year. The municipality has everywhere made strenuous efforts to reduce the mortality due to malaria; in 1890, 14% of all the deaths in Rome and the Campagna were attributed to this cause; in 1905 the proportion had dropped to 3%. Very large sums have been expended in a scientific system of drainage and sub-drainage on both sides of the Tiber, and the use of wire gauze mosquito nets for the doors and windows of the humblest habitations in the Campagna has contributed much to the present satisfactory result. The hygienic conditions of Rome itself have greatly improved, largely through the ceaseless efforts of Commendatore Baccelli, a distinguished man of science, who repeatedly held office in the Italian Ministry. The publication of exceedingly accurate graphic tables in February 1900 shows the following facts. Ninety per 1000 deaths occurred in 1871 from typhoid (the so-called " Roman fever "), and the average has now fallen to a low constant. Deaths from small-pox, formerly of alarming frequency, can be said not to occur at all, and their numbers diminished suddenly after the introduction of compulsory vaccination.

Charities and Education. A great number of small charitable institutions for children and old people have been founded, which are organized on the most modern principles, and in many of these charitable persons of the upper classes give their individual assistance to the poor. There are also private hospitals for diseases of the eye, in which poor patients are lodged and treated without payment. There are two hospitals entirely maintained by private resources, where infants are treated whose mothers fear to send them to a public hospital, or in cases refused by the latter as not being serious enough for admission. Of course, the numbers of the poor greatly increased with the growth of population, especially after the failure of building speculations between 1888 and 1890, though great efforts were made by the municipality to send all persons then thrown out of employment back to their homes. One of the difficulties under which Rome labours is that while it attracts the population of the country, as other capitals do, it possesses no great mechanical industries in which the newcomers can be employed. Efforts to create small industries in the populous quarters of the poor met with little success. Before 1870 a society was formed, which has since greatly developed as an intelligent private enterprise, to provide the poor with sanitary tenements; but its success is much hampered by the absence of employment, which again is partly due to the heavy taxation of small industries. A number of trade schools are also maintained by private funds, such as the Instituto degli Artigianelli, managed by the Fratelli della Dottrina Cristiana, and the Ricoverp pei Fanciulli Abbandonati (home for friendless children), which is under lay management and has flourishing workshops. The character of official charities has certainly improved in principle, so far as their educational and moral scope are concerned ; for whereas in former times the limited number of the poor made individual and almost paternal relief possible, that form of charity had a pauperizing influence. If anything, the present tendency is to go too far in the opposite direction, and to require too many formalities before any relief is granted ; and while the union of the principal charities under a central management on advanced theories improved the methods of administration, it destroyed numerous small sources of immediate relief on which the poor had i traditional right to count, and was in that way productive of hardship. At the same time, however, mutual benefit societies (societa di mutuo soccorso) have been organized in great numbers by the different crafts and professions, and are chiefly distinguishable by the political parties to which they belong. It is character-.stic of the modern Roman people that the most widely different :lements subsist without showing any signs of amalgamating, yet without attacking each other. Some of these societies have an exclusively clerical character, others are merely conservative, some consist of monarchists, and some of avowed republicans.

Popular education is principally in the hands of the municipality, jut besides the public schools there are numerous religious institu:ions attended by the children of the lower classes; they follow the curriculum prescribed by the government, and are under the constant supervision of municipal inspectors, both as regards their teaching and their hygiene. The pope also expends large sums in :he maintenance of the people's schools, managed entirely by layTien, and also under government inspection. For education of the ligher grade, besides the regular lyceums and gymnasiums, there are many private schools similarly designated from which pupils can present themselves for the regular government examinations, the privilege of conferring certificates and degrees having been allowed only to very few private institutions.

Society, After 1870 both the aristocracy and the middle classes were divided into hostile factions, each of which maintained a press of its own and rallied round representative individuals. So far as the middle classes were concerned, the common interest of commercial operations soon concentrated political differences. The aristocracy, however, kept rigidly aloof from all speculations for a time, and maintained its traditional attitude of contemptuous superiority, to which the middle class answered with its profound hatred. This state of things lasted about ten years, until the time of the great building speculations, in which a number of noble families were tempted, and in which they soon found themselves hopelessly involved, and brought into close contact with the middle class. The two classes thus became necessary to each other, and the result was a notable and salutary diminution of prejudice, soon leading to alliances by marriage, which would formerly have seemed impossible, but which the redistribution of wealth rendered mutually advantageous. The appearance at social gatherings of an official element, almost exclusively taken from the middle class, also tended to reduce inequalities of caste. Yet it must be admitted that the parties composing Roman society were drawn together mechanically, rather than fused into anything really homogeneous. It is worth mentioning that the Jewish element, which is very strong in business, in journalism, and in the administrations, had made no attempt to enter Roman society. Rome and Genoa are practically the only Italian cities in which Israelites are rigidly excluded from social intimacy, and are only met on official occasions. (M. CR.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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