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Rome by Moonlight

From 1786 to 1788 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe travelled through Italy, setting off from Carlsbad (now Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic) in early September and heading for the Brenner Pass. On November 1st he was able to write:

Now, at last, I have arrived in the First City of the world! Had I seen it fifteen years ago with an intelligent man to guide me, I should have called myself lucky, but, since I was destined to visit it alone and must trust to my own eyes, I am happy, at least, to have been granted this joy so late in life.

Goethe spent almost four months in Rome before heading south to Naples and Sicily. On February 2nd, 1787 he wrote in his diary, which was later to form the basis for his Italian Journey (1816-1817):

Nobody who has not taken one can imagine the beauty of a walk through Rome by full moon. All details are swallowed up by the huge masses of light and shadow, and only the biggest and most general outlines are visible. We have just enjoyed three clear and glorious nights. The Colosseum looked especially beautiful. It is closed at nights. A hermit lives in a small chapel and some beggars have made themselves at home in the crumbling vaults. These had built a fire on the level ground and a gentle breeze had driven the smoke into the arena, so that the lower parts of the ruins were veiled and only the huge masses above loomed out of the darkness. We stood at the railing and watched, while over our heads the moon stood high and serene. By degrees the smoke escaped through holes and crannies and in the moonlight it looked like fog. It was a marvellous sight. This is the kind of illumination by which to see the Pantheon, the Capitol, the square in front of St Peter’s, and many other large squares and streets.
Like the human spirit, the sun and the moon have a quite different task to perform here than they have in other places, for here their glance is returned by gigantic, solid masses.

2/2/2015