IL COLOSSEO LEGACY
From the great multitude of wondrous things, I would select the Colosseum as the object that affected me the most. It is- stupendous, yet beautiful in its destruction. From the broad arena within, it rises around you, arch above arch, broken and desolate, and mantled in many parts with the laurustinus, the acanthus, and numerous other plants and flowers, exquisite both for their colour and fragrance. It looks more like a work of nature than of man ; for the regularity of art is lost, in a great measure, in dilapidation, and the luxuriant herbage, clinging to its ruins as if to ” mouth its distress,” completes the illusion. Crag rises over crag, green and breezy summits mount into the sky. To walk beneath its crumbling walls, to climb its shattered steps, to wander through its long, arched passages, to tread in the footsteps of Rome’s ancient kings, to muse upon its broken height, is to lapse into sad, though not unpleasing meditation.
But he who would see and feel the grandeur of the Colosseum must spend his hour there, at night, when the moon is shedding over it its magic splendour. Let him ascend to its higher terraces, at that pensive time, and gaze down into the abyss, or hang his eye upon the ruinous ridge, where it gleams in the moon-rays, and charges boldly against the deep blue heaven. The mighty spectacle, mysterious and dark, opens beneath the eye more like some awful dream than an earthly reality, — a vision of the valley and shadow of death, rather than the substantial work of man. Could man, indeed, have ministered either to its erection or its ruin? As I mused upon its great circumference, I seemed to be sounding the depths of some volcanic crater, whose fires, long extinguished, had left the ribbed and blaste(i rocks to the wild-flower and the ivy. In a sense, the fancy is a truth : it was once the crater of human passions ; there their terrible fires blazed forth with desolating power, and the thunder of the eruption shook the skies. But now all is still desolation. In the morning the warbling of birds makes the quiet air melodious; in the hushed and holy twilight, the low chanting of monkish solemnities soothes the startled ear.
Thomas Cole, 1856
Louis Legrand Noble. The Life and Works of Thomas Cole. New York. Sheldon, Blakeman, and Company. 1856.