A tourist in Rome

If you are a history lover, research can be very addictive, and I love it. Of course, you can follow me on Instagram or Like my Facebook Author Page to catch snippets of research but my recent journey to Rome gathered so much that I thought I’d share this here too.

As I said in my last post my next historical series will follow a group of young poets who move on to begin a grand tour of the European continent and so I wanted to understand what they saw when they visited Rome. I have read things that tell you what life was like for them on the tour. Hedonistic. Then, of course, there is the influence of the grand tour in all the painting collections and Palladian architecture across the UK. But that doesn’t really help me to imagine what their exploration felt like. To understand feelings and emotions I like to go to places, but what I felt I knew would be different today because since the 1700s and 1800s excavations have taken place. So I wanted to know what it would have looked like then to understand what would have interested and inspired my characters. I was thrilled, then, to discover pictures of old paintings on boards all the way around the excavated Roman Forum.

The painting below shows what people would have seen in the area of the forum in 1786-1791. I imagine this was painted from within the tall ruins on the hill opposite the Palantine hill where the Farnese Gardens were created in 1550. It shows the entrance to the Farnese Gardens that had structures decorated with white marble (the marble was no doubt robed from the Roman ruins). If the painter had stepped through the arch of these ruins and turned left, he would have been looking at the Colleseum which was definitely visible in the 1700s  and 1800s and used as a market.


Below are three more paintings of the area from different angles, showing the steps and layout of the entrance to the Farnese Gardens, that were built on top of the ruins of the emperors’ palaces.

  • Bottom right: 1826 – A painting of the view of the Colleseum from the gardens.
  • Left: 1827 – A view of the area from another or Rome’s seven hills, that looks down over the walls and into the gardens. This shows that the Arch that still stands today was a real feature of the area then but actually what would have been prominent for the tourists of the 1700s and 1800s would be the gardens with their marble steps climbing up the hill (the Colosseum is left of this picture).
  • Top right: 1650 – 1700 – A closer view of the entrance to gardens.

Another clue showing how much of the ruins were above ground in the 1700s and 1800s  is a church that was once a Roman temple that stands in the Forum area. The door that is halfway up the wall shows you where the ground was before the excavations began. The whole area had been silted up by the river flooding over the years. So our old tourists would have seen the pillars literally rising out of the ground in front of this church door.


Many areas of Rome would have similarly displayed pillars dramatically rising from the ground like this.



You can see in the painting below from 1842 and beside it the same area today, what it would have been like walking through the streets of Rome when there were the occasional outbreaks of columns.


The guide who took us around the Roman Forum highlighted that the buildings still standing and looking as they did in the 1700s and 1800s were those that had become churches. All Roman buildings that had developed a Christian connection were left mostly intact. The Pantheon is a great example of this.


It is no wonder then that the Palladian style of building came back to the UK after men had completed their grand tour in the 1700s. The Georgian men no longer wanted to live in a castle, Tudor or Jacobean homes, with narrow hallways and low-ceilinged living quarters. They were inspired by bold spaces and towering structures, came home and built them. Thier sons in the 1800s then went on the tour with some expectation of the impressive architecture and sense of history that they would walk through.


The Marlow Intrigues

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The Lost Love of Soldier ~ The Prequel

The Illicit Love of a Courtesan  

The Passionate Love of a Rake

The Scandalous Love of a Duke

The Dangerous Love of a Rogue 

The Secret Love of a Gentleman  

The Reckless Love of an Heir 

The Tainted Love of a Captain 

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Let’s talk about the macabre: was Byron truly so original

Dressing up in macabre costumes and seeking to frighten others for pleasure has been


Lord Byron

considered as entertainment for centuries. The Victorians loved their gothic reconstructions and the Tudors loved the intrigue of hiding behind masks and dressing up so they could pretend to be someone else. Then the infamous Lord Byron set up his group of wild friends at his ancient, mostly fallen down, Newstead Abbey. There they drank their toasts from the crown of a monk’s skull while playing blind man’s buff with his pet bear. Byron also loved to dress in false monks’ robes and to lead his friends in ceremonies. There is also the picture of him in his Turkish costume which again professes how much he liked to lead fashion and act a part.

Byron liked to be one of the ringleaders in shocking others with his macabre behaviour. For instance setting Shelley, his young mistress and her sister to writing ghost stories on a dark stormy night abroad;  the tale that became Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. But was Byron really as original as he would have had his friends think? Or was he flattering another man, a man, by his actions, I would guess he revered for achieving shocking acclaim years before Byron.

IMG_1004You may have heard of the Hellfire Club, set up by Sir Francis Dashwood, Lord le Despencer. The Hellfire Club was established long before Byron’s birth. To the left is Dashwood, dressed as both a monk and in eastern attire.


But the similarity in Byron’s behaviour extends not only to his choice of costumes but also his choice of macabre games and there setting.

Sir Francis also loved a mock ceremony and while Byron had inherited his abbey, Sir Francis had rented one solely to host his ceremonies. You can read more about Medmenham Abbey on the board in the picture below.

When the Hellfire Club met the men wore their monks’ robes the women wore masks to cover their identity and they went by pseudonyms.


Byron’s last supper in England, that he ate in the company his closest friends (those who knew his most shocking secrets and overlooked them), is often spoken of. Yet Sir Francis took his ceremonies much further towards the shocking by naming his clubs superiors as twelve men, the apostles. These twelve men wore different robes to those who were deemed inferior. Sir Francis saw himself as the group’s antichrist and toasted the devil.

Sir Francis began clearing out the tunnels of the former mine in 1748 to create his network of caves. He dug down into a hill beneath his family church and set up his inner temple, where only his apostles might go, 100 meters, exactly beneath, the church. He rented Medmenham Abbey in 1750 probably about the time the caves were also finished and the clubs pattern of macabre ceremonies began.

The Hellfire Club’s gatherings in the caves began in the banqueting hall, where after a dinner, served by Dashwood’s servants, they entertained themselves in the niches about the room. Then the twelve superiors separated themselves from the crowd and walked on through more symbolic tunnels, over an underground stream (the river Styx) to the inner temple where no one knows what they got up to because none of them told the tale.


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The Marlow Intrigues: Perfect for lovers of period drama

The Tainted Love of a Captain #8 – The last episode in the Marlow Intrigues series



The Lost Love of Soldier ~ The Prequel #1 ~ A Christmas Elopement began it all 

The Illicit Love of a Courtesan #2 

The Passionate Love of a Rake #3

The Scandalous Love of a Duke #4

The Dangerous Love of a Rogue #5

The Jealous Love of a Scoundrel #5.5

The Persuasive Love of a Libertine #5.75  now included in Jealous Love, (or free if you can persuade Amazon to price match with Kobo ebooks) 😉

The Secret Love of a Gentleman #6 

The Reckless Love of an Heir #7

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Go to the index


  • the story of the real courtesan who inspired  The Illicit Love of a Courtesan,
  • another free short story, about characters from book #2, A Lord’s Scandalous Love,
  • the prequel excerpts for book #3  The Scandalous Love of a Duke

Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional historical and contemporary stories, and the author of a No.1 bestselling Historical Romance novel in America, ‘The Illicit Love of a Courtesan’.Click here to find out more about Jane’s books, and see Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click  ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook  page. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark