The Roman sojourn of Axel Munthe, Italy

I like to think back to these folkloric images of Rome, which have now vanished but are beautifully captured in the water colours of Northern-European painters, some of which can be seen today in the various galleries lining the square.

I would like to refer, quite separately, to one of the most appealing personalities of the Piazza di Spagna who was alive back then, the Swedish doctor, Axel Munthe.

“I received twelve bottles of wine from the gravedigger at Christmas,” he wrote.

Don’ t tell me that these Romans aren’t crazy!  In the best possible of ways, of course, with words and with the demands of their various professions. His narratives of his years in Rome are just one part of his extremely generous life, of which he always gave selflessly, and often in circumstances that were dangerous to his own health, helping those who were sick or suffering from the various ills that plagued the 19th century in the various regions of Europe. 

However, in his private office, in the Piazza di Spagna, he would attend to his own patients, mostly women and mostly afflicted with malades imaginaires. It was the fashion of the day for ladies to show they suffered from various neuroses and eccentricities, as we all know. It was at this time that the young American heiresses were making their way to Rome on their own Grand Tour – daughters of the magnates of Philadelphia and New York who wanted to invest their vanity in a great marriage with a Roman prince, and their symptoms of dismay had to be treated by this most sympathetic doctor… 

An excerpt from the book: FEELING ROME

Spanish Steps, Rome

Spanish Steps, Rome

Barbara Athanassiadis