Rome Travel Guide

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

RST Top 40. #3: Via Tasso

The poet Tasso in a mental institution in Ferrara.
Painting by Eugene Delacroix. 
For knowledgeable Romans, via Tasso has two meanings--two, that is, besides the obvious: an unimposing street that runs northwest for 5 blocks from behind the Scala Santa in front of San Giovanni in Laterano.  One of the other meanings, of which we were made aware only recently, by way of Goethe's many references, is the brilliant, influential 16th-century poet Torquato Tasso.  Born in Sorrento, Tasso spent his most productive (and most frustrating) years in Ferrara, where he wrote the lyrical epic Gerusalemme Liberata (1574) and, two years later, was incarcerated in a mental institution, perhaps for conduct that was only intemperate.  He died in Rome in 1595,  a few days before he was to receive from the Pope the "crown of laurels" as the king of poets.

The other meaning of via Tasso is starkly different: the Nazis' political torture prison.  The official name is the Historical Museum of the Liberation--it's open and you can visit-- but what happened here at via Tasso 145 was hardly liberating.  Between September 1943, when the Germans occupied Rome, and June 1944, when the city was liberated by allied armies, the prison on via Tasso--now often called simply "via Tasso"--was the scene of torture, abuse, and death for hundreds of prisoners, among them Jews, partisans, and the innocent.  Late in March, 1944, all the prisoners housed at via Tasso were removed and summarily executed at the Fosse Ardeatine, caves just outside the city.

Via Tasso is a haunting place to visit.  Many of the rooms of the prison now hold exhibits and documents, some of which we have translated from the Italian in Rome the Second Time.  But some of the cells are still there, and there, especially, one can see--and feel--the anguish of those held here.  A reader of a February 5 post on the Fosse Ardeatine sent us these lines (the translation is the reader's, too), scratched by a prisoner into the wall of his cell, returning us to the man Tasso, to his experience as a prisoner, and to the relationship of poetry to the human spirit.

L'anima a Dio
La vita al re
Il cuore alla donna
L'onore per me

My soul to God
My life to the king
My heart to my wife
My honour to myself


1 comment:

Marilyn said...

Thanks for a very informative --and chilling--post.
There is a brilliant verse translation of Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata by Max Wickert, SUNY Buffalo profssor emeritus of English, published by Oxford in 2009 as The Liberation of Jerusalem. It's a tremendous achievement by Wickert. A great translation of a great epic poem.