From Rome to Eternity: Catholicism and the Arts in Italy, ca. 1550-1650

By Pamela M. Jones; Thomas Worcester | Go to book overview

ROME AS CENTER OF INFORMATION AND
COMMUNICATION FOR THE CATHOLIC
WORLD, 1550–16501

Peter Burke

Half a century ago, a French historian described Venice around 1500 as 'the most important information agency of the nascent modern world' (l'agence d'information la plus important du monde moderne naissant).2 Yet Venice was not without rivals, and one of the most important of these rivals was Rome. In some respects the city has been thoroughly investigated from this perspective, in others not. This chapter will therefore combine an overview with the results of personal research.

As a center of communication, Rome enjoyed considerable advantages over many of its rivals. Geographical advantages, for example. Whether or not all roads led to Rome, in the late sixteenth century the city was 'the most active postal center of the Italian peninsula and perhaps of Europe' (le centre postal le plus actif de la péninsule italienne et peut-être d' Europe).3 The Taxis family, best known as imperial postmasters, served popes before they served emperors. Rome was twelve to fifteen days from Vienna by ordinary courier, twenty from Paris, and twenty-five to thirty from London or Cracow. As in seventeenth-century Boston, taverns played an important role in the postal system. According to Franzini's guidebook the Cose Maravigliose (1587), the couriers from Rome-Bologna departed from the hosteria Isola, Rome-Venice from the hosteria Prima Porta, and Rome-Naples from the hosteria Torre a Mezza Via.

The central problem to be discussed here is that of the special characteristics of the Roman 'information order,' as it is convenient

1 An early version of this article was presented at the conference 'Roma Centro
della Communicazione' at the Campidoglio in Rome in July 1992, and a fuller ver-
sion in the symposium 'Religious Culture in Caravaggio's Italy,' at Boston College
in Boston, Massachusetts in March 1999.

2 Sardella (1948); cf. Burke (2000).

3 Delumeau (1957–9), vol. 1, 25–79.

-253-

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