After visiting Villa Medici, we made our way down the Spanish Steps, to somewhere I’d wanted to visit since my first visit to Rome: the Keats-Shelley House. Something of a shrine to English Romanticism, this property where John Keats dies sits unassumingly among the hustle and bustle of the Piazza di Spagna, overlooking the glitz of Via dei Condotti, and the crowds on the Spanish steps.
The young Keats arrived in Rome to ease the symptoms of his soon to be fatal TB late in November 1820, he and his companion John Severn taking up two rooms in this property Little known and valued as a poet, he would have little inkling of how his reputation would develop after his death. As the guidebook points out, even though seriously ill, the views from the windows of the property (shared with an Italian family) were “a constant distraction and delight”. And in the winter sunshine it’s not hard to imagine oneself back almost 200 years.
Keats himself had one room, his companion another. Under Vatican law, most of the contents of the death scene were destroyed, although the small room where Keats lived and died has been reconstructed, and his view presumably hasn’t changed that much, while both the ceiling, and the fireplace (where meals were cooked) remain the same.
Almost 100 years after the poet’s death, the house was rescued for posterity by American and British diplomats, opening as a museum in 1909. Five rooms within the property are now on show – focusing not just on Keats, but on Shelley (who also died in Italy), Byron and other Romantics, with a great video introduction. There are some wonderful artefacts, including a letter form Mary Shelley to her husband’s biographer, pleading for anonymity, talking about her own lack of fame and suggesting that she should be left out of the planned biography. How times change for the author of Frankenstein!
There’s so much more to explore, and this is one of those hidden gems that doesn’t get as many visitors as the big hitters – so it would be lovely if they could get more!