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Goethe's Refuge

Published May 20, 2022
Updated Oct 27, 2022

📍 🇮🇹 Fleeing to Rome with Goethe

“As early as 3 o’clock in the morning I fled Carlsbad, for otherwise I would not have been allowed to depart quietly”, wrote Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) in his letters. He was no young man anymore when he left in September 1786. 36 years old. Yet, having become famous at a very young age for his novel “The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), Goethe already felt trapped, purposeless. In need of inspiration.

This long-sought breath of fresh air finally reached him at the gates of Piazza del Popolo, north of Rome’s historical center: “it is like beginning a new life, seeing all that one knows in detail from within. Dreams of my youth suddenly alive today…” (November 1st, 1786). Several months went by, and his own perspective began to evolve:

“In the proper German fashion, we are incapable of giving up on projects and on work… and yet too many things are undertaken in this age of statistics.”

Teaming up with his friend Tishben (1751-1829 CE), painter and de facto art guide, they toured Rome again and again - Vatican, Coliseum, Villa Médecis… “Rome is a world, Goethe wrote, and it takes years to get its basics! I envy these travelers who just come and go…”

A recurrent feeling still, more than two centuries later.

____ Sources ____

>> Goethe, “Travels in Italy”, 1786

18th CE