They are not so many or so famous as their marble brothers and sisters in the Vatican Museum, but the tourist should not miss seeing them. Neither should he miss any accessible detail of the environing ruins of the Diocletian Baths. Let him not think because they are so handy, and so next door, as it were, to the railway station where he arrives, and to Cook's office where he goes for his letters next morning, that they are of less merit than other monuments of imperial Rome. They are not only colossally vast, but they are singularly noble, as well as so admirably convenient. Because they are so convenient, the modern Romans have turned their cavernous immensity to account in the trades and industries, and have built them up in carpenters' and blacksmiths' and plumbers' shops, where there is a cheerful hammering and banging much better than the sullen silence of more remote and difficult ruins. In color they are a very agreeable reddish brown, though not so soft to the eye as the velvety masses of the Palatine, which at any distance great enough to obscure their excavation have a beauty like that of primitive nature. I do not know but you see these best from the glazed terrace of that restaurant on the Aventine which is the resort of the well-advised Romans and visitors, and from which you look across to the mount of fallen and buried grandeur over a champaign of gardens and orchards. All round is a landscape which I was not able to think of as less than tremendous, with the whole of Rome in it, and the snow-topped hills about it - a scene to which you may well give more than a moment from the varied company at the other tables, where English, German, French, and Americans, as well as Italians, are returning to the simple life in their enjoyment of the local dishes, washed down with golden draughts of local wine, served ciderwise in generous jugs.
If your mind is, as ours was in that place, to drive farther and see the chapter-house of the Knights of Malta, clinging to the height over the Tiber, and looking up and down its yellow torrent and the black boats along the shore, with universal Rome melting into the distance, you must not fail to stop at the old, old Church of St. Sabina. You will naturally want to see this, not only because there in the cloister (as the ladies can ascertain at the window let into the wall for their dangerous eyes to peer through from the outside) is the successor of the orange-tree transplanted from the Holy Land by St. Dominic six or seven hundred years ago; not only because one of the doors of the church, covered with Bible stories, is thought the oldest wood-carving in the world, but also because there will be sitting in his white robes on a bench beside the nave an aged Dominican monk reading some holy book, with his spectacles fallen forward on his nose and his cowl fallen back on his neck, and his wide tonsure gleaming glacially in the pale light, whom nothing in the church or its visitors can distract from his devotions.
It is very, very cold in there, but he probably would not, if he could, follow you into the warm outer world and on into the garden of the Knights, who came here after they had misruled Malta for centuries and finally rendered a facile submission to General Bonaparte of the French Republican army in 1798. Their fixing here cannot be called anything so vigorous as their last stand; but, without specific reference to the easy-chairs in their chapter-house, it may be fitly called their last seat; and, if it is true that none of plebeian blood may enjoy the order's privileges, the place will afford another of those satisfactions which the best of all possible worlds is always offering its admirers. Even if one were disposed to moralize the comfortable end of the poor Knights harshly, one must admit that their view of Rome is one of the unrivalled views, and that the glimpse of St. Peter's through the key-hole of their garden-gate is little short of tin-rivalled. I could not manage the glimpse myself, but I can testify to the unique character of the avenue of clipped box and laurel which the key-hole also commands. Lovers of the supernatural, of which I am the first, will like to be reminded, or perhaps instructed, that the Church of the Priory stands on the spot where Remus had a seance with the spiritual authorities and was advised against building Rome where he proposed, being shown only six vultures as against twelve that Romulus saw in favor of his chosen site. The fact gave the Aventine Hill the fame of bad luck, but any one may safely visit it now, after the long time that has passed.