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Prepare for some major heresy...!
on 2 April 2011
Let me say right from the start that the Blue Guide remains easily the best overall information book about Rome for a modern traveller, and the only absolutely essential guide I would always take with me. However - and I hardly dare to write this (but considering I was Alta Macadam's nephew's erstwhile Classics teacher, I claim some sort of right...!) - this latest tenth edition (published Oct. 2010) has made some radical changes in format and content from the previous ones: not all of them for the better.
For example: she (along with - or maybe because of - her new co-author Annabel Barber) has dispensed with the previous system of presenting most of the information in the form of continuous itineraries, including now only a handful of `walks' (excellent though these are). Instead, the book now devotes separate sections to the main monuments or attractions to be found in the various districts, in a similar way found in lesser guides. This has the effect of relegating the less-well-known churches & monuments to an alphabetical section towards the back, where they are inevitably out of context and confusing to place. It was far more useful (and satisfying) to be able to wander down a street and see, sometimes actually palace by palace, what one was passing. Gone in some cases altogether are some of the more obscure "finds" that could only ever be traced via this book: where for just one example is the area around Piazza Vittorio Emanuele with its hidden treats of the so-called Trophies of Marius and Porta Magica? And to have relegated the Area Sacra in Largo Argentina to practically a footnote is almost criminal...!
Admittedly, the plans are often more readable than before, and we are given some extra photos (the relative lack of which was always a common niggle previously) - but these few only serve to whet the appetite for more...this should surely be left to the glossier, more commercial guides. It seems a half-hearted measure just to throw in a few more photos: why are some chosen rather than others?
It is obviously good to try to update opening times and details of `in restauro' closures, but even some of these were already inaccurate or out of date in my visit only 5 months after publication; and many churches described as `usually closed' were open to the world regularly. Rome being Rome, it is almost impossible to produce a comprehensive and current list of what is open when - maybe it is just better to describe what can be found if and when something does happen to be open? In a guide like this, too, I would question the relevance of including sections on hotels and restaurants (this is admittedly not just a quibble with the new edition). These are inevitably subjective, and prone to constant changes of `fashion' (not to mention price increases!), and are generally covered much more comprehensively in the other more commercial guide-books.
It is probably too much to hope that the `itinerary' format may be restored fully next time, with the delightful unexpected discoveries it can bring; and that some of the more peripheral treasures may be included again. The Blue Guide has been my constant companion in Rome over visits for 25 years, and will remain so - but this latest edition is rather too much like seeing a distinguished and elegant old friend trying to join in with a set of young `trendies'.
The star rating I have awarded (I admit) is far less than this book really deserves, but I have done so partly for `shock value', and in the hope of attracting further debate. I sit ready for the wrath this heresy will probably produce in response!