Rome’s ancient customs office or Dogana di Terra was in a building designed by Carlo Fontana in 1696, which incorporated the pillars from a temple honoring Emperor Hadrian built in 144. It was renovated and simplified in 1879-1882 and again in 1928. This impressive building sits in the Piazza di Pietra, for “stone” referring to these grand columns.
After his sojourn in Rome in the 1740s, Casanova returned to the city in 1760 for a short time. He tells us about entering the city on this occasion:
“It was an hour after midnight. The great city can be entered at any time; a foreigner is at once sent to the Customs Office, which is always open, where his baggage is examined. The customs officials are strict only in regards to books. I had thirty or more, all hostile to religion or to the virtues it prescribes. I knew this, and I had resigned myself to giving them up without an argument, for I needed to get to bed at once. The clerk who examined my baggage politely told me to count them and leave them with him, assuring me that he would bring them all to me the next day at the inn to which I was going. I assented, and he kept his word. I gave him two zecchini.”
This revelation is a bit remarkable due to C’s bravura. He had been seized and imprisoned in Venice partly due to his collection of books deemed unacceptable by the Church and the Venetian State Inquisition. You’d think he’d be more cautious about his collection, especially traveling to various cities. Apparently not.
Casanova returned to Rome and its Customs Office again in 1770 with a woman named Betty and her English lover who C referred to as Sir B.M. But while still in Montefiascone, after Casanova had proven to Betty that her seducer, a man who went by the name of Count de l’Etoile (Count Star), was a fraud, they had Betty’s trunk sent ahead to Rome to be held securely at the Custom’s Office. Being quite savvy about how to protect Betty’s interests, Casanova advised her “with the help of a notary of the city, … to sequestrate the trunk at the Roman customs office for a month, which would give her time to prove her right to prevent its being delivered to anyone who might come to get it” (Vol. 11, Ch. 8, p. 247). They feared that Count de l’Etoile would try to steal her possessions. Casanova, Sir B.M, and Betty traveled by night and arrived to the customs office early, where Casanova “gave the chief clerk the notarized document authorizing Betty to recover her trunk.” Casanova continues, “He told us that, after the necessary formalities, he would send it to us at whatever inn we might choose, and it was done the next day” (Vol. 11, Ch. 9, p. 257).
Okay, not a particularly sexy site in C’s life, but his feet did walk these stones, and these instances reveal Casanova’s knowledge of travel practices.