World Facts Index > Italy > Rome

It's hard to describe a city like Rome in a few words, a city so vast and rich in art, monuments and characteristic views, one with so much history, which regardless of the destruction it has suffered, has known how to conserve its charm.

The history of this city can be read in every monument, every old palazzo, each and every stone shows evidence of the periods of splendour and those of decay, of wars, of the numerous architectural styles of the times and of the various religious cults that make of Rome not only the capital of Christianity ' since the IV century, when Constantine granted the freedom of Christianity - but also a meeting place for other religions, evident in the presence of the synagogue, the mosque and the numerous churches belonging to a variety of sects such as: Byzantine, Orthodox and Anglican.

Rome can be described as a gigantic open-air museum, visited each year by millions of tourists from all over the world. Pilgrims have been flocking to Rome for years and years, as is revealed in guides to the city, some dating back to the Middle ages. The number of pilgrims has always been larger during Jubilee years. The first Jubilee in 1300, proclaimed by pope Bonifacio VIII, Rome welcomed over two million people, attracted by the concession of plenary indulgence and the forgiveness of sins. On this occasion, amongst the important people that made it to the capital were Carlo di Valois, Giotto, who portrayed Bonifacio VIII in a fresco, now kept in the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano and possibly even Dante Alighieri who left a trace of this experience in his Divine Comedy.

According to a tradition established in the middle of the sixteenth century, during the Jubilee pilgrims visited the Seven Churches, the quattro basiliche patriarcali, which are San Pietro, San Paolo fuori le Mura, San Giovanni in Laterano and Santa Maria Maggiore, which included the passage through the Porte Santeand the tre basiliche giubilari, which are San Lorenzo fuori le Mura, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme and San Sebastiano. Soon after there were also the Abbazia delle Tre Fontane and the Chiesa dell'Annunziatella along with numerous other places of worship where the popes would recommend that pilgrims went. Other religious places of interest are chiese stazionali, churches that are near the basilicas; the catacombes, the most famous being those of S.Callisto, those of S.Sebastiano, those of Priscilla and those of Domitilla; the basiliche paleocristiane, for example S.Agnese fuori le Mura, S.Maria in Trastevere, S.Sabina, S.Cecilia, S.Maria in Domnica, S.Lorenzo in Lucina amongst others and finally national churches, amongst which, the French San Luigi dei Francesi, the German S.Maria dell'Anima, the Polish S.Stanislao and the Spanish S.Maria in Monserrato, just to mention a few.

Rome is full of surprises and the vast number of archaeological discoveries, continually remind us of the great Roman empire.

It is hard to believe that all this began with a small settlement of shepherds and farmers near the Tevere river, on Palatino, one of the seven hills on which Rome was built and where most of the Roman archaeological treasures were found. Tradition dictates that this is where Romolo founded the city and where Augusto, the first Emperor, built his house, which is now largely and wrongly known as the house of Livia, his wife.

The city extended over the other hills, Quirinale, Viminale, Esquilino, Celio, Aventino and Capitolino.

Quirinale, the highest of the seven, has on its summit, Piazza Omonima, with its colossal statues of the Dioscuri, Castore and Polluce and the Palazzo del Quirinale, where the president lives. Opposite the Palazzo del Quirinale are the Scuderie only recently opened to the public, thanks to the architect Gae Aulenti, who gave the building a functional exhibition space.

Next to Quirinale is Viminale hill, smaller in size and crossed by the long Via Nazionale, and dominated by the huge Palazzo delle Esposizioni building (designed by Pio Piacentini) on Piazza della Repubblica, near Rome's first railway station, Stazione Termini. This is one of the most beautiful Piazzas in Rome, surrounded by arches and with the recently restored Fontana delle Naiadi, in the centre.

Further north is Esquilino, home of the great poets Virgilio ed Orazio. It has three summits, one of which is Monte Oppio, where you can find the ruins of Domus Aurea, only recently opened to the public after years of restoration. Initially Esquilino was a suburb of Rome, which is the reason for the nickname exquilini (non-tenants) given to its inhabitants, some believe that this is how the hill got its name and not the other way around.

Further south is Celio and Aventino. The former is a long promontory, called Monte delle Querce in the past due to its many trees. It is possibly the greenest and most charming of the seven hills (it includes Parco del Celio and Villa Celimontana) It has beautiful buildings, almost all places of worship (for example all along the magnificent Via Appia Antica with its numerous monuments). Similarly the other hill, has few inhabitants and is rich in important medieval monuments (such as the S.Maria in Cosmedin basilica, where the famous Bocca della Verità is housed).

Last but not least, is Capitolino, between Palatino and Quirinale, it used to be in ancient Rome the religious and political centre of the city. It is dominated by the Michelangelo style Piazza del Campidoglio, perfectly proportioned with a statue of Marco Aurelio on horseback in the centre. The Capitolino museum has some of the most precious art collections in the world.

The seven hilltops offer a number of panoramic views. Pincio, The dome of San Pietro and the Gianicolo, are the most popular spots to view the city as it is today.

Rome has extended outwards in every direction in no particular order, already many fields have been taken over and turned into new neighbourhoods. North of Rome near the Vatican are Aurelio, Prati and Mazzini neighbourhoods, which are more commercial and residential, also north is the elegant Parioli quarter and Nomentano, home to many foreign embassies. Further south are Prenestino and Tiburtino, more popular and due to the fact that they are university areas, full of students, who in the evening crowd onto the near-by and charming S.Lorenzo with its numerous pizzerie and bars. Undoubtedly Trastevere is one of the most charming areas of the city, it is also one of the most crowded areas especially on summer evenings. South of Rome is one of the most modern neighbourhoods, Eur, a centre for offices and administration centres.

History of Rome

The glorious roman civilization had its origins in small groups of farmers and shepherds who formed settlements along the banks of the Tiber, on the Palatine hills and the surrounding areas, (the evidence about these settlements is scarce). The reason that the Latin people settled here around is still not clear and the information from ancient roman historians is not based on historical truth, in fact, in order to explain the city's origins (and therefore that of the Roman civilization) historians tended to rely on Roman myths. The story of the Trojans is one of the most famous accounts amongst the numerous legends surrounding the city. The Trojans escaped from their ruined city, with Aeneas as their guide, reached Lazio and settled there, interbreeding with the Latin people who already lived there: it was this new tribe of people that was the progenitor of the Roman race. Ascanius, son of Aeneas, founded the city of Albalonga, but the last of his successors, Amulius took the throne from his older brother, Numitore and forced his daughter Rhea Silvia to become a vestal virgin. However, the Queen was loved by the god Mars and bore him twin sons, Romulus and Remus who were thrown into the Tiber but survived their attempted murder and were washed up close to the Palatine hills. A she-wolf rescued and suckled the newborn babies (the wolf is now the symbol of the city). The twins were found and raised by a shepherd and his wife. An argument between the two brothers over who was the founder of the city was decided when Romulus murdered his brother and Rome is said to have been established in 753 BC although this date is historically unreliable.

The monarchy

There are some traces of truth beneath these mythical tales. Even if it is unlikely that there were only seven kings of Rome during the 'monarchia' (the first form of government in the city), since this form of government lasted for around 300 years. It is believed that each of these 'kings' represented a different period and that each of them symbolised a phase in the city's evolution, since, at this point, the city already had political institutions that brought about an aristocratic ruling class, which laid the foundations for the move from a monarchy to a republic. The success of this new form of government, set in place with the overthrow of the tyrant Tarquinius Superbus the last of the three Etruscan kings who governed the city was not sudden, but lasted a long time.

The Republic

The republic was characterized by internal struggles that eventually led to the success of the plebians and a new kind of ruling class. These internal changes contributed to the expansion of the city. Gradually, the whole of Lazio and the Italic peninsula and the Mediterranean basin were conquered. For almost four centuries Rome seemed to concentrate her energies on building a strong, solid empire, destined to last forever. Mighty conquests came thick and fast: from Sannitic and Tarantine wars to clashes with Carthage and Syracuse. Rome expanded over land and sea. Rome was the master of the Mediterranean and managed to accomplish what no other civilization had managed i.e. the unification of the East and West. Rome was not only conqueror but also assimilated the cultures of other nations into her own. During the imperial era Rome was powerful and her greatness was not only military and political but also in terms of art and culture.

The Imperial age

In the first two centuries of the empire, Rome reached the height of her power, but the first signs of her downfall were already apparent. The imperial age opened with a long period of peace, the main author of this peace was Octavian and the Ara Pacis, which celebrates him as the principal promoter of peace, is an obvious testimony to the great desire for peace after decades of war and at the same time a symbol of urban and monumental development which Rome was enjoying in that period. Augustus' forum and the Teatro di Marcello also reflected this civic pride. Other emperors were to follow: the descendants of the Giulius-Claudius dynasties, the dynasties of Flavius, Antonine, and Severan emperors. During the period between Octavian and Caracallus the unity of the empire was guaranteed, however, this unity which became less and less stable and eventually dissolved, the culmination of this can be seen in the fall of the Western Roman Empire, dated at 476 BC.

The end of the Western Empire and the temporal power of the Church

The causes of Rome's decline are numerous and disparate: the prevalence of the militaristic and absolutist character, due to the vastness of the empire, which in itself was a reason for the empire's downfall; the social and economic changes; the arrival of the barbarians, who entered with force on the historical scene, and slowly became key players. Another fundamental factor in the downfall of the empire was the spread of Christianity, which caused the emperors to try and unite the empire by using religion. Emperor Constantine sanctioned the freedom and tolerance of Christians in the empire in his edict of 313. This may have been a way to unify the empire, but it was undermined by his decision to move the capital of the empire to Constantinople. This move revealed one of the primary factors for the division between the empire in the East and West and irrevocably damaged unity. The growing importance of the Eastern empire also involved strengthened the position of the Church, the only thing that carried on from the Latin tradition which attempted to not only to attain total spiritual power but also temporal power through a series of alliances with the Longobards against the Byzantines, which involved the separation from Byzantium, then with the Franks against the Longobards which brought about the end of the Longobard domination in Italy. It was not by chance that Charlemagne was crowned by Pope Leo III in Saint Peter's basilica in 800: he wanted to sanctify his title of Roman Emperor and stipulate his alliance with the pope. The history of the city was characterized by the power of the Church until the papal seat was moved to Avignon in the XIV century. Popes earned the right to remove and assign public offices, although these were rights of the noble families ' Orsini, Caetani, Colonna, Annibaldi, Savelli who disputed this papal power until the power of the pontificate was re-established in Rome with Gregory XI in 1377. The situation returned to normality and the city recovered from the clashes only after a period of about forty years, after the clashes between the various factions caused by schisms in the West, the election of Pope Martino V Colonna, elected by the council of Constanza, which brought about the end of schisms and established the absolute predominance of the papacy in Rome.

The 16th century onwards

The power absolute and the centralizing of the papacy had a cultural impact. From the middle of the fifteenth century and during the sixteenth century, the Popes and Cardinals made Rome the center of artistic life. The face of the city changed, as palaces, villas, piazzas and churches were built. New streets were opened and the basilica of Saint Peter was restored. Noted patrons of this time were Julius II, Leo X who called the following illustrious artists to Rome: Raffaello, Michelangelo, Bramante, Giuliano da Sangallo. The sack of Rome in 1527 was a setback to the papacy's dreams; at first, the consequences were disastrous: all the artists abandoned the city, but the wounds were soon healed and a new spirit of rebirth and development enveloped the city. New quarters and new streets were created, among them: Via Sistina and Via Giulia, the population began to move back to the city.

In the 17th century Rome also had a period of expansion and beautification largely due to the work of two major artists: Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini. Bernini created St Peter's Square with its marvelous colonnade, he undertook the project of Ponte di Castel Sant'Angelo (a bridge topped by magnificent angels), the fountains of Piazza Navona and Piazza Barberini, (to name but a few). Borromini was responsible for the churches of S.Ivo alla Sapienza, San Carlino alle Quattro Fontane, la Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano, Sant'Andrea delle Fratte and Sant'Agnese in Agone, as well as many palaces, among these were Propaganda Fide, Palazzo Falconieri and Palazzo Spada. Two illustrious architects, Pietro da Cortona and Carlo Rainaldi also worked in the city. The papacy became disinterested with international disputes, thus saving Rome from numerous military attacks. There were still clashes between the nobility (increasingly idle and numerous) and the populace. Etchings by Giovan Battista Piranesi recorded life in Rome at this time. Rome's fortune vacillated during the Napoleonic era when the church's estates were confiscated and divided, (along with the power) amongst French officials and Italian laymen. Until the fall of Napoleon III and the annexation of Italy, the city was subject to French rule for almost the whole of the 19th century (with the exception of a brief period of the Repubblica Romana).

Modern Republic

20 September, 1870 is a historic date, Rome became the capital of Italy, the Italian bersaglieri overcame the resistance of the papal troops and entered the city across the famous Breccia di Porta Pia. The city received a huge influx of immigrants when it became the capital; this led to the rapid, and disordered creation of new dwellings. The situation did not become any better with the advent of fascism. During WWI the city did not suffer any direct hits, but during WWII, it was bombarded heavily by American troops who caused major damage, particularly in the areas of Verano and Porta Maggiore. The Basilica di S.Lorenzo fuori le Mura was also badly damaged. The city was also attacked during the period of German occupation until the end of the war. Rome became the main center for the Resistance forces. The most tragic event was the massacre in the Fosse Ardeatine (Ardeatine caves) ordered by the Germans as punishment for the murder of 33 soldiers on the Via Rasella. From June 2, Italy chose to be a republic, ousting its monarchy and Rome was chosen as the capital.

Today, Rome can be considered to be one of the great European capitals, which has preserved its heritage, it is this same 'awesome' heritage, which has prevented the city from undergoing the same modernization process as other cities.

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