Rome Wasn't Built in a Millennium
While visiting the city, one finds very visible signs of a very long heritage. It is believed that it all began with the shepherd communities that existed in the Palatine Hill area, which can still be visited today.
However, very little is known about the birth of Rome as we know it. According to popular legend, Romulus and Remus, twin brothers raised by a wild she-wolf, supposedly founded it in 753 B.C. After killing his own brother, Romulus (whose actual existence is still debated today) is said to have been the first King of a monarchy that lasted for two centuries.
This legend is represented in the Capitoline Museums. If you look hard enough, you will be able to find a statue of the legendary she-wolf.
By the end of the 6th Century B.C., a revolution toppled the regime and Rome became a Republic. The government was based on a Senate, located in the Curia Julia, a building that still today you can find in one of Rome’ central spots: the Roman Forum.
This was the period of the “triumvirate”, with governments led by three representatives. It was also the period that came to a head with Julius Caesar, whose presence is still felt in several monuments, such as the Theatre of Pompey and the Via Appia Antica.
During the following centuries, Rome became a centre for commerce and military power, and by the 2nd Century B.C. the Republic was in control of the entire Mediterranean Sea.
On the 1st Century B.C., after a turbulent period culminating in Caesar’s assassination, his successor Octavian became Emperor. Taking the name of Augustus (“great”), with him began Rome’s golden age.
Two hundred years later, it was the world’s greatest power, having conquered most of Europe, North Africa, and parts of Asia and the Middle East.
The remains of this great civilization that left its mark on the Western world are visible in several well-preserved monuments. An archaeological journey through the city will reveal this history.
The aforementioned Roman Forum is what remains of the old city centre, the public buildings and the old main marketplace. The inevitable Colosseum takes us back to when gladiators fought for their lives in violent spectacles for the amusement of the city’s crowds.
At the Circus Maximus, we can testify the remains of the tracks where chariot races were held, as well as other sports. Elsewhere we find several monuments alluding to the Roman Empire’s military triumphs, such as the Arch of Constantine and Arch of Septimius Severus.
You can also book a tour to Hadrian’s Villa, on the outskirts of the city — enjoy the great architecture and works of art and get a glimpse of what it was to live like an emperor during Rome’s golden age.
You must also visit the Pantheon, also built by Emperor Hadrian. Today it is a great museum, filled with pottery, paintings, weapons and several artefacts that show us how the Roman civilization’s dominion over science, technology, the arts and trade.
One empire gives way to another
After prosperity came decadence: economic crises, political instability and wars. In the 5th Century A.D., invasions by Germanic tribes destroyed the Empire and began the civilizational regression of the Middle Ages.
By this time, the Italian Peninsula was divided into several kingdoms and city-states. And the old Roman culture had already been gradually replaced by a new centre of effective power, not only over the city but also the entire continent — the Catholic Church.
Placed in what today is the Vatican (city-state since 1929), it had in those days a first version of the Basilica of Saint Peter. Even before its reconstruction in the 16th Century, this was one of Christianity’s major symbols.
Many signs of medieval Rome can be found throughout the city: military buildings such as the Torre delle Milizie (Militia Tower) and the Torre del Conti. And of course, religious temples such as the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, the Basilica of Our Lady in Trastevere, or the Church of Saint Cecilia.
The birth of Renaissance
No wonder Rome became one of the fountains for European transformation, once more, in the 16hth century. In a reaction against the protestant reformation, the Church sponsored artists like Botticelli, Raphael or Michelangelo.
Saint Peters’ Basilica was completely rebuilt in 1615, assuming its present form. This is where you can see Michelangelo’s Pietá; and across the square there’s The Creation of Adam in the ceiling of the immensely famous Sistine Chapel.
Throughout the city we find several other Renaissance buildings and structures that help us to understand the richness of that era. The Ponte Sisto, crossing the Tiber river, dates from the 15th Century. The Palazzo Farnese was built in 1516 — at the time it was hailed as Rome’s most impressive palace. The Palazzo del Quirinale currently serves as the official home of the President of the Italian Republic, while the Palazzo Chigi is the Prime Minister’s official residence.
Elsewhere we find the Villa Farnesina, built in 1510 by a rich Tuscan banker. It is another symbol of the prosperity and dynamism of Renaissance Italy. At the 15th Century Villa Giulia, there's the Etruscan National Museum, dedicated to the ancient people that dominated this region before the Romans. Piazza Navona, a square in the city’s historic centre, grants us a glimpse of what the streets of Rome were like four hundred years ago.
In the capital of Italy, it’s impossible not to notice marks of the Baroque. Start with two worship sites: the Church of Trinità dei Monti, where you’ll notice many decorative elements added in the 17th and 18th Centuries; and the Church of Sant'Andrea della Valle, which later became immortalised in Puccini’s Tosca opera.
Take a stroll through Via Condotti and you will find other buildings from the same period and delve into a more recent Rome, coming closer to what is known as the Modern Age.
In the city centre’s streets, look for Rome’ major landmarks: the Spanish Steps and the famous and elaborate Trevi Fountain, which rose to fame on the silver screen by movie director Federico Fellini.
The lavish Palazzo Corsini houses a museum with an extensive collection of 17th and 18th Century items.
The past two centuries have been hectic! Social upheaval, the unification of the Italian Peninsula, a Fascist dictatorship and two World Wars before we get to the present day.
Two major city squares appeared during this period: Piazza della Repubblica (Republic Square) and Piazza del Popolo (People’s Square) where we find curiosities such as the Obelisk of Ramses II, an Egyptian monument transplanted directly from Heliopolis. Avenues and streets like Via Veneto carry us to the end of the Industrial Revolution and the First World War.
At the Esposizione Universale Roma area, we are transported to the modernist style of the Mussolini era, especially at the Museo della Civiltà Romana and the Planetarium.
Evidence of this troubled period is still visible. At Fosse Ardeatine, there is a memorial dedicated to the victims of Nazism. At San Lorenzo district you can explore a typical 20th century working class neighbourhood that survived the 1943 bombings and was a hotbed of resistance against the dictatorship. This is also where you find the La Sapienza University.
History is big. But being “Eternal”, the city carries on forward. To get a taste of today’s Rome, nothing like ending up at the Maxxi, a vanguard museum with bold, eye-catching architecture.