Rome: The Eternal City

By Shannon Berg.

 Rome, once the capitol of the largest and longest enduring empire in the Western world, is now the capitol of the Italian Republic, the region of Lazio and the province of Rome.  It is also one the largest cities in the European community with about 2.8 million residents within the city limits and about 3.8 million in its province.  Located in central Italy near the west coast of the Italian peninsula, Rome is not far from the Tyrrhenian Sea.  As they say in Italy, all roads lead to Rome, or at least most of the major ones, making this metropolitan  city where the Tiber and Aniene Rivers meet easily accessible by car, plane, train or coach from just about anywhere in Italy and most of the world.  Once in this vast city, the metropolitan and buses are your best bet for getting around, and of course, there are taxis available throughout Rome.Legend credits the founding of Rome to the twin brothers Romulus and Remus who were supposedly left there and then raised by a she-wolf around 753 BC.  Historians have confirmed that the city has been inhabited since the 8th century BC, where it was first a kingdom with a succession of seven kings, some of whom were Etruscan.  Around 510 BC, the city declared itself a republic under the control of the Senate made up of wealthy citizens.  This lasted until 31 BC when Rome was declared an Empire under the direct control of the Emperor, where the Senate’s influence was limited.  The Roman Empire became the cradle of Western civilization, conquering most of Europe and the Mediterranean coasts, assimilating its neighbors, and establishing commercial and military dominance throughout.  The Roman dominance continued for about 1,000 years until its fall in AD 410 with the invasion of the northern barbaric tribes and Alaric I.  At this time the city of Rome fell under the influence of the Bishop of Rome, later to be referred to as the Pope, who competed for control of the area with the Byzantine Emperors and the barbaric invaders themselves.  It was Pope Leo III who ultimately established the Papal authority when he tricked Charlemagne into to being crowned the first Holy Roman Emperor in 800 AD on his visit to Rome, thereby solidifying his influence over all the leaders of Western Europe.   The Popes continued to rule Rome, the region of Lazio and much of central Italy up until they joined the Kingdom of Italy in 1870.  In 1871, King Vittorio Emanuele II moved his capitol to Rome and in 1946, when the monarchy was abolished, Rome was confirmed the capitol of the new Italian Republic.   Rome is an amazing city to visit, and there is so much to see.  Parts of the ancient city still remain undeveloped, and although they are in various stages of ruin they are well worth seeing.  Much of the ancient city can be visited on foot, as many of the oldest parts of town are near each other.  Many of the newer sections of the city were redone by ambitious Popes eager to leave their mark, especially during the Renaissance and Baroque periods.  Although the papal domain has been reduced since unification, Vatican City remains an independent state within the confines of Rome, and it is worth visiting. The fashionable parts of the city with their elegant stores and restaurants, such as Piazza Spagna, with its famous Spanish Steps, are always worth seeing.   Rome remains a vital city, the center of Italian government and the Catholic Church, with a strong economy, a great sense of history and culture, and a love for the good life, embracing the present as it did its past, offering something for everyone.  Below are just a few of the amazing sights to be seen while in Rome. Main Attractions Forum RomanumThe Roman Forum was the center of ancient Roman life, where temples, baths, basilicas and the various civic buildings stood, along with the communal hearth where Romans brought their bread to be baked and the central market where they bought their food.  Much of what once stood in the forum has been destroyed and carted off in the last 2000 years, to be reused in other buildings around the city.  One can tour the Forum and still see the remains of the Temple of Vespasian, and the Arch of Septimius Severus (AD 203) and many other remains of what was once the heart of Roman civilization, but it is best seen with a guide who can help you envision what it must have been like at the height of the Roman Empire. Palentine HillThis is one of the famous seven hills of Rome and where legend says that the she-wolf found the twins, Romulus and Remus, who then went on to build the new city on this hill.  Monte Palatino is no doubt one of the most ancient sections of Rome, where the wealthiest Roman citizens once built their palaces, overlooking the rest of the city.  Little remains of those palaces, but here one finds the Museo Palantino which has a good collection of ancient artifacts found in the area, not to mention a breathtaking view of the whole city below. Il ColosseoThe Roman Colosseum, actually called then Flavian Amphitheatre, was begun in 70 AD by the Emperor Vespasian, and went on to be used for over 500 years.  The arena could hold from 45,000 to 50,000 spectators who would come to see the various contests and public spectacles held about 100 times a year, including those with the famous gladiators.  Tickets were free, but necessary to enter, all a benefit of being part of the great Empire.  Touring it today, one can see why the Colosseum is considered one of the most important Roman architectural achievements whose basic design has been copied for other stadiums repeatedly.  Although parts of the structure were taken away to help build other monuments in the city, including part of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, one can still envision how it must have been.  Despite the partially ruined state, the Colosseum is still used now on Good Friday for processions and for other gatherings throughout the year.   Just outside, note the Arch of Constantine, a tribute to the Emperor made up of pieces from other older arches and buildings from around the city.  The PantheonOne of the most famous buildings in the world, the Pantheon was built around AD 125 under the Emperor Hadrian to act as a temple to the seven gods of the seven planets.  An architectural marvel, Brunelleschi is said to have studied its dome before designing the dome of Florence’s Cathedral.  Thanks to its conversion to a Christian church in the 7th century, it has been used continuously and well maintained, making it the best preserved ancient building in Rome.  It was the Emperor Phocas who gave the Pantheon to Pope Boniface IV in AD 609, when it was consecrated Santa Maria ad Martyres.  Though, like so many ancient buildings in Rome, parts of the original structure were removed and reused around town, some of the original details still remain, such as the marble interior and the bronze doors.  Within are the tombs of such notables as artist Raphael and Kings Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I and his wife Queen Margherita. Vatican CityThe Vatican, the world’s smallest country, is located in the heart of Rome, and is all that remains of the once vast Papal domain.  St. Peter’s Square, one of the largest in the world, was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini under Pope Alexander VII from 1656-1667.  The great trapezoidal piazza outside of St. Peter’s Cathedral was designed to allow the greatest number of faithful to receive the blessing from the Pope as he stood at his window, and in fact, it can easily hold more than 300,000 people at a time.  Baroque in nature, it is outlined by a colonnade of 284 Doric columns with 140 statues of saints.   There are two fountains, one by Carlo Maderno and one by Fontana on either side of the 25.5 meter tall Egyptian obelisk from the 3rd century BC that arrived in Rome around AD 37 and sits in the center of the piazza.  La Basilica di San Pietro in VaticanoThe largest church in Christianity, St. Peter’s Basilica covers about 5.7 acres and can hold about 60,000 people.  It is not the original St. Peter’s in Rome, built in the time of Constantine, where Charlemagne and Frederick II were crowned Emperors.  The older basilica was falling to pieces by the 15th, allowing the Renaissance popes the chance to build a newer version that took about 120 years to complete with the contributions of numerous popes and artists, including Giuliano da Sangallo, Raphael, Fontana and Bernini.  The dome of St. Peter’s is one of the largest in the world and was designed by Giacomo della Porta in 1590.  If you are willing to climb the 320 steps to the top, there is an excellent view of Rome from above.  In the church is also Michelangelo’s famous sculpture, the Pietà, which he completed when he was only 25.  Outside of the basilica are the wonderful Vatican Gardens, Rome’s best park. I Musei VaticaniThe Vatican museums hold one the largest and most amazing collections in the world.  Tours lead visitors through the various art collections and include the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Library, and almost 7km of other collections that include Egyptian, Roman and Etruscan artifacts, illuminated manuscripts, maps, carriages, paintings, sculptures and innumerable treasures.  It is definitely worth seeing.  The Cappella Sistina, probably the most famous chapel in the world, is a breathtaking interpretation of the Old Testament in vivid colors that took Michelangelo four years to complete.  Also of interest is the Museum of Ethnology, full of art from around the world that was brought back to the Vatican by missionaries that worked abroad over the centuries.  The Pinoteca is considered the best painting gallery in Rome with pieces by Giotto, Raphael, Filippo Lippi, Fra Angelica, and Leonardo Da Vinci among the many other works from the Middle Ages to the present.  The Vatican collection is astounding and not to be missed while visiting Rome. The Castle Sant’AngeloBuilt by the Emperor Hadrian in 135 AD to serve as his own mausoleum, it was Pope Gregory who claimed the large marble cylindrical tower in 590 to serve as the papal fortress.  It was used to protect the Popes on many occasions in the various rebellions over the centuries, the last time being in 1527. It was also used as a prison for the unfortunate enemies of the church.   Within visitors can tour the castle, including the recently restored papal apartments, climb to the top for a great view and enjoy a drink at the castle’s café. San Giovanni in LateranoAlthough less well known of than S. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, St. John’s in Lateran is actually the Cathedral of Rome and the seat of the church.  The original church was first established by Constantine on the premises of the Lateran Family’s palace and the given to Pope Miltiades as a Christian center.  Little of the original church remains after the many invasions, earthquakes and fires, and what is left is a collage of repairs made over the last 16 centuries.  Parts of the façade date from the 16th century and other parts from the 18th century.  Many details seem to have come from other buildings in Rome, like the bronze doors which are believed to be from the Senate in the Forum and the large statue of Constantine at the entrance that was taken from the ancient baths at Quirinale.  The Lateran Cloister has some beautiful 13th century mosaics and a pair of columns that are well worth seeing.  The baptistery is of special interest, as it may well be the first one ever built.  It was Constantine who converted the octagonal structure into a baptistery from an older temple. Its bronze doors, known as the “singing doors”, make a low musical sound when they are opened.   Santa Maria MaggioreThe original church dates back to around AD 350, but much of the present structure is from the 18th century.  Within, the church displays an incredible relic, the original manger from Bethlehem in which the baby Jesus was said to have slept.  The ceiling, by Giuliano da Sangallo, is gilded with gold said to have been a gift from the Spanish King and Queen, Ferdinand and Isabella, brought back by Columbus on his first trip to the New World.  There are also some amazing mosaics, one of the Crowning of the Virgin made at the end of the 13th century, and others dating from the 5th century.  Next to the church stands the campanile, or bell tower, which is considered one of the most beautiful in Rome.



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