Rome, Italy

Reference work entry


The national capital, Rome is also the capital of Latium region and Rome Province. The city is located in central Italy and is built across seven hills on the banks of the Tiber River, 25 km from the Tyrrhenian Sea. Known as the Eternal City, Rome is one of the world’s greatest cultural, religious and intellectual centres.


According to legend, Rome was founded in 753 BC by the twin descendants of Aeneas the Trojan, Romulus and Remus. There is evidence of settlement in the area dating back to the beginning of the 1st millennium BC. By the sixth century BC several Etruscan city-states were unified to form the kingdom of Rome.

The first Republic of Rome was declared in 509 BC. In 396 BC the city was largely destroyed by Gallic invaders, and only the Capitoline was retained. Reconstruction was swift, and in the third century the republic defeated Carthage, thus becoming the dominant power in the Mediterranean. In 44 BC, after the assassination of Julius Caesar, who did much to improve civic buildings and living conditions in the city, Augustus was declared Emperor. He strengthened Roman government and restored peace to the entire Roman basin. His reign was perceived as a golden age for the empire.

Rome’s zenith was reached in the first and second centuries when the city’s population was nearly 1 m. However it never managed to be economically self-sufficient and as a result went into a steady decline. The conversion of the Emperor Constantine in 314 gave Christians the freedom to practice their religion, previous to his rule Christianity had been prohibited. From this time onwards Rome has claimed supremacy in the Christian church and through nineteen centuries the Popes, the original bishops of Rome, have influenced religious and political thinking far beyond the Vatican City.

The emperor Justinian’s efforts to restore Rome to its former glories following a series of invasions by the Vandals and Visigoths proved catastrophic. By the end of the sixth century, the population had dwindled to below 100,000. Partial restoration of the city’s infrastructure came at the turn of the ninth century when Charlemagne was crowned holy Roman Emperor. From this time Rome’s importance as the centre of the Christian world increased, and towards the end of the eleventh century it had grown wealthy on the profits of pilgrimages and religious donations. However the feuding of the city’s nobility meant that for much of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the papacy was based in Avignon. It returned to Rome in 1377.

During the Renaissance the city briefly thrived, but a conflict between the papacy and the emperor Charles V culminated in the sack of Rome in 1527 and the destruction of many civic improvements. The counter-reformation witnessed the rebirth of the city, but Rome was never to have the resources of a trading empire like that of Venice, and once again it began to decline in prosperity, and corruption amongst its nobility grew. In 1798 Napoléon’s troops captured Rome and it was briefly a republic free of papal rule. The papacy was reinstalled in 1814, and Pope Pius IX awarded the city a new liberal constitution, designed to improve its government. In 1861 Rome was incorporated into the unified kingdom of Italy, and in Oct. 1870 it became the new country’s capital. Throughout the twentieth century Rome has earned revenue as a major tourist destination, and much of its recent history has been characterized by initiatives to restore and protect its wealth of archaeological and cultural treasures.

Modern City

Most flights arrive at Leonardo da Vinci Airport which is connected by train to the Termini station in central Rome. Some flights arrive at Ciampino Airport, which is linked by bus and subway to the centre. Most domestic, European and international rail services arrive and depart from the main Termini station. The city is connected to the north and south by the A1 motorway and to the west by the A24.

Urban transport is provided by bus and metro.

Rome is an important centre of commerce with varied industries, such as electronics, chemicals printing, publishing, food-processing engineering and filmmaking. A great deal of its income comes from tourism.

Places of Interest

Reflecting twelve centuries of Roman history, the Roman Forum acted as the political, religious and commercial centre of ancient Rome. The Forum is intersected by the Via Sacra, the oldest street in Rome.

The Palatine Hill rises above the Roman Forum and is the place where, according to legend, Romulus and Remus were discovered. The Farnesi Gardens, laid out in the sixteenth century on the site of Tiberius’ palace, look out over the Forum and rest of Rome. The Imperial Forum sprawls across a site opposite the Roman Forum and contains the ruins of temples, basilicas and public squares constructed in the first and second centuries.

The Coliseum is a vast amphitheatre that was used as an arena for mock naval battles, gladiatorial contests and for fights to the death between men and wild animals. It was here that the Christians were fed to the lions.

The Capitoline Hill (Campidoglio) was the most sacred part of Ancient Rome and now serves as the seat of the City Government. The church of S. Pietro in Carcere marks the spot where St. Peter (the first Pope and Bishop of Rome) is thought to have been imprisoned by the Romans.

The Pantheon is a perfectly preserved ancient building which once served as a temple. Originally built by Agrippa in 27 BC and rebuilt by Hadrian (117–125 AD) it was converted into a church in the seventh century. The side chapels contain the tombs of the Kings of Italy and of the renaissance painter, Raphael. The Pantheon is situated in the historic Centro Storico.

The Piazza Navona was opened in 86 AD as a stadium hosting wrestling matches, javelin and discus throwing and chariot and foot races. It is now a pedestrianized space containing three fountains, including Bernini’s masterpiece, the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers), at the centre. Bernini completed the fountain in 1651.

The Baroque Palazzo Barberini was built for the Barberini family by the combined talents of Boromini, Bernini and Maderno in the seventeenth century. It now houses the Museo Nazionale d’Arte, which has a collection devoted to paintings from the eleventh–eighteenth centuries including works by Lippi, Tintoretto, Caravaggio, Raphael, Titian, Holbein, etc.

Just north of the Spanish Steps, the Villa Borghese was created by Scipione Borghese to celebrate his elevation to Cardinal. It features a park, a zoo and three notable art museums. The Galleria Borghese is housed in the Palazzo Borghese and contains collections of sculptures by Canova and Bernini and paintings by Raphael, Correggio, Titian and Caravaggio.

The Museo Nazionale Etrusco occupies the Villa Giulia and houses a collection of Etruscan artefacts.

The cathedral church of Rome, the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano is the oldest Christian Basilica in Rome. It was first begun by Constantine in 314 AD, rebuilt during the Baroque period by Borromini and altered again in the eighteenth century. The church has some important relics, including what are said to be the heads of Saints Peter and Paul.

The Lateran Palace was rebuilt in the sixteenth century and was the papal palace until the papal court returned from Avignon. The Scala Sancta is a vestige of the medieval palace and is said to be where Christ stood at his trial in the Palace of Pontius Pilate.

The famous Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain) designed by Nicolo Salvi was commissioned by Pope Clement XIII in 1762 and depicts the ocean riding his chariot drawn by sea horses.

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© Springer Nature Limited 2019

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