Rome is the capital of Italy and the Lazio region. It’s the famed city of the Seven Hills, La Dolce Vita, Vatican City, and Three Coins in the Fountain. Its Historic Center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It has been the Popes’ residence since 1377. In fact, before the Pontifical Court was transferred to Avignon ( 1309-1377 ), the Papal seal was at the Lateran ( in Rome ). Since 1377, 265 Popes have followed each other uninterruptedly on St. Peter’s throne. Vatican City is an independent state ruled by the Pope.
Saint Peter’s Square
It is the biggest square in Rome ( 240 meters wide and 340 meters long ). A wonderful Egyptian obelisk ( 25 meters high ) stands in the middle of it. The cross on the obelisk top is said to contain the relic of the actual Holy Cross. The beautiful colonnade that surrounds the square is a work by Bernini, as well as the 140 statues of Saints adorning it.
The Sistine Chapel
It was designed by architect Giovanni de’ Dolci for Sixtus IV, in 1470. The frescoes that decorate it were begun in 1481. In 1508 Julius II asked Michelangelo to paint the Chapel’s vault. The gigantic task was begun in 1508 and finished in 1512, twenty-three years before the great artist began the “Last Judgment”. The restoration of the Chapel began in 1980. The project was completed in ten years, bringing the frescoes back to their original splendors.
Saint Angel Castle
At the time of the Romans, it was called Mole Adriana, from the name of Emperor Elius Adrianus ( second century A.D. ) who wanted it as his tomb. It was later transformed into a fortress and then into a castle. In the thirteenth century, the Papal State look control over it. The Popes often found shelter in the castle in war times. Many important diplomatic meetings took place inside its walls, but it was also notorious for the instruments of torture located in its prisons.
Its real name is “Flavian Amphitheatre“.
This beautiful building, the ancient splendor of which is still clearly visible, was begun under Emperor Vespasian in 72 A.D. and Finished under his son Titus in 80 A.D.
The amphitheater could contain more than 70.000 people. Its external front is particularly beautiful. It is organized in three orders of 80 arches adorned respectively with Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns.
Its size and architecture make the small Trevi Square one of the most famous and characteristic places in Rome.
The popularity of the fountain is also due to the legend according to which one’s return to Rome is guaranteed by drinking its water and by throwing a coin into its basin.
The fountain was designed by Salvi ( 1735 ) and decorated by several artists of Bernini’s school.
It is the most famous place in ancient Rome. Ceremonies, meetings, public and private business used to take place there.
It was damaged by a fire in 283 A.D. and restored under Emperor Diocletian.
From the fourth century, it began to fall into decay, echoing the fate of Rome itself.
Monument to Victor Emmanuel II
– Piazza Venezia
Located near the Capitol, il was designed by Giuseppe Sacconi to celebrate the unity of Italy ( 1870 ). It was begun in 1855 and inaugurated in 1911. The statue of Rome and the tomb of the Unknown Soldier are two remarkable ornamental and celebrate elements of this monument.
Such beautiful architecture can also be seen in many hotels in Rome.
The Capitol – Rome
Capitol Square was designed by Michelangelo in 1534. In the center of the square, he placed the statue of Marco Aurelio, the only surviving bronze equestrian statue among the several ones that adorned Rome in ancient times.
Palazzo Nuovo, the building on the left side of the square, is the seat of the Capitoline Museums, with their prestigious collection of ancient sculptures.
At the back of the square, there is Palazzo Senatorio, the seat of the Major’s Cabinet.
It is the only pagan temple in classical style still almost intact in Rome. The inscription on the architrave of the portico ( “M. Agrippa L. F. Cos. tertium fecit” ) informs that the temple was commissioned by Consul Agrippa in 27 B.C. and dedicated to the guardian deities of the Emperor’s family.
After a fire, the temple was rebuilt between 117 and 125 A.D.
Today it hosts the tombs of famous people, like Raffaello and the kings of Italy.
Also called Circo Angolate, it is one of the largest and more beautiful squares in Rome. It is located in the area of the ancient Domitian’s Stadium, of which it preserves the original shape. Three fountains adorn the square. The most remarkable is the one in the center, a work by four statues representing the Danube, the Ganges, the Nile, and the Rio de la Plata.
Piazza Navona is a jewel of the Roman Baroque. Its name probably derives from “agone” ( “nagone”, “Navone” ) that is to say “gara, Gioco” ( “race, the game” ) referring to the naval battles that took place when the square had a concave bottom which was artificially flooded for naval games. The beautifully shaped square was built on the site of the Stadium of Domitian, of which it has kept the form.
The two greatest Baroque geniuses meet in Piazza Navona: Gian Lorenzo Bernini, creator of the Fountain of the Four Rivers ( the Ganges, Nile, Danube, and Plate ), and Francesco Borromini, architect of the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone, unusual because of its splendid concave facade ( inside, a 17th-century innovation: over the altars, instead of paintings, there are a series of marble bas-reliefs ). Besides the other two other fountains, that of Neptune and that of the Moro ( Moor ), splendid palaces adorn the square: the Palazzo Pamphili, planned by the Roman architect Girolamo Rainaldi for the Pamphili family, patron of the entire square, and in one corner the Palazzo Braschi, built at the end of the 18th century by Cosimo Morelli.
The oldest building in the square is the Church of Nostra Signora del Sacro Cuore in front of the Palazzo Pamphili. It Is a work of the 15th century that contains treasures such as the Choir-Stall and the Chapel of St. James by Antonio da San Gallo the Younger. Nearby, in the Church of Saint Luigi Dei Francesi, some of the fundamental masterpieces of Italian art can be admired: the three large canvasses by Caravaggio. highest examples of painting after Michelangelo, dating from the end of the 16th century: the Calling of St. Matthew, the Martyrdom of Matthew and St. Mathew and the Angel.
Caravaggio’s paintings stand out for their innovative and disturbing realism, and the unusual use of light, even in his own day, so much so that the last of these three paintings were deemed unfit for a church because St. Matthew appears as a tired old man with dirty feet.
Trinita Dei Monti
The monumental Spanish steps, designed by De Sanctis in 1723, are one of the most striking structures in the place. Trinita Dei Monti Church is on their top. Notice the imposing cupolas of the church ( 1485-95 ) and, in front of it, the obelisk, that was found in the Sallustian Gardens in 1808. The “Barcaccia” Fontain, a work by P. Bernini ( 1629 ), lies at the foot of the steps. You can also visit rome-culture.com for Spanish Steps accommodation ideas.
San Paolo fuori le mura
One hundred and thirty meters long and 65 meters wide, this is the second-largest basilica in Rome after St. Peter’s. Started under the reign of Constantine, it was completed in 395 AD.
Over the centuries it was enriched with paintings and frescoes until in July 823 AD a terrible fire almost burnt it to the ground. The basilica was rebuilt in 1928 following the original design ( including the portico in front of the facade, called “of the hundred columns” ).
Inside there are many works of art: the Byzantine-Venetian mosaics in the apse, the Gothic Ciborium by Arnolfo di Cambio, in the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament the mosaic representing the Holy Virgin, the frieze with mosaic portraits of the Popes, the Triumphal Arch at the far end of the central nave, the Byzantine bronze panels of the Holy Door, and the harmonious cloister with multicolored marbles, mosaics, and smooth and spiral-shaped columns.
It is the tomb of the Roman tribune Caius Cestius, who died in 12 BC. In the Middle Ages, people believed it was the tomb of Remus, brother of the mythical founder of the city. It is 36.40 meters high and the side of the base is 22 meters long.
Santa Maria Maggiore
This grandiose church stands on Esquiline Hill. It was built under the pontificate of Sixtus III in the early 15th century and its Romanesque bell tower is the highest in Rome ( 75 meters ).
The mid-18th century facade has five arches and a loggia by Ferdinando Fuga (in the loggia lovely mosaics from a previous facade). Inside there are three naves, a beautiful pavement with geometric designs, and a coffered ceiling by Giuliano da Sangallo. Along the central nave are thirty-six mosaic panels depicting scenes from the Old Testament.
The mosaics over the Triumphal Arch, which represent scenes from the Life of Jesus and the Virgin and those over the apse by
Jacopo Torriti ( 1295 with the triumph of Maria ) is beautiful. These mosaics, which span several centuries, are amongst the most precious and beautiful in existence. Noteworthy are also the chapels of this basilica: the Sistine Chapel ( built by Domenico Fontana for Pope Sixtus V ) and the Paolina Chapel ( built by Flaminio Ponzi for Pope Paul V ).
San Pietro in Vincoli
This very old church, dedicated to the Apostles, was erected in the 5th century and completely renovated by Pope Julius II at the end of the 15th century.
It owes its name to the relic it contains ( “in vincoli”, “enchained” ), namely the chains that bound St. Peter in Jerusalem and later in Rome (they are kept in a gilded bronze urn). The other great attraction of the church is the Mausoleum of Julius II, an unfinished work by Michelangelo.
He worked on it from 1513 to 1516 and it was originally destined to stand in St. Peter’s. For the mausoleum, he sculpted the famous Statue of Moses and the two Prisoners, now in the Louvre.
Santa Maria in Cosmedin
Built-in The 4th century, this church was also constructed on an ancient Roman building and takes its name from the Greek word meaning “embellished”. Beneath the portico in front of the facade, is the Mouth of Truth, an ancient lid in the shape of a mask. According to legend any liar who puts his hand into the slit will have it snapped off.
The Trajan Pillar
Perhaps, It Is the most distinctive among the ancient Roman works of art. It is a story told through photograms( anticipating the advent of cinema ). A spiral frieze that turns twenty-three times along the pillar’s frame and that can be read from bottom to top, from left to right. The Trajan Pillar was once multicolored and is composed of seventeen blocks of Lucian marble.
It Is forty meters high and was erected in 113 AD by Emperor Trajan to celebrate his wars against the Dacians. The forty-five small windows brighten the inside where is a spiral staircase not accessible to the general public. On the top, there was a statue of Trajan but in 1587, Pope Sixtus V replaced it with one representing Saint Peter.
The History of Rome
Latin, which has its origins in Rome, has dominated culture for two thousand years: law, born in Rome, has inspired Western law codes: art and Roman architectural styles have been used as models for centuries in the most advanced countries. The influence of this city, first as the center of the Roman Empire, then as the center of Christianity, has no equal in the history of the Western world. Its beginnings, however, are mysterious. Its very name is on enigma: does it derive from “stroma” ( city of the river ), from “Ruma” ( an Etruscan name ), or from the legendary Romulus, who might have founded the city with his brother Remus? This much is certain; Rome originated on the Palatine Hill as a village of shepherds and farmers and entered history around 753 BC, the traditional date of its founding. At first, it was governed by seven kings; Romans and Sabines intermingled and for o few centuries the city was dominated by its neighbors, the mysterious Etruscans.
The Etruscans were later chased from the city and in 509 BC the city becomes a Republic governed by two consuls. At first aristocratic, Republican Rome adopted a harsh form of democracy and established in 494 BC the Tribune of the People, who defended the people against abuse at the hands of those holding power. In the meantime, Rome’s political importance was increasing.
By 270 BC virtually the whole of Italy was under Roman dominion which very quickly extended its power beyond the boundaries of the peninsula until it became a huge empire. Under Augustus, the first emperor, imperial Rome reached its zenith, after which started a slow decadence: corrupt emperors ( Nero, Caligula, Claudius ), the spread of Christianity, the very size of the Empire, the enormous costs of the armies, the pressure of the barbarians along its frontiers. In 313 AD Constantine acknowledged Christianity as a valid religion and Theodosius in 380 AD proclaimed it as the only religion of the Empire. Now the barbarians were closing in: first Alaric then Attila ransacked Rome which consequently was reduced to a minor city in the eastern Byzantine empire By installing himself in St. Peter’s See, the increasingly powerful Pope made Rome the center of Christianity. In 800 AD when the Pope crowned Charlemagne emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, it seemed as though the old grandeur was revived again. It was an illusion.
Rome was to witness the long struggle between the papacy and the feudal nobles, and above all between the Pope and the Emperor ( struggle for investiture ) which gave her historical importance but also left her weakened. In 1305 the Pope was forced to transfer the papal seal of Christianity to Avignon where it remained until 1367. There now followed two difficult centuries ( until the imperial sock of Rome in 1527 ), but meanwhile, the papacy was growing in power and splendor both in art and culture.
Popes such as Julius II and Leo X created the great Renaissance and Baroque Rome by commissioning monuments and works of art of unusual splendor to artists such as Michelangelo, Bramante, Raphael. The architects Bernini and Borromini built splendid palaces and churches in response to the Protestant Reformation.
Baroque Rome with its fountains, gardens, and palaces, is one of the highlights of Western culture. Now begins a new age: at the end of the 18th century the influence of the French Revolution made itself felt; Pius VI was deported to France and the short-lived Roman Republic was established.
After the Restoration, Napoleon weakened the papacy. It resurged under Pius II who regained temporal power. Because of the Risorgimento, the Pope was once more forced to flee, and the Republic of the Mozzinian Triumvirate was established. On the 20th of September Italian troops entered Rome, thus putting an end to the temporal power of the Pope and Rome become the new capital of Italy. For half a century there was a cold war between the papacy and the Italian state, ending with the Lateran Pact in 1929 by which date Fascism had taken over. The Pope is now once more the head of Christianity and the head of the smallest state in the world: the Vatican City.
Mussolini’s Fascist rule tried to bring back to Rome the glories or its antique splendors by demolishing edifices, building avenues, stadiums, and monuments. The war, the invasion of Rome by the Germans, the heroic resistance of the Romans, and the end of the monarchy, mark the birth of the new Italian Republic.
After World War II, Rome has seen; urban growth, an increase in population, the years of the “Dolce Vito” ( when Rome was the capital of the world-renowned Italian cinema ), and political problems. It is now preparing itself for the new great world event, the Jubilee of the year 2000.