The Eternal City of Rome
Part 1 of 3 Where it all began.
Rome is a city as old as civilisation, much history has been written & legend has been told about the Eternal City of Rome (“La Città Eterna”), built on seven hills. It was first inhabited by people from the Bronze Age, then the Etruscans followed by the Roman Empire. Today Rome is a glamorous modern metropolis. However, this city with all its grandeur had the humble beginnings as of a collection of huts on the Palatine Hill by the Tiber River, with archaeological remains 14,0000 years old.
Unsplashed photo by Carlos Ibanez
One historical account says the Roman people were descendants from Aeneas who escaped to Italy after the Trojan war, he was the forefather of Julius Caesar. However, legend says Rome was founded by two demigod brothers, Romulus & Remus, the sons of Princess Rhea Silvia. Their father Mars the god of war feared they would take his empire, so he abandoned the twin boys by the Tiber River. A she-wolf found the twin baby boys & raised them as her own till shepherds adopted the twins.
As time went on the brothers became powerful. They argued over who was going to rule the city. Romulus killed Remus & named the city after himself in 753 BC. History tends to be written by the victor & legend is a story of amazing events or an era retold over time. Both narratives are passed down the generations. Where is the truth? Perhaps it’s between the lines of the history books & the essence of the legends!
The city grew to be the centre of the Roman Empire conquering the entire Mediterranean as far as the Persian Gulf, to the Red Sea, Caspian Sea & Britannia. The Empire was meant to be a balance of republican magistrates controlled by a senate, but as time went on the empire took on the dictatory & militaristic aspect, which never really serves the people. There were decades of peace, prosperity & expansion. However, there were also times of extreme decadence for some, abuse of power by others, corruption & oppression.
With all this there was a spectacular rise & fall of the Roman Empire between the years 625 BC to 476 AD. However, the city never lost its moral compass & the Church became a powerful force. In 1144 AD the city was proclaimed to be a free commune; it was governed by feudal nobility & the papacy. The city flourished by the 15th century & Rome became the capital of the Papal State becoming the Holy Roman Empire, setting limits on political views. The Church gave carte blanche for the development of trade - especially culture & the arts. Rome has had an amazing & tumultuous history. Eventually Italy went from a monarchy to a republic after World War II. In, 1929 Rome became the seat of the Italian Parliament. Republic derived from res publica meaning “property of the people”.
So let us go on to discover what is revealed in the relics, ruins & buildings from the Etruscan & Roman Empire eras. When sightseeing in such a city as Rome that has so many layers of history I usually like to begin with the ancient sights. My top four ancient sites to see:
The Roman Forum
Unsplashed photo by Embla Monk Rynkebjerg
The Roman Forum was built during the ancient republican times, circa 500 BC. An enormous area around 90,000 square meters, situated between the Palatine, Capitoline & Esquiline hills. There were imposing monuments & buildings to serve secular life. There were many public squares for the people creating marketplaces for barter & trade. There were areas people could participate in religious & public ceremonies. The magistrates were elected & crimes were judged by a court organization.
Over time this area became abandoned & forgotten, it was only in the early 20th century that this area was excavated. The ruins preserved are a witness to the splendour & grandeur that was the Ancient Roman Empire. There are many monuments & ruins to see including The Temple of Saturn, its iconic high columns on a podium on the slopes of the Capitoline Hill. Palatine Hill is where the earliest remains of the old city are. Constantine’s Arch was built for the ancient triumphal processions to pass through. Basilica of Santi Cosma & Damiano the Forum of Peace.
Unsplashed photo by Gabriela Clare Marino
The Pantheon was built first by Marcus Vipsanius in 27 BC evident from the front façade, later completed by Hadrian in the 2nd century. It is one of the best-preserved buildings from the Roman Empire. First built as a Roman Temple dedicated to all the pagan gods. Its dome is a masterpiece of engineering as it is the largest dome ever covered by stone, having an opening at the top of 9 meters which illuminates the interior. In the year 609 AD the Pantheon was commissioned as a Catholic Church.
Unsplashed photo by Frederico Di Dio Photography The Colosseum is the world’s greatest ancient amphitheatre, built circa 80 AD. Considered the greatest works of Roman architecture & engineering. It is situated east of the Forum. Games were held in the Colosseum, the most popular being the hunters & gladiator games. Tragically, it is estimated that many thousands of people & animals were killed in the games over five centuries. It continued to be used for entertainment up until the Middle Ages. Over time earthquakes have struck plus stones have been quarried to make other buildings, making it a partially ruined building & remains a symbol of Imperial Rome. It’s one of the main attractions of Rome receiving millions of visitors every year.
Castel Sant’ Angelo
Unsplashed photo by Rainhard Wiesinger
Castel Sant’ Angelo is an imposing castle-fortress built 135 AD that is the Mausoleum of Hadrian. It is situated on the Tiber River with an impressive bridge consisting of three central arches. On the summit of the building there is an angel statue about to fly off the building representing the winged messenger archangel Michael who revealed to Saint Gregory that Rome would be saved from a terrible plague in the 6th century. Can this be a beautiful symbol for us in our time! To read more about inspiring Roman Holiday ideas you might like to check out my blog “The Eternal City of Rome Part 2 a Classic Roman Holiday” & Part “3 celebrating Saints, Reformers & Heroes” for there are so many treasured sights to discover from the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Art Nouveau, Neoclassical & Modernist eras. Reflection Summary: Rome truly is a legendary & eternal city! The ancient Romans legacy has contributed much to our modern-day society. They gave us the foundation of democracy, politics, trade, courts of law, contracts, public spaces for worship, peace, law & order. They developed tax systems for public works, architecture, concrete, infrastructure development, welfare systems, education & public libraries. We can learn lessons from the Roman Empire, it’s important to keep the balance of democracy, politics, law & order to serve all society! If these balances are upset corruption occurs & the rest is history.