Rome (Italy), city, capital of Italy and of Latium Region and Rome Province, on the Tiber
River, in the central part of the country near the Tyrrhenian Sea. Vatican City, most of
which is located in an enclave within Rome, is the seat of the papacy of the Roman
Catholic church and has been recognized as an independent state by the Italian
government since 1929. The majestic dome of Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City
dominates the Roman skyline.
For centuries, Rome has been called the Eternal City, a title earned through its importance
as one of the great cities of Western civilization, as the capital of the Roman Empire, and
as the world center of the Roman Catholic church. Since 1871 it has been the capital of
Only after World War II was Rome's status as the leading city of Italy again realized, as it
overtook such major cities as Milan and Naples. Rome's economy remains essentially
based on two activities, government operations and tourism. The majority of the city's
workers are employed in these fields, in wholesale and retail trade, and in other service
industries. In addition, Rome has become the site of the headquarters of many
multinational corporations and agencies, including the United Nations Food and
Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development
(IFAD), World Food Council, and World Food Program.
After World War II, Rome also developed a wide base of industries. Traditional products
such as textiles and tourist souvenirs were supplemented by printed materials, high-
fashion clothing, processed food, pharmaceuticals, machinery, and paper and metal
products. The motion picture industry is also important.
Rome is a central point in Italy's railroad system and also is connected by highway with
many parts of the country. Leonardo da Vinci International Airport, situated near the
seacoast, is one of the busiest in Europe. The city is served by a subway system.
The Urban Landscape
According to tradition, Rome was founded in 753 BC on one of the Seven Hills—a term
used for centuries to describe the Capitoline, Quirinal, Viminal, Esquiline, Caelian,
Aventine, and Palatine hills surrounding the old community. Archaeological evidence
indicates, however, that human settlement here dates from at least 1000 BC. The
Capitoline Hill was long the seat of Rome's government, and the Palatine Hill was the site
of such great structures as the Palace of the Flavians, built by the Roman emperor
Domitian. As a result of construction through the centuries, most of the Seven Hills are
now hardly distinguishable from the adjacent plain. Other hills of Rome include the
Pincian (Pincio) and the Janiculum.
Rome today is easily divided into two regions: the inner city, within the Aurelian Wall,
built in the late 3rd century AD to enclose the area around the Seven Hills; and the
sprawling outer city, with its suburbs. The historical center is a small area, located almost
entirely on the eastern (left) bank of the Tiber. The monuments of Rome's past greatness
are, for the most part, within the historical center, in stark contrast to the modern
districts. The street pattern of the city reflects its long and complex history. The Via del
Corso traverses most of the historic center from the Piazza Venezia, the geographic
center of Rome, to the Piazza del Popolo, at the foot of Pincio Hill. Its use dates from the
Middle Ages, when it was a horse-racing course. The monument to Victor Emmanuel II,
the first king of united Italy, built between 1895 and 1911, forms part of the Piazza
Venezia. Other thoroughfares, such as the Via Vittorio Veneto, which commemorates
Italy's final victory in World War I and is at the heart of the tourist area, were designed
and built since the late 19th century. One of the largest public parks in Rome, the Pincio
Gardens, lies on Pincio Hill, north of the historic center.
Points of Interest
Long a major city of Europe, Rome has become an unparalleled
repository of monuments of all periods, from the Etruscan era to modern times. The
period of Rome's early history, under Etruscan kings and under the Republic, is
represented by relatively few relics; the legacy of the following period, the Roman
Empire, is extensive in comparison. Roman monuments range from the almost perfectly
preserved Pantheon (founded 27 BC; rebuilt AD 118-28), considered one of the finest
surviving temples of antiquity, to the still impressive—although partly
destroyed—Colosseum (opened AD 80), a huge amphitheater that was the scene of
gladiatorial combats and other spectacles. Ancient city walls, triumphal arches, great
public meeting places, churches, and palaces are all found in Rome. Foremost among
these monuments are the Roman Forum and the Imperial Forum, ancient centers of
commerce and religion; the Baths of Caracalla, built about AD 217 and now used as the
setting for summer opera performances; the Catacombs, ancient tunnels beneath the city
in which early Christians practiced their religion and were buried; and the Castel
Sant'Angelo, built as a mausoleum for the Roman emperor Hadrian (AD 135-139) and
converted into a fort in the Middle Ages. The Basilica of Saint John Lateran, the
Cathedral of Rome, was founded in the 4th century and substantially rebuilt in the 17th
and 18th centuries; the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls was built in the 4th
century and reconstructed after being destroyed by fire in 1823; and the Basilica of Saint
Peter in Chains, founded in the 5th century, was rebuilt in the 15th century and contains a
sculpture of Moses executed by Michelangelo.
Other popular points of historical interest include the Piazza del Campidoglio, a square
containing a bronze statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius completed during the 2nd century
AD; the Piazza Navona, a square with three fountains, including the Fountain of the Four
Rivers by the Italian sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini; the Trevi Fountain, an 18th-century
baroque fountain into which tourists toss coins while making wishes; and the Piazza di
Spagna, where the famous Spanish Steps, built in the 18th century, ascend to the 15th-
century church of the Trinità dei Monti. Perhaps the finest works of more modern times
are the structures built for the 1960 Olympic Games, several of which were designed by
one of Italy's leading contemporary architects, Pier Luigi Nervi.
Rome has been an urban center for more than 2000 years, and although monuments of
most periods of the city's history still stand, the destructive impact of pollution and
vibrations from heavy vehicular traffic is gradually leading to increased efforts toward
preservation, including restrictions on cars and trucks in the historic center.
Educational and Cultural Institutions
Rome is the site of Italy's largest institution of
higher education, the University of Rome (1303), which in 1980 was attended by
approximately 150,000 students. The Independent International University of Social
Studies in Rome (1945) is also here.
In part because of its extraordinary wealth of artworks, Rome is a major world center for
creative artists. Specialized schools of study in Rome include the Academy of Fine Arts,
the National Academy of Dance, the National Academy of Dramatic Arts, the Santa
Cecilia Conservatory of Music, and the Central Institute for the Restoration of Works of
Art. Rome plays a leading role in the creative and performing arts and in most other aspects of Italy's cultural life. Opera is performed in the Opera House, one of the country's best, and in the summer at the Baths of Caracalla. The city also has some 20 theaters and 6 major concert halls, which offer a varied repertory during the fall, winter, and spring.
The museums of the city deal with all aspects of the arts and sciences and are among the
world's finest. The oldest art collection in Rome, housed in the Capitoline Museum, was
established in 1471 and contains exceptional antiquities. Among other Roman museums
are the National Museum of the Villa Giulia, which has an outstanding collection of
Etruscan and Roman art and is located in the mid-16th-century country house of Pope
Julius III, and the Borghese Gallery, a museum of paintings and sculpture housed in an
early 17th-century palace. The National Roman Museum, designed by Michelangelo,
features exhibits of Greek and Roman sculpture, including the Ludovisi Collection of
antiquities. Important collections of art and decorative pieces can also be seen in some of
the city's other palaces. Among these are the Farnese Palace, built between 1514 and
1589; the mid-15th century Venetian Palace, with a noted collection of small Renaissance
bronzes; and the Palazzo Barberini, a 17th-century baroque palace with a remarkable
According to legend, the city of Rome was founded by Romulus (with his brother,
Remus, in some accounts) in 753 BC. Although archaeological evidence suggests earlier
habitations on the site, extended human settlement may well have dated from this time.
Traces of an Iron Age village from the mid-8th century BC have been found on the
Palatine Hill. The legend of the rape of the Sabine women (see SABINES) and the
subsequent merger of the Romans and Sabines are similarly supported by excavated
remains. Earliest Rome was a kingdom with two classes, the patricians (nobles) and the plebeians (commoners). The Senate, or Council of Elders, elected the monarchs and limited their power.
Etruscan kings ruled Rome from the 7th to the late 6th century BC, but when the last
monarch was overthrown, about 510 BC, a republic was established. Rome subsequently
began to absorb the surrounding areas. After a Gallic invasion early in the 4th century BC,
the so-called Servian Wall was built around the city. The first aqueduct in Rome was built
in 312 BC. At the same time, the Via Appia, connecting the city
with southern Italy, was constructed. Rome continued to grow during and after the Punic
Wars (264-146 BC). During that time the first basilica, a type of building that could
accommodate crowds in bad weather, was constructed (184 BC) in the Forum.
After the assassinations (133 and 121 BC) of the brothers Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus,
who had attempted to institute land reforms to aid the poor, the city experienced a period
of instability that climaxed in the civil wars of the 1st century BC. Julius Caesar ultimately
became dictator and instituted a series of reforms. The Forum had become crowded with
structures and monuments and needed to be expanded; the Forum of Caesar was then
planned. It was completed under Augustus, the first emperor, who also built the Forum of
By the early imperial period, Rome was the hub of the Roman Empire, both physically, as
the center of the Italian road system, and psychologically, as the capital of the world. This
vast agglomeration had adequate water supply and efficient sewers, but the overcrowding
of poor people in tenements resulted in frequent fires. Emperor Augustus instituted the
vigiles, or fire fighters with police powers. In addition, vehicles were not allowed in the
crowded streets except at night, and legislation was passed restricting the maximum
height of buildings. A disastrous fire in AD 64 nevertheless destroyed much of the center
of the city. For Nero, the emperor then in power, this was an opportunity to build his
palatial Golden House.
The Flavian dynasty (AD 69-96), in order to curry favor with the Roman populace, began
a program of public works. The most prominent of these was the amphitheater known as
the Colosseum, which could accommodate gladiatorial games and even mock sea battles
staged for huge crowds. Few or no large-scale industries existed in Rome at the time, and
adequate employment was not available for the vast population; hence, the grain dole and
games (bread and circuses) that had begun during Republican times continued. In addition
to events in amphitheaters, chariot races were arranged in circuses and pantomimes in
Emperor Trajan had the last of the imperial forums built in the early 2nd century. By that
time, huge baths, some of them even including libraries, had become a fixture of the city's
life; the largest were built by Caracalla and Diocletian in the 3rd century. Because of the
deterioration already threatening the empire, a wall was built around the city during the
3rd century. By the following century, however, it was clear that the imperial court would
have to be closer to the borders. Emperor Constantine the Great therefore founded the
city of Constantinople as the Christian “New Rome.” Although Rome then began to
decline, the first major Christian basilicas, among them the original Saint Peter's, were
constructed during this period.
Decline of the City
In 410 and 455 Rome was ingloriously sacked by invading Germanic tribes. Attempts
were made to preserve the physical plant of the city in the face of growing chaos, but
occupation by the Ostrogoths in the 6th century, subsequent Byzantine reoccupation, and
concomitant destruction all contributed to a precipitous decline, and the population
dwindled. The city was, however, the seat of the papacy, and a certain number of people
remained. Under Pope Gregory I the decline was even arrested for a while, but Italy later
became a battleground again; in the 9th century a new low ebb was reached when Arabs
attacked the area around the city, including the Vatican. During the Middle Ages, the
built-up areas shrank until they were confined to the shore of the Tiber, where water was
available. Only one of the ancient aqueducts was still operable.
The city's fortunes began to improve in the 11th century, although improvement lagged at
the beginning of the 14th century, when the popes settled in Avignon. The papac
returned to Rome in 1377, and after the middle of the 15th century the city became a
center of Renaissance culture. Massive papal patronage of the arts began to enrich Rome.
During the papacy (1447-55) of Nicholas V the defense walls were repaired, palaces built,
and churches restored. Major artists and architects now worked in Rome, and by the end
of the century it had supplanted Florence as the primary focal point of the Renaissance.
The sack of the city in 1527 by Habsburg mercenaries was a temporary setback. During
the 16th century Michelangelo, Bramante, Raphael, and other artists worked for the
popes, and construction of the new St. Peter's Basilica progressed. It was not until the
reign (1585-90) of Pope Sixtus V, however, that the dense, confused medieval urban
pattern began to be modernized. Three major streets were laid out to radiate from the
Piazza del Popolo to the center of the city. Sixtus also built squares and fountains, and he
restored the Acqua Felice aqueduct. In addition, old churches were refurbished, and St.
Peter's dome was completed.
The dramatic baroque style that characterized Counter-Reformation Rome was
predominant in structures of the 17th century. Sculptors and architects, such as Gian
Lorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini, changed the face of Rome during this period.
In the 18th century Rome enjoyed a period of relative quiet under papal rule. Structures
built in a subdued rococo style in the early part of the century later gave way to neoclassic
structures. In 1797 Napoleon Bonaparte took Rome and appropriated many art treasures.
Ultimately, after the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Rome became papal again. Napoleon's
occupation of Italy, however, had stimulated a nationalist reaction, and in 1861 Italy was
unified under the house of Savoy. Because of Rome's position as papal headquarters it
had to be forcibly taken by the kingdom of Italy in 1870. The pope then made himself a
“prisoner of the Vatican.”
After the city became the capital of united Italy in 1871, feverish growth followed. Whole
new quarters were constructed. By the beginning of the 20th century the entire area
within the ancient walls had been built up, and the city began to expand outward. High
embankments were built along the Tiber to prevent floods, and Rome was extensively
modernized. The dictatorship (1922-1943) of Benito Mussolini was marked by the
destruction of old quarters and the construction of such pompous projects as the Via
dell'Impero (now Via dei Fori Imperiali). In 1929 the Vatican became an independent
papal enclave. Declared an open city during World War II, Rome was spared heavy
bombing. Postwar growth continued at a rapid pace, and new residential developments
extend far out into the Roman countryside.
A century ago, Rome was a quiet city; its people were living largely in the past. It is today
not only the capital and nerve center of Italy but, as the seat of the Roman Catholic
church and the headquarters of major international agencies and multinational
corporations, the city has assumed a place of worldwide importance. Population (1870
estimate) 226,000; (1930 estimate) 887,000; (1990 estimate) 2,791,354.
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