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The Roman Colosseum
The Roman Colosseum

Rome (Italian and Latin: Roma) is the capital city of Italy and of its Latium region. It is located on the lower Tiber river, near the Mediterranean Sea, at . The Vatican City, a sovereign enclave within Rome, is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church and the home of the pope.

Rome is the largest city in Italy; it has a population of 2,546,807 (2004) with 3.3 million living in the metropolitan area. The current mayor of Rome is Walter Veltroni.

The city's history extends nearly 3,150 years, during which time it has been the seat of the ancient Rome (the Roman Kingdom, Roman Republic, Roman Empire), and later the Papal States, Kingdom of Italy and Italian Republic.



According to tradition, Rome was founded on April 21, 753 BC, by Romulus, who later killed his twin brother Remus in the process. This date was the basis for the Roman calendar and the Julian calendar (Ab urbe condita). Romulus and Remus were allegedly sons of the god Mars and the priestess Rhea Silvia, daughter of Numitor, king of Albalonga. The boys were abandoned to save them from the hate of Amulius, a pretender to Albalonga's throne, and taken care of by a she-wolf, even today one of the symbols of Rome. Romulus later killed Remus and became the first ruler of Rome; see founding of Rome.

The origin of the city's name is unknown, with several theories already circulating in Antiquity; the least likely is derived from Greek Ρώμη meaning braveness, courage; more probably the connection is with a root *rum-, "teat", with possible reference to the totem wolf (Latin lupa, a word also meaning "prostitute") that gave suck to the cognately-named twins Romulus and Remus.

Rome was reputedly ruled at first by Kings but, according to tradition, became a republic in 509 BC. A period of growth was interrupted when the city was sacked by the Gauls in about 390 BC, but soon resumed. By the end of the Republic, the city of Rome had achieved a grandeur befitting the capital of an empire dominating the whole of the Mediterranean. This grandeur increased under Caesar Augustus and his successors: if anything, the Great Fire of Rome during the reign of Nero acted as an excuse for further development.

From the early 3rd century, matters changed. Rome formally remained capital of the empire but emperors spent less and less time there. In 330, Constantine established a second capital at Constantinople, and even the later western emperors ruled from Milan or Ravenna, not Rome. However, the Senate, while stripped of most of its political power, was still socially prestigious and the Empire's conversion to Christianity made the Bishop of Rome (later called the Pope) the senior religious figure in the Western Empire. Also, the empire was now more open to external attack - Rome's first city walls for several hundred years were built in about 270, and even these did not stop the city being sacked first by Alaric in 410 and then by Geiseric in 455.

For more details of the civilisation, history, geographical expansion, and political system born in the ancient city of Rome, see Ancient Rome.

Map of Rome during the time of the Roman Empire
Map of Rome during the time of the Roman Empire

Rome under barbarian and Byzantine rule

The fall of the Western Roman Empire made little difference to Rome. Odoacer and then the Ostrogoths continued, like the last emperors, to rule Italy from Ravenna. Meanwhile, the Senate, even though long since stripped of wider powers, continued to administer Rome itself, and the Pope usually came from a senatorial family. This situation continued until the Eastern Roman Empire, under Justinian I, captured the city in 536.

In 546, the Ostrogoths under Totila recaptured and sacked the city. The Byzantine general Belisarius recaptured Rome but the Ostrogoths took it again in 549. Belisarius was replaced by Narses, who captured Rome from the Ostrogoths for good in 552.

Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I (reigned 527565) granted Rome subsidies for the maintenance of public buildings, aqueducts and bridges - though, being mostly drawn from an Italy impoverished by the recent wars, these were not always fully sufficient. He also styled himself the patron of its remaining scholars, orators, physicians and lawyers in the stated hope that in time more youths would seek for a better education. After the wars, the Senate was in theory restored, but under the supervision of a prefect and other officials appointed by and responsible to the Byzantine authorities in Ravenna.

However, the Pope was now one of the leading religious figures in the entire Byzantine Empire and effectively more powerful locally than either the remaining senators or local Byzantine officials. In practice, local power in Rome devolved to the Pope and, over the next few decades, both much of the remaining possessions of the senatorial aristocracy and the local Byzantine administration in Rome were absorbed by the Church.

The reign of Justinian's nephew and successor Justin II (reigned 565578) would see the invasion of the Lombards under Alboin (568). By capturing the regions of Benevento, Lombardy, Piedmont, Spoleto and Tuscany, the invaders effectively restricted imperial authority to small islands of land surrounding a number of coastal cities, including Ravenna, Naples and Rome. The one inland city continuing under Byzantine control was Perugia, which provided a repeatedly threatened overland link between Rome and Ravenna. In 578 and again in 580, the Senate, in its last recorded acts, had to ask for the support of Tiberius II Constantine (reigned 578582) against the approaching dukes, Faroald of Spoleto and Zotto of Benevento.

Maurice I (reigned 582602) added a new factor in the continuing conflict by creating an alliance with Childebert II of Austrasia (reigned 575595). The armies of the Frankish King invaded the Lombard territories in 584, 585, 588 and 590. Rome had suffered badly from a disastrous flood of the Tiber in 589, followed by a plague in 590. The later is notable for the legend of the angel seen, while the newly elected Pope Gregory I (term 590604) was passing in procession by Hadrian's Tomb, to hover over the building and to sheathe his flaming sword as a sign that the pestilence was about to cease. But the city was safe from capture at least.

Agilulf , however, the new Lombard King (reigned 591 to c. 616), managed to secure peace with Childebert, reorganized his territories and resumed activities against both Naples and Rome by 592. With the Emperor preoccupied with wars in the eastern borders and the various succeeding Exarchs unable to secure Rome from invasion, Gregory took a personal initiative of starting negotiations for a peace treaty. It was completed during the autumn of 598 and was only after recognized by Maurice. But it would last till the end of his reign.

The position of the Patriarch of Rome was further strengthened under the usurper Phocas (reigned 602610). Phocas recognized their primacy over that of the Patriarch of Constantinople and even decreed Pope Boniface III (607) to be "the head of all the Churches".

During the seventh century, an influx of both Byzantine officials and churchmen from elsewhere in the empire made both the local lay aristocracy and Church leadership largely Greek-speaking. However, the strong Byzantine cultural influence did not always lead to political harmony between Rome and Constantinople. In the controversy over Monothelitism, popes found themselves under severe pressure (sometimes amounting to physical force) when they failed to keep in step with Constantinople's shifting theological positions. In 653, Pope Martin I was deported to Constantinople and, after a show trial, exiled to the Crimea, where he died.

Then, in 663, Rome had its first imperial visit for two centuries, by Constans II - its worst disaster since the Gothic Wars when the emperor proceeded to strip Rome of metal, including from buildings and statues, to provide materials for armaments to use against the Saracens. However, for the next half-century, despite further tensions, Rome and the Papacy continued to prefer continued Byzantine rule - in part because the alternative was Lombard rule, and in part because Rome's food was largely coming from Papal estates elsewhere in the Empire, particularly Sicily.

However, in 727, Pope Gregory II refused to accept the decrees of Emperor Leo III, establishing iconoclasm. Leo proceeded, unsuccessfully, to impose iconoclasm on Rome by military force and then confiscated the Papal estates in Sicily and transferred areas previously ecclesiastically under the Pope but stil under Byzantine control to the Patriarch of Constantinople. In effect, Rome had been expelled from the Byzantine Empire.

This left Rome reliant purely on its own local forces to protect itself against Lombard encroachment - sometimes now, indeed, encouraged by the Byzantines. Other protectors were now needed - and finally, in 753, Pope Stephen III induced Pepin III, king of the Franks, to attack the Lombards on the Papacy's behalf.

In the 9th century, Pope Leo IV commisioned the construction of a wall around an area on the opposite side of the Tiber from the seven hills of Rome, which has since been called the Leonine City.

Papal and Renaissance Rome

When Pepin III defeated the Lombards in 756, Rome became the capital city of the Papal States, a territorial entity at least nominally ruled by the Papacy. In practice, however, the government of the city was hotly contested between various factions of Roman nobility, the Pope, the Holy Roman Emperor, and occasional republican insurrections. After the suppression of the republic of 1434 (Gibbon's "last revolt of Rome"), the Papacy folded the government of Rome into the ecclesiastical bureaucracy. During this period Rome became the worldwide centre of Christianity and increasingly developed a relevant political role that made it one of the most important towns of the Old Continent. In art, although Florence became the center of humanism and the Rinascimento (Renaissance), Rome was the center of baroque, and architecture deeply affected its central areas.

In the 16th century a central area was delimited around the Porticus Octaviae, for the creation of the famous Roman Ghetto, in which the city's Jews were forced to live.

Some of the most famous views of Rome in the 18th century were etched by Giovanni Battista Piranesi. His grand vision of classic Rome inspired many to visit the city and examine the ruins themselves.

The modern city

Rome's skyline
Rome's skyline

Following the unification of Italy in 1870 Rome became the capital of the new Italian nation-state. The Roman urban form reflects the stratification of the epochs of its long history, with a wide historical center; this today contains many areas from Ancient Rome, very few areas from Quattrocento (mainly around piazza Farnese), and many churches and palaces from baroque times. The historical center is identified as within the limits of the ancient imperial walls. Some central areas were reorganised after the unification (1880–1910 - Roma Umbertina), and some important additions and adaptations made during the Fascist period, with the discussed creation of Fori Imperiali and the founding of new quartieri (among which Eur, San Basilio, Garbatella, Cinecittą and, on the coast, the restructuring of Ostia) and the inclusion of bordering villages (Labaro, Osteria del Curato, Quarto Miglio, Capannelle, Pisana, Torrevecchia, Ottavia, Casalotti). These expansions were needed to face the huge increase of population due to the centralisation of the Italian state.

During the Second World War Rome suffered some heavy bombings (notably at San Lorenzo fuori le Mura) and battles (Porta San Paolo, La Storta) and was considered an "open town" (as in the film by Roberto Rossellini). However, Rome was spared the wholesale destruction of cities such as Berlin or Warsaw. Rome fell to the Allies on June 4 1944. It was the first capital of an Axis nation to fall.

After the war Rome continued to expand due to Italy's growing state administration and industry, with the creation of new quartieri and suburbs. The current official population stands at 2.5 million; during the business day workers increase this figure to over 3.5 million. This is a dramatic increase from previous figures, which were 138,000 in 1825, 244,000 in 1871, 692,000 in 1921, 1,600,000 in 1961.

Rome hosted the 1960 Summer Olympics, using many ancient sites such as the Villa Borghese and the Thermae of Caracalla as venues.

Many of the monuments of Rome were restored by the Italian state and by the Vatican for the 2000 Jubilee.

Being the capital city of Italy, Rome hosts all the principal institutions of the nation, like the Presidency of the Republic, the government (and its single Ministeri), the Parliament, the main judicial Courts, and the diplomatic representatives of all the countries for the states of Italy and the Vatican City (curiously, Rome also hosts, in the Italian part of its territory, the Embassy of Italy for the Vatican City, a unique case of an Embassy within the boundaries of its own country). Many international institutions are based in Rome, notably cultural and scientific ones, or humanitarian like the FAO.

Rome today is one of the most important tourist destinations of the world, due to its immense heritage of archaeological and artistic treasures, as well as for its unique traditions and the beauty of its views and its "villas" (parks). Among the most interesting resources, plenty of museums (Musei Capitolini , the Vatican Museums, Galleria Borghese, and a great many others), churches, historical buildings, the monuments and ruins such as the Roman Forum or the Catacombs.

Among its hundreds of churches, Rome contains the five Major Basilicas of the Catholic church: Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano (St. John Lateran, Rome's cathedral), Basilica di San Pietro in Vaticano (St. Peter's Basilica), Basilica di San Paolo fuori le Mura (St. Paul Outside the Walls), Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (St. Mary Major), and Basilica di San Lorenzo fuori le Mura (St. Lawrence Outside the Walls). The Bishop of Rome is the Pope, in his pastoral activity strictly applicable to the city, he is assisted by a vicar (usually a cardinal).


Tourism is Rome's principal industry. The city is also a centre of the banking, publishing, insurance and fashion industries. Shopping at the Spanish Steps is a big tourist attraction.


Rome has an airport formally named Leonardo Da Vinci International Airport - FCO, but more commonly known as Fiumicino. The Ciampino Airport, a joint civilian and military airport Southeast of the citycentre, serves as a popular alternative to Leonardo Da Vinci International Airport.

A subway system operates in Rome called the "Metropolitana" or Rome Metro which was opened in 1955. There are 2 lines (A & B) and a third under construction. (Today 35 km) Rome also has a comprehensive bus system. The web site of the public transportation company (ATAC) allows to calculate the path with buses and subways.

Chronic congestion caused by cars during the 1970s and 80s lead to the banning of traffic in certain parts of the city.

Another simulated-color satellite image of Rome taken on the Landsat 7. This image zooms closer into the heart of the city
Another simulated-color satellite image of Rome taken on the Landsat 7. This image zooms closer into the heart of the city


Amongst the prestigious educational establishments in Rome is the University of Rome La Sapienza (founded 1303), the Accademia di Santa Cecilia - the world's oldest academy of music (founded 1584), and St. John's University's Rome campus which is located at the Pontificio Oratorio San Pietro.

The city is also home to the colleges of the church, two other public universities, and several academies of fine arts.

Monuments and sites

Houses of worship




Symbols and trivia

Senatus Populusque Romanus
Senatus Populusque Romanus

Rome is commonly identified by several proper symbols, including the Colosseum, the she-wolf (Lupa capitolina), the imperial eagle, and the symbols of Christianity. The famous acronym SPQR recalls the ancient age and the unity between Roman Senate and Roman people.

Rome is called "The Urbs" (The City), "Caput mundi" (head of the world), "Cittą Eterna" (eternal city), and "Limen Apostolorum" (the threshold of the apostles).

The town's colors are golden yellow and red (garnet): they stand, respectively, for christian and imperial dignities.

Rome has two holidays of its own: April 21 (the founding of Rome), and June 29 (the feast of its patron saints, Peter and Paul). Other locally important dates are December 8 (the Immaculate Conception) and January 6 (Epiphany).

The Grande Raccordo Anulare (commonly shortened "Il GRA"), the round motorway that encircles the city, is more than 80 km long.

Some proverbs about the Eternal City:

  • When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
  • All roads lead to Rome.
  • Rome wasn't built in a day.

During its long history, Rome has always had a scarcity of native inhabitants, so by tradition a "true" Roman is one whose family has lived in Rome for no less than 7 generations: this is the original "Romano de Roma" (in Romanesco, the local dialect of Italian).

External links

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