1 - Rome

Aerial view of the city centre of Rome -
Rome, the Eternal City, the Head of the World, is one of the cradles of "western civilisation", and a city who has lived the last two thousand and five hundred years as a major player in the political, religious and cultural domain. Each century and each event has left traces still visible in the city, its buildings and its inhabitants, creating an unique environment that can be seen in only few other places in the world.


This is not the place to write about the history of this city, because too many books have been written by much more competent people and because this is a website about tourism, but a short summary is necessary.
The kingdom, VIII-VI BC. According to the legend the city was founded on the Palatine Hill in 753 BC  by Romolus, who in the process killed his twin Remus while building the first ring of walls. In the following two hundred years the city was led by another six kings (more or less legendary) and expanded and consolidated his position among the neighbouring towns and tribes, securing what is now roughly the area of the city council of Rome. During the last period of the kingdom (6th Century BC) the city felt under the influence of the Etruscan (the inhabitants of roughly what is modern Tuscany) and the city was protected by a second ring of fortifications, the "Servian Wall"  that can still be seen in several parts of the city.
Arco di Dolabella, near Villa Celimontana
The republic VI-I BC. The kingdom ended around 509 BC with a revolt which overthrown the last Etruscan king and replaced it with a republic. During these five centuries the city continue to fight against the neighbouring cities expanding its control over central Italy (IV century BC), over southern Italy (II century BC) and finally over the Mediterranean, Middle East and Northern Europe (II-I century AC). This is the period of the iron romans ready to sacrifice their lives, their limbs or their family just to show their determination and their attachement to the city and the common wealth (the res publica). In this period the city integrated also the growing influence of the Hellenistic civilisation. Despite the usual narrative of a continuous expansion driven by the force of destiny, during this period the city was sacked by the Gauls in 390 BC, arrived very close to a defeat during the war against Hannibal in 216 BC and was tormented by a century of civil wars in its latest period. It is in this period that roads and aqueducts were built in the City and in the provinces along with theatres, markets and thermae. In Rome it is still possible to walk over the Appian Way, the main road connecting Rome with southern Italy and Greece and see the traces of the acqueducts in places such as Porta Maggiore and on the archeological and natural park of the Appian Way. The Theatre of Pompeus and the temples of Largo Argentina and of the Forum Boarium were also built in this period.

Porta Maggiore. The walls have integrated the acqueduct and  the arcs have been used as gates to the city
The Appian Way. Roman roads were built with several layers of different materials, covered by large volcanic stones.
Forum Boarium. It was the meat market of ancient Rome, an area of trades  with temples  to gods protecting ventures and trades, such as Hercules (in its Roman interpretation)
Largo di Torre Argentina. In the very city centre of Rome, it is now home to one of the most photographed colonies of cats of the world

The Empire I-V AD. As it happened many years ago in a galaxy far far away, the republic started to be consumed by internal factional fights until the exhausted citizens preferred to trade part of their rights and freedoms for the peace and stability provided by a strongman. Augustus, the adopted son of Julius Caesar, reduced the power of the senate and of its members but "forgave" the less dangerous opponents and "pacified" the provinces and the borders. He also added two months to the ten months romulean calendar to celebrate him (August from Augustus) and his adoptive father (July, from Julius Caesar). He was followed by a series of more or less relevant emperors. In this period the city was embellished with some of its most famous and visible monuments, thanks to the increased wealth coming from the provinces and to the need of the emperors to satisfy an empoverished and unrestful urban population of up to one million citizens. The Colosseum, the Imperial palace on the Palatine Hill, the Imperial Fora, the Temple of Peace, the Baths of Diocletianus, the Mausoleum of Hadrian, the Pantheon, the Catacombs and the Aurelian Walls have all been built in this period. The end of the empire is characterised by internal rivalities, a demographic and economic crisis, the spread of Christianity and the great migrations. The capital is moved to Costantinople (now Istambul, Turkey), Christianity becames the official religion of the Empire, which is divided in an eastern and Western part. The weastern part crumbles in pieces and is replaced by a series of instable kingdoms. But Rome, although reduced to its shadow, is still waiting to write some of the most important pages of history.
The Colosseum. Built in 80 AD was damaged seriusly by an hearthquake in the 7th century.
The Imperial Fora. The forum was a meeting place for trade and  politics and the Roman Forum was the centre of the life during the Republic. Emperors have built other Fora next to mark their influence.
The Ara Pacis, "Temple of Peace" was built by Augustus to mark the end of the long period of civil and expansion wars which characterised the late republic.
The Baths of Diocletianus, restyled by Micelangelo in the church of St Mary of the Angels and Martyrs.  
The Mausoleum of Hadrian, designed by the emperor itself, who was passionated of art and architecture, was lately transformed in a castle, also for its proximity with the Vatican, to what is connected through a secret passage.
The Pantheon, took its actual shape under Hadrian as a temple for all the gods. Its dome  was the largest built  in concrete until the XIX century and its architecture has inspired monuments everywhere in the classical, medieval and modern times.
The Catacombs have been used as cemeteries since the late empire. 
Aurelian Walls. They have been built in the IV century when the instability in the Empire was growing and cities strted to protect themselves after a long period of peace.
The Papal States V-XIII AD. "Sic transit gloria mundi", "Thus passes the glory of the world" is said three times to the Pope at the moment of its coronation. The Empire is fallen, Rome has been sacked countless times until only some tens thousands inhabitants are left, the roads are unsafe and without maintenance no water arrives though the aqcueducts. In this post-atomic scenario, where Rome was sacked by barbery pirates and cows could pasture in the Forum the Christian Bishop of Rome, AKA The Pope, manage to create a state in central Italy with its moral authority, the remaining wealth of the Roman nobless and a series of alliances with the powerful men of the period. From its secured state in central Italy, the organisation that was taking the shapes of what is now the Catholic Church, managed to increase its influence in all the states of western Europe, becoming the only authoritative source of judgement on religious affairs. Of course in a religious society this meant also to interfere in private life and in politics. In this period the Basilicas of Rome became centres of pilgrimage from all over Europe and the inhabitants moved from the historical Seven Hills into the smaller, periferical and often flooded "Campus Martius", that is now the city centre. In this movement everything was reused: new buildings were built with the material taken from older ones, temples have been transformed in churches, tombs were transformed in castles (such as the tomb of Caecilia Metella on the Appian Way and the Mausoleum of Hadrian which became Castel St Angelo) and housed were built inside the great public buildings of the imperial era,, as in the case of the Stadium of Domitian which became Piazza Navona, a square.
S. Lorenzo Fuori le Mura, interior
San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura, facade
Mausoleum of Caecilia Metella on the Appian Way, transformed in a castle as many other tombs  and monuments in the city and its surroundings
The Stadium of Domitianum in a reconstruction
Piazza Navona, the steps of the stadium have been used  for shelter and then to build houses and churches
The Papal States XIV-XX AD. In the Fourteenth century the world started to change very fast, once again. In the east the Ottoman Turks destroyed wat was left of the Byzantine Empire (the eastern part of the Roman empire which survived the barbarian invasions) continuing a war of conquest in the Mediterranean and in the Balkans. In the west Spain and Portugal started to enjoy the fruits of oceanic trades and discoveries and in northern Europe a contestation movement started to spread. And Italy was being changed forever by the movement of the Renaissance. The Papacy was a magnet for artists poets and philosophers and after that the city was sacked in 1527, the efforts to improve it were multiplied. In the private courts of the nobility and the ambassadars the Baroque, a new style started to take shape. Artists such as Michelangelo, Raffaello, Bernini, Borromini and Caravaggio were active in Rome in this period contributing along with many others to create the city that we can see today. The Basilicae of St Peter and St John, as almost avery other church and palace of the city have been rebuilt or restiled in this period, Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sixtine Chapel and Raffaello the rooms of the Vatican Palace. Bernini and Borromini dotted the city with their architectures and sculptures and Caravaggio painted for the nobility and the religious orders.  On the other side the papacy, an absolutistic theocratic government, was keeping an even thighter control on the people and the intellectuals that could undermine the basis of its power. This was the period when it was possible to represent naked women or pagan gods in the Vatican, but also to be burned alive for questioning the theological truth of the Curia.

Bernini's Extasis of St Theresa, in the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria
Borromini's St Ivo alla Sapienza. La Sapienza is the first university of Rome, founded in  1303
Michelangelo's Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel
Michelangelo's paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel
Raphael's The School of Athens, in the Vatican Palace
Caravaggio's The Inspiration of Saint Matthew in the church of St Luigi dei Francesi, with other works of the artist
 The Italian State XIX AD. The world changes again, the Papal States who managed to resist the neopaganism of Renaissance and Neo-Classicism, the reform and the Enlightement couldn't resist to Romanticism and Nationalism. The different city states of Italy were, one after the other, occupied by the Kingdom of Sardinia (actually based in Turin, Piedmont) with the aim of creating an unified Italian State. Rome felt in 1870 and became immediately the capital of the new Kingdom, that after WWII became a Republic. In this period new residential areas were created for the functionaries of the new state and the new inhabitants coming from the different regions of the peninsula. A new series of fortifications was built (far from the city centre) along with the Termini train station and the monumental E.U.R. area characterised by its rationalistic architecture.

E.U.R, aereial view of the area
The "Square Colosseum" (Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana) in the E.U.R.

The city

As one can imagine, the city is shaped by the geography as much as by the story. The current city centre is in the ancient Campus Martius and monuments are scattered everywhere in the areas delimited by the Aurelian Walls. From there, the new city continues along the path of the ancient Roman roads (Aurelia, Flaminia, Nomentana, Tiburtina, Appia...) which are now, in their initial parts, also the main streets of the city.

Borgo and Trastevere. On the right side of the river Tiber these two Rioni border the Vatican city. Borgo growth during the middle age and the renaissance next to the Vatican and the Basilica of St Peter. It is now a posh area where ancient families and functionaries of the Vatican live. Trastevere is a more ancient but also recently developed (recently in the perspective of Rome...) area. It is a popular area famous for its restaurants and nightlife, although now is becoming trendy and upmarket. Apart of the ancient characteristics roads, it is possible to see here the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, Castel Sant'Angelo, the park of the Janicumum, and Via della Conciliazione on the way to the Vatican.

Via della Conciliazione from the dome of St Peter
St Maria in Trastevere, interior
The "Tridente". The historical city centre is cut in four parts by a set of three streets, Via di Ripetta, Via del Corso and Via del Babbuino, starting from Piazza del Popolo. The central of the three streets is Via del Corso, the main avenue of the city, connecting Piazza del Popolo to Piazza Venezia. Via di Ripetta goes until the old river port of Ripetta and pass next to teh Mausoleum of Augustus, and Piazza Navona. Via del Babbuino, continues until the Quirinal Palace (now siege of the President of the Republic) and pass next to the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. Between Via di Ripetta and Via del Corso there is the Pantheon and Piazza Colonna, with the Column of Marcus Aurelius.

Piazza del Popolo and the "Tridente", from left to right: Via del Babbuino, Via del Corso and Via di Ripetta

The Column of marcus Aurelius in Piazza della Colonna
The monument to King Vittorio Emanuele II in Piazza Venezia.
The Spanish Steps and the Church of St Trinita dei Monti
The Trevi Fountain
Capitol, Forum and Palatine. The area from piazza Venezia to the south was the centre of ancient Rome. The Capitol is now partly occupied by the huge Altare della Patria, a monument to the king who unified Italy. Behind it, there is the church of St Maria in Aracoeli and the square designed by Michelangelo, with the bronze sculpture of the emperor Marcus Aurelius. Walking few hundred meters, you can jump directly from the renaissance to the ruins of the empire, with a view on the Fora, the Colosseum, and the Palatine. In the Forum of Trajan, it is still possible to see the Trajan's Column, where it is represented the campaign of this emperor and the conquest Dacia, modern Romania.

The church of St Maria in Aracoeli. Aracoeli: temple of the sky, it is the place where the ancient priests observed the flight of the birds to predict the future. According tot a christian legend, it's the place from where the Virgin mary ascended to the sky
Piazza del Dampidoglio, designed by Michelangelo.
The Curia Iulia, the senate of the ancient Rome restored by Augustus.
Along the Tiber. Between the Capitol, Via del Corso and the Tiber there is the last part of the city centre covered in this page. From the south, the Forum Boarium boast three temples in perfect state and the church of St Maria in Cosmedin, with the "Bocca della Verita" of "Roman Holiday" fame. Behind the church it is possible to see the Circus Maximus, an ancient charriot racing stadium, there since the time of Romulus. Continuing to the north, there is the Getto, with the Sinagogue and the Porticus Octavie. The Jewish (Sephardic) comunity of Rome, is one of the most ancient of the diaspora and several dishes of the traditional Roman cuisine can be traced to a Jewish origin. In front of the Sinagogue, there is the Tiber Island, occupied almost entierly by an hospital since the time of the Roman Republic, when a temple of the god of medicine Aesculapion was built there. Finally, it is possible to see the magnificient Palazzo Farnese, now the embassy of France, which was used as a model for a number of urban residence in Europe. After the palace and the homonym square, there is Campo dei Fiori, a characteristic square with a popular market during the day and a good nightlife in the evening. The square has at the centre a statue of Giornano Bruno, a religious burned alive there as heretic in 1600.

the caracteristics streets of the Getto
Campo dei Fiori, it's market and the statue to Giornado Bruno
The Tiber island
The "Bocca della Verita" in the church of St Maria in Cosmedin, probably  part of an ancient roman fountain