1.3 - History of Rome, The Empire

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 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.

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