According to a popular legend, Rome was founded on April 21, 753 BC by the twins Romulus and Remus. Archaeological evidence confirms the approximate time of the creation of the town, but suggests that it emerged from a conglomeration of small settlements around the future Forum Romanum. Eventually, it coalesced into a city which was undefeated militarily for nearly 1,000 years.
Through its history, Rome has served as the capital of the Roman Kingdom, the Roman Republic and, most importantly, the Roman Empire. During that time, the seven hills of Rome oversaw the imperial dominion expanding over a great part of Europe, inhabited by a population of over a million. For the thousand years of its military and political dominance over the continent, Rome was the richest, largest and most culturally advanced city in the Western world. It remained so for a long time after the Empire split and the City lost its capital status to Constantinople.
The centuries of diverse history and ever-shifting cultural and artistic trends have left their indelible mark on the Italian capital. There’s no Old Town area as such in Rome, as the entire city is a historical centre. As you stroll through the maze of narrow, winding streets and wide alleys, you’re bound to discover the fascinating multi-layering of artistic techniques from all epochs, visible on the stunning architectural landmarks. In Rome, Renaissance-facaded palaces rise upon Romanesque foundations, and have Gothic interiors with Baroque columns. A challenging and entertaining puzzle for everyone interested in the history of art, the Italian capital never fails to amaze.
Possibly the most recognizable symbol of Rome worldwide is the Colosseum, built around 70 AD as the largest amphitheatre ever erected within the Empire. With a capacity of 60,000 spectators, it served as a premiere venue for gladiatorial combat. Other important landmarks from ancient times include the Forum Romanum with a number of ruined temples, the Pantheon, the Roman Catacombs, Circus Maximus and the Bocca della Verità.
A major centre of Renaissance culture, second only to Florence, the layout and appearance of Rome was visibly affected by the movement. Today, it holds some of the most impressive masterpieces of that time, such as the Piazza del Campidoglio by Michelangelo and the Palazzo Senatorio, the traditional seat of the municipal government. Luxurious palaces of noble families of the time continue to visibly mark their presence at every street corner.
After Rome became the capital of the new Kingdom of Italy in 1870, a large number of majestic Neo-Classical palaces were constructed all over the city in order to house embassies, ministries and other government institutions. Probably the best-known example of Roman architecture from that time is the Monument of Vittorio Emanuele II, also knows as the Altar of the Fatherland, holding the grave of the Unknown Soldier commemorating the 650,000 Italians who died in World War I.
The Italian capital is known around the world for its numerous vast squares, which are usually crammed with café and restaurant tables, greatly stimulating the social life of the city. The squares themselves are often architectural masterpieces, typically adorned with obelisks and fountains. The most popular spots of this kind include Campo de' Fiori, Piazza Navona, Piazza Venezia, Piazza di Spagna, Piazza Farnese and Piazza della Minerva.
Rome is also famous as the location of the enclave of Vatican City, a sovereign state of the Holy Church. Its total area is approximately 44 hectares and its population does not exceed 900, which makes it the smallest nation in the world. The head of state is the Bishop of Rome, that is, the Pope. His personal guards are the Pontifical Swiss Guard, dressed in their traditional, colourfully striped uniforms.
Vast green areas and magnificent ancient villas encircle the centre of Rome. The villas are the remaining elements of an ancient row of villas that once surrounded the papal city. The most spectacular of the survivors are Villa Borghese, featuring a vast English-style landscape garden and the famous Galleria Borghese, Villa Torlonia, built in the Art Nouveau style and one-time residence of Benito Mussolini. There’s also Villa Ada and Villa Doria Pamphili, Rome’s two largest public landscaped parks.
While in Rome, you shouldn’t miss the chance to check out your local pizzeria. The Italian food served in Italy doesn’t taste at all like anything you might have tried outside of the country. Apart from the vast array of absolutely delicious pizzas, don’t hesitate to try the famous spaghetti alla carbonara and saltimbocca alla romana, a veal fillet fried in butter and white wine and topped with raw ham. Other specialties include coda di bue alla vaccinara (oxtail ragout), carciofi alla romana (braised artichokes stuffed with mint, garlic and breadcrumbs), and bucatini alla matriciana (bucatini with pecorino, tomatoes and guanciale).