Rome’s historical patrimony is one of the drawing cards which put the capital of Italy on the tourist map of the world. It’s true there’s much more to do in the eternal city, but to stay in Rome without visiting its archeological and historical sites can hardly qualify as a complete Roman vacation.
The beginnings of Rome float in legend. The tradition maintains the city was founded by the twins Romulus and Remus who, after being abandoned by their mother, were raised by the mythical she wolf and subsequently adopted by a shepherd. Regardless of the legendary accounts, Rome was more likely founded somewhere in the 8th century. The small village, which used to occupy the site of the nowadays Imperial Forums, quickly grew and flourished, economically speaking, due to its geographical location at the intersection of several major commercial routes.
For about three centuries, Rome enjoyed the statute of capital of the Roman Kingdom which, somewhere around the year 500 BC became the epicenter of all decisions made by the Roman Republic: Rome was, indeed, evolving, along with the state the capital of which it was, slowly becoming one of the most important cities on the continent. The Republic grew in importance, politically and economically speaking, by means of the new territorial conquests, such that the world saw the rise of the Roman Empire. Rome became of utmost importance for the European world, its dominance and influence being reflected by the fact the Mediterranean Sea became, as the old Romans used to put it, “marem nostrum” (our sea), hinting on the Empire’s goal of subjugating all the nations with opening to the Mediterranean, from Asia Minor to Africa, south Europe included.
The political force of Rome was doubled by its religious significance. The rise of Christianity, at first repelled by the empire, but then fully embraced since the reign of Constantine the Great, contributed to Rome’s fearful status in the ancient world.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, Rome became overshadowed by other political forces. It did not fall in anonymity, but it lost its role as significant decision making agent on the international political arena. The city kept, on the other hand, its wealth and cultural patrimony, and it also became a major pilgrimage destination, mostly due to the fact the relatively newly founded institution of papacy found in Rome the ideal residence, so to speak. The oldest basilicas of Rome were built in the 4th and in the 5th century, ascertaining not only the prestige Christianity used to enjoy in those times in the peninsula, but also the fact Rome was one of the most important hubs of Christendom in the world at the moment, a status it still maintains today.
Thus, since the early Middle Ages, Rome has been witnessing the affirmation of a new power: the papacy. The actions of the popes have definitely contributed to the carving of the face of Rome as one can admire today: most of them were patrons of arts, they had cultural goals and, all in all, they enriched Rome from multiple points of view. Their heritage might be deemed, next to the ancient archeological sites, the second most important legacy of the capital.
While Florence is deemed the cradle of the Italian Renaissance, Rome did not remain unaffected by the new cultural outburst which started to inflame the European spirit since the 15th century. Of course, the popes had plenty to say in the way and the degree to which Rome was influenced by the Renaissance, since, for instance, most of the examples of Renaissance style architecture in Rome are works commissioned by the popes who used to keep an eye on the greatest talents of the time and draw them to Rome (Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is but one of the most exquisite achievements in this respect). Plenty of Baroque style buildings and monuments were erected in the modern era, lending Rome the air of a monumental and dramatic city to match its political and religious importance (Piazza Navona is deemed the most impeccable expression of the Baroque architecture in Rome, while Gian Lorenzo Bernini is considered the star architect and sculptor of the 17th century).
The 19th century saw the unification of the Kingdom of Italy, with Rome as capital.
The two world wars have, of course, shaken the financial, social and political stability of Rome, as it was the case with most of the European cities of the time. But Rome recovered, each time, from its troubled moments. Subsequently to World War II, when the Italian Fascism lost its prestige and the monarchy was abolished, Rome kept its status of capital, but this time of the Italian Republic. Its growth continued, its political, economical and cultural ascension advanced, and its tourist reputation followed naturally: Rome is at present one of the first hand tourist destinations in the world, a must visit and an essential chapter of the prize list of all globetrotters who mean business when they follow their passion.
If Rome has come to mesmerize plenty of visitors with its modern or, better yet, state-of-the-art tourist opportunities, the grounds of its popularity lie, as anyone can tell, in its overpowering historical background and heritage.Go to top