Situated on the River Tiber, between the Apennine Mountains and the Tyrrhenian Sea, the "Eternal City" was once the administrative center of the mighty Roman Empire, governing a vast region that stretched all the way from Britain to Mesopotamia. Today it remains the seat of the Italian government and home to numerous ministerial offices. Rome has 2.7 million inhabitants while the metropolitan area is home to around 4.5 million.
Architecturally and culturally, Rome has some contrasts - you have areas with pompously huge majestic palaces, avenues and basilicas, which are then surrounded by tiny alleyways, little churches and old houses. The centre of Rome is mainly ancient, and modern buildings are usually concentrated in the suburbs, unlike Milan (where new and old architecture is combined both in the centre and the outskirts). You may also find yourself walking from a grand palace and tree-lined elegant boulevard, into a small and cramped Medieval-like street.
The abbreviation "S.P.Q.R" is ubiquitous in Rome, short for the old democratic motto "Senatus Populusque Romanus" (Latin), i.e. "The Senate and People of Rome".
For two weeks in August, many of Rome's inhabitants shut up shop (literally) and go on their own vacations; many stores, restaurants and other amenities will be closed during this time. The temperature in the city centre at this time of year is not particularly pleasant. If you do travel to Rome at this time, be prepared to see Chiuso per ferie (Closed for holidays) signs on many establishments. Even in these weeks the city is very beautiful and if you are looking for a less overcrowded vacation in Rome, this is not a bad time. You will always be able to find somewhere to eat.
Rome's history spans over two and half thousand years, which have seen its transformation from a small Latin village to the center of a vast empire, through the founding of Catholicism, and into the capital of today's Italy. Rome's history is long and complex. What follows is merely a quick summary.
Rome is traditionally thought to have been founded by the mythical twins Romulus and Remus, who were abandoned as infants in the Tiber River and raised by a mother wolf before being found by a shepherd who raised them as his own sons. Rome was founded as a small village sometime in the 8th century BC surrounding the Palatine Hill, including the area where the Roman Forum is found. Due to the village's position at a ford on the Tiber River, Rome became a crossroads of traffic and trade.
The settlement developed into the capital of the Roman Kingdom, led by a series of Etruscan kings, before becoming the seat of the Roman Republic at around 500 BC, and then the center of the Roman Empire from 27 BC on. For almost a thousand years, Rome was the largest, wealthiest, most powerful city in the Western World, with dominance over most of Europe and the Mediterranean Sea. Even after the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD, Rome maintained considerable importance and wealth.
Beginning with the reign of Constantine I, the Bishop of Rome (later known as the Pope) gained political and religious importance, establishing Rome as the center of the Catholic Church. During the Early Middle Ages, the city declined in population but gained a new importance as the capital of the newly formed Papal States. Throughout the Middle Ages, Rome was a major pilgrimage site and the focus of struggles between the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy.
With the Italian Renaissance fully under way in the 15th century, Rome changed dramatically. Extravagant churches, bridges, and public spaces, including a new Saint Peter's Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, were constructed by the Papacy so that Rome would equal the grandeur of other Italian cities of the period.
In the 19th century, Rome again became the focus of a power struggle with the rise of the Kingdom of Italy, which wished to see a reunification of Italy. The Papal States remained in control of Rome under French protection, but with the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, French troops were forced to abandon Rome, leaving it clear for the Kingdom of Italy to capture. Rome became the capital of Italy, and has remained such ever since.
Rome today is a contemporary metropolis that reflects the many periods of its long history - Ancient times, Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Modern Era. With the rise of Italian Fascism following World War I, Rome's population grew. This trend was stopped by World War II, which dealt relatively minor damage to Rome. With the dismantlement of the monarchy and the creation of the Italian Republic following WWII, Rome again began to grow in population and became a modern city. The city stands today as the capital of Italy and one of the world's major tourist destinations.
Rome has a Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. In the winter months, daytime temperatures are usually pleasant and range from 10-15 °C, while nighttime temperatures tend to stay slightly above freezing. That being said, the occasional cold snap can cause temperatures to fall below freezing, and it is not unheard of for light flurries of snow to fall on occasion, though accumulation is rare, and major snowstorms are known to occur once every 20-25 years.
At last count there were close to 1700 novels set in Rome in days gone by. Most easily available in bookshops are those by Lindsey Davis and Steven Saylor . Both are good storytellers and excellent at portraying life in Ancient Rome. Particularly interesting if you are visiting Rome may be Saylor’s “Roma: The Novel of Ancient Rome”, which traces the first thousand years or so of Rome’s history by following the fictional fortunes of two families. Each chapter begins with a map showing the state of Rome’s development at the time of the chapter.
The classic work on Ancient Rome remains Edward Gibbon’s “History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”. This was written in 1782 but is still being reprinted. A marvelous book that covers Rome’s fortunes from Romulus and Remus to the 1970s is “Rome: The Biography of a City” by Christopher Hibbert (Penguin). An excellent guide book, too, although perhaps a bit too heavy to carry around. “Rome” by Robert Hughes (Orion Books) concentrates on the city's art history and provides fascinating insights into the things you will see while walking around.
English-language bookshops in Rome are:
Some Italian bookstores also have English-language sections. Try the large selection of English books (but also French, Spanish and more) at Feltrinelli International in via Vittorio Emanuele Orlando - or the smaller selection at its store in Largo Argentina.
Via XXIV Maggio, 16
Via dei Banchi Vecchi, 29
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