Rome is known as, Caput Mundi (Capital of the world), la Città Eterna (The Eternal City), Limen Apostolorum (Threshold of the Apostles), la città dei sette colli (The city of the seven hills) or simply l’Urbe (The City), has been for centuries the center of Western civilization, and is the seat of the Catholic Church. The State of the Vatican City, the sovereign territory of the Holy See is an enclave of Rome.
Today, Rome is modern and cosmopolitan. It is the third most-visited tourist destination in the EU and a city of cultural and political importance. Its international airport at Fiumicino is the largest in Italy; it hosts the head offices of the vast majority of the major Italian companies, as well as the headquarters of three of the world’s 100 largest companies (Enel, ENI, Telecom Italia).
As one of the few major European cities that escaped World War II relatively unscathed, central Rome remains essentially Renaissance and Baroque in character. The Historic Center of Rome is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Geography & Climate
Rome is in the Lazio region of Central Italy at the confluence of the Aniene and Tiber (Italian: Tevere) rivers. Although the city center is about 24 kilometers inland from the Tyrrhenian Sea, the city territory extends to the very shore, where the south-western Ostia district is located. The altitude of the central part of Rome ranges from 13 m (43 ft) above sea level (in Piazza del Popolo) to 120 m (394 ft) above sea level (the peak of Monte Mario). The comune of Rome covers an overall area of about 1,285 km² (496 sq mi), including many green areas.
Rome enjoys a typical Mediterranean climate which characterizes the Mediterranean coasts of Italy. It is at its most comfortable from April through June, and from mid-September to October; in particular, the Roman ottobrate (the Italian word ottobrata can roughly be translated as “beautiful October day”) are famously known as sunny and warm days. By August, the temperature during the heat of the day often exceeds 32 °C (90 °F); traditionally, many businesses would close during August, and Romans would abandon the city for holiday resorts, but this trend is weakening, and the city is increasingly remaining fully functional during the whole summer, in response to growing tourism as well as change in the population’s work habits. The average high temperature in December is about 13 °C (57 °F), but below zero lows are not uncommon.
One of the symbols of Rome is the Colosseum (70-80 AD), the largest amphitheatre ever built in the Roman Empire. Originally capable of seating 60,000 spectators, it was used for gladiatorial combat. The list of the very important monuments of ancient Rome includes the Roman Forum, the Domus Aurea, the Pantheon, Trajan’s Column, Trajan’s Market, the several catacombs area, the Circus Maximus, the Baths of Caracalla, Castel Sant’Angelo, the Mausoleum of Augustus, the Ara Pacis, the Arch of Constantine, the Pyramid of Cestius, and the Bocca della Verità.
Often overlooked, Rome’s medieval heritage is one of the largest in Italian cities. Basilicas dating from the Paleochristian age include Santa Maria Maggiore and San Paolo Fuori le Mura (the second largely rebuilt in the 19th century), both housing precious 4th century AD mosaics. Later notable medieval mosaic and fresco art can be also found in the churches of Santa Maria in Trastevere, Santi Quattro Coronati and Santa Prassede. Lay buildings include a number of towers, the largest being the Torre delle Milizie and the Torre dei Conti, both next the Roman Forum, and the huge staircase leading to the basilica of Santa Maria in Ara Coeli.
Rome was a major world center of the Renaissance, second only to Florence, and was profoundly affected by the movement. The most impressive masterpiece of Renaissance architecture in Rome is the Piazza del Campidoglio by Michelangelo, along with the Palazzo Senatorio, seat of the city government. During this period, the great aristocratic families of Rome used to build opulent dwellings as the Palazzo del Quirinale (now seat of the President of the Republic), the Palazzo Venezia, the Palazzo Farnese, the Palazzo Barberini, the Palazzo Chigi (now seat of the Prime Minister), the Palazzo Spada, the Palazzo della Cancelleria, and the Villa Farnesina. Rome is also famous for her huge and majestic squares (often adorned with obelisks), many of which were built in the 17th century. The principal squares are Piazza Navona, Piazza di Spagna, Campo de’ Fiori, Piazza Venezia, Piazza Farnese and Piazza della Minerva. One of the most emblematic examples of the baroque art is the Fontana di Trevi by Nicola Salvi. Other notable baroque palaces of 17th century are the Palazzo Madama, now seat of the Italian Senate and the Palazzo Montecitorio, now seat of the Chamber of Deputies of Italy.
In 1870, Rome became capital city of the new Kingdom of Italy. During this time, neoclassicism, a building style influenced by the architecture of Antiquity, became a predominant influence in Roman architecture. In this period many great palaces in neoclassical styles were built to host ministries, embassies and other governing agencies. One of the best-known symbol of Roman neoclassicism is the Monument of Vittorio Emanuele II or “Altar of Fatherland”, where the grave of the Unknown Soldier, that represents the 650,000 Italians that fell in World War I, is located.
The Fascist regime that ruled in Italy between 1922 and 1943 developed an architectural style which was characterized by its links with ancient Roman architecture. The most important fascist site in Rome is the E.U.R. district, built in 1935. It was originally conceived for the 1942 world exhibition, and was called “E.42” (“Esposizione 42”). The world exhibition, however, never took place because Italy entered the Second World War in 1940. The most representative building of the Fascist style at E.U.R. is the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana (1938-1943), the iconic design of which has been labeled the cubic or Square Colosseum. After World War II, the Roman authorities found that they already had the seed of an off-centre business district that other capitals were still planning (London Docklands and La Defense in Paris). Also the Palazzo della Farnesina, the actual seat of Italian Foreign Ministry, was designed in 1935 in fascist style.
The historical centre ville is dominated by the traditional “Seven hills of Rome”: the Capitoline, Palatine, Viminal, Quirinal, Esquiline, Caelian, and Aventine hills. The Tiber flows south through Rome, with the city centre located where the midstream Tiber Island facilitated crossing. Large parts of the ancient city walls remain. The Servian Wall was built twelve years after Gauls’ sack of the city in 390 BC; it contained most of the Esquiline and Caelian hills, as well as the whole of the other five. Rome grew out of the Servian Wall, but no more walls were constructed until 270 AD, when Aurelian began building the Aurelian Walls. These were almost twelve miles (19 km) long, and were still the walls the troops of the Kingdom of Italy had to breach to enter the city in 1870. The old city center contains about 300 hotels and 300 pensioni, over 200 palaces, 900 churches, eight of Rome’s major parks, the residence of the President of the Italian Republic, the houses of the Parliament, offices of the city and city government, and many monuments. The old city also contains thousands of workshops, offices, bars, and restaurants. Millions of tourists visit Rome annually, making it one of the most visited cities in the world.
The ancient city within the walls covers about four percent of the modern municipality’s 1,285 square kilometres (496 sq mi). The historic city center is the smallest of Rome’s nineteen administrative zones. The city center is made up of 22 rioni (districts), with one of them, ( Prati), actually lying out of the walled area. Surrounding the center are 35 quartieri urbani (urban sectors), and within the city limits are six large suburbi (suburbs). The belt highway known as Grande Raccordo Anulare (G.R.A.) describes a huge circle around the capital, about six miles (10 km) out from the city center; unlike most Italian highways, the G.R.A. is toll-free. The circular highway ties together the ancient roads that led to Rome in antiquity: the Via Flaminia, Via Aurelia, Via Salaria, Via Tiburtina, Via Casilina and Via Appia. The modern Via Appia connects the city center to a string of towns known as Castelli Romani.
The city of Rome surrounds the Vatican City, the enclave of the Holy See, which is a separate sovereign state. It hosts Saint Peter’s Square with the Saint Peter’s Basilica. The open space before the basilica was redesigned by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, from 1656 to 1667, under the direction of Pope Alexander VII, as a forecourt, designed “so that the greatest number of people could see the Pope give his blessing, either from the middle of the façade of the church or from a window in the Vatican Palace” (Norwich 1975, p. 175). In Vatican City there are also the Vatican Library, Vatican Museums with the Sistine Chapel, the Raphael Rooms and other important works of Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Giotto, and Botticelli.
The most important museums and galleries of Rome include the National Museum of Rome, the Museum of Roman Civilization, the Villa Giulia National Etruscan Museum, the Capitoline Museums, the Borghese Gallery, the Museum of Castel Sant’Angelo, and the National Gallery of Modern Art.
The center of Rome is surrounded by some large green areas and opulent ancient villas, which are the remains of the crowns of villas which encircled the papal city. Most of them were largely destroyed by real estate speculation at the end of the 19th century.
The most important among the surviving ones are:
Villa Borghese, with a large landscape garden in the naturalistic 19th century English style, containing a number of buildings, museums (see Galleria Borghese) and attractions;
Villa Ada, the largest public landscaped park of Rome;
Villa Doria Pamphili, the second largest with an area of 1.8 km²;
Villa Torlonia, a splendid example of Art Nouveau mansion that was the Roman residence of Benito Mussolini;
Villa Albani, commissioned by Alessandro Cardinal Albani to house his collection of antiquities and Roman sculpture, which soon filled the casino that faced the Villa down a series of formal parterres.