Rome travel guide

Rome in Italy

Rome is the capital of Italy and the capital of the Lazio region. Located in the centre of Italy, Rome has a population of more than two million people and it is one of the most spatially extended European capitals. The core of the city has been built on seven hills: Palatine, Aventine, Capitoline, Quirinal, Viminal, Esquiline and Caelian. Rome was the centre of one of the most important ancient civilisations that influenced the culture and society of Europe in the following centuries. In 1980 the historical city centre was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Rome is also the heart of Catholicism and the only city in the world to host a country within its boundaries: the Vatican City. For this reason it is sometimes defined as the capital of two countries.
 

History

The origins

According to the legend, after the destruction of Troy, Aeneas, together with his father and his young son Ascanius landed on the region of Lazio and married Lavinia, the daughter of the local king. One of his descendents was Rhea Silvia, the Vestal Virgin (Vestal Virgins were priestesses of goddess Vesta, the equivalent of the Greek goddess Hestia) that had two twins from the god Mars. While she was imprisoned for succession reasons, her twin sons Romulus and Remus were thrown in the river Tiber. Fortunately, the infants were saved and nourished by a female wolf until a shepherd took them as his sons. When they became adults, they restored their grandfather Numitor as King of Albalonga and they decided to establish a new city. After the fight of the two brothers and the death of Remus, this city took the name "Rome". The seven kings of Rome seem to be mythological figures who reigned until 509 BC. They are Romulus, Numa Pompilius, Tullus Hostilius, Ancus Marcius, Tarquinius Priscus, Servius Tullius and Tarquinius Superbus. The last king of Rome was expelled from the city because his son raped a noble woman who committed suicide after the incident. The rebellion against the king was led by Collatinus, husband of the abused woman, and Brutus, who later became the first of the consuls.


The Roman Republic

This period saw a huge growth in the construction industry when many roads, bridges over the river Tiber and aqueducts were built. This was a very difficult period in the history of Rome because of the internal fights between nobles and people, the fights with the neighbouring towns and the first invasion of the Gauls. Since the defeat of the Gauls and the treaties with the neighbouring Etruscan towns, Rome could start its expansion in the south after 345 BC. Rome's main enemy here were the fierce Samnites, who were eventually defeated at the end of the three Samnite Wars (343-341, 326-304 and 298-290 BC), and Taranto, a Greek colony, aided by Pyrrhus, the king of Epirus. Since then, Rome became the main city in the Italian peninsula. The islands of Sicily and Sardinia were appended to the Roman dominion, after the three Punic Wars (264-237, 219-202 and 149-146 BC), during which Rome invaded and finally destroyed Carthage. Spain followed right after, as well as Greece after the four Macedonian Wars (214-205, 200-197, 171-168 and 150-148 BC), the Illyrians (three Illyrian Wars 229-228, 220-219 and 169-167) and the Gauls (219-175 BC) in the northern part of the Italian peninsula. In the period from 133 until 121 BC, Rome set foot in Asia conquering Pergamon and appended it in the Roman provinces as well as the Narborensian Gaul (nowadays Provence). In the following years a new man appeared on the political scene: Gaius Marius. After his successful campaign in Spain, Marius was appointed to lead the Roman troops in the Jugurthine (111-104 BC) and the Cimbrian wars (113-101 BC), applying a new structure within the Roman legions. The first thirty years of the last century BC were characterised by serious internal problems that threatened the existence of the Republic. The allies of Rome felt bitter since they had fought by the side of the Romans, and yet they were not Roman citizens, sharing very little of the rewards. The Social War (91-88 BC) between Rome and its allies, and the Servile Wars were very hard conflicts that forced the Romans to change their policy with regards to their allies and subjects. Although the Roman allies lost the war, they finally got what they wanted, and by the beginning of the first century AD practically all free inhabitants of Italy became Roman citizens. The year after the end of the Social War, found Rome expanding in Eastern Europe and fighting against Mithridates, king of Pontus in the three Mithridatic wars (88-84, 83-81 and 75-73 BC), which ended with the destruction of the Kingdom of Pontus and the affirmation of the Roman power in Anatolia. However, the growth of the Roman power created new demands that the Republican system, with its annually elected magistrates and its sharing of power, could not manage. The dictatorship of Sulla, who was the leader of the "optimates" faction as opposed to the "populares" of Marius, the extraordinary commands of Pompey Magnus, and the first triumvirate among Pompey, Cesar and Crassus, made this clear. In January 49 BC, Julius Cesar, the conqueror of Gaul, marched his legions against Rome, vanquishing his opponents and ruling Rome for four years. After his assassination in 44 BC, the Senate tried to restore the Republic, but its champions were defeated by Caesar's lieutenant, Marcus Antonius, and Caesar's nephew, Octavianus. They fought each other from 44 until 31 BC and finally, in the Greek promontory of Actium, Octavian won and became the sole Ruler of Rome and the Roman Empire.


The Roman Empire

At the end of the Republican period, Rome was the indisputable power in the Mediterranean region with holdings in Europe, Asia and Africa. Since the reign of Octavianus, who became Augustus, Rome went through a period of stability and prosperity, called the "Pax Romana" (Roman Peace). In the third century the Empire underwent a period of crisis that ended with the reign of Diocletian. He imposed the so-called "tetrarchy", splitting the Empire (also known as the Greco-Roman world) into four parts that soon were reduced to two: the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire. In the eastern part, Constantine became emperor, transferred the capital of the empire from Milan to Byzantium, which he named Constantinople, and converted to Christianity. The Western Empire began to disintegrate in the late fourth century due to invasions. In AD 476 the Western Empire collapsed, when Romulus Augustulus was forced to abdicate to the Germanic warlord Odoacer. The empire in the East —known as the Byzantine Empire— had a multi-ethnic character during most of its history and remained attached to its Romano-Hellenistic traditions, it slowly became identified by its western and northern contemporaries with its increasingly predominant Greek element (Greek became the Empire's official language from AD 620 until its fall). To distinguish it from the prestige of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire was occasionally referred to using the term "Empire of the Greeks" (Latin: Imperium Graecorum) and the Byzantine Emperor was referred to as the Imperator Graecorum (Emperor of the Greeks). After a long flourishing period, the Byzantine Empire started to gradually decline and eventually ended in 1453 with the death of Constantine XI and the fall of Constantinople to the Turks.


Byzantine Rome

After the fall of the Western Empire, the general of the Eastern Empire, Belisarius, and later on Narses, captured Rome from the Ostrogoths in 552, ending the so-called Gothic Wars which had devastated much of Italy. In the meantime, the Byzantines moved their capital to Ravenna leaving Rome to the growing influence of the Pope. In 568 the first invasion of the Lombard region started, conquering a large part of the territory, until Pope Gregory the Great took the initiative of a peace treaty in 598. Despite the tension in the following years, Rome and the Pope never stopped their support to the Byzantines until 739, when the Lombard king Liutprand allied with the Byzantines against the Pope. The latter, then, asked Charles Martel King of the Franks for help. Since Liutprand's successor, Aistulf, moved to Rome after having conquered Ravenna, the Pope went to France to get the help of Pippin the Younger, who came to Rome with the Pope and defeated Aistulf in 754. The final Lombard attack came in 771, when king Desiderius attacked Rome and was stopped by Charlemagne, who definitely destroyed the Lombard Kingdom in 773.


The Holy Roman Empire

On the 25th December AD 800, Charlemagne was crowned Roman Emperor in St. Peter by Pope Leo III Holy. This act posed an end to the bond of Rome with Constantinople. Charlemagne conquered many of today's Christian countries, but after his death, the lack of a similar figure brought to the desegregation of the Carolingian Empire. In the ninth century the Saracens attacked Rome and sacked St. Peter, which obliged Pope Leo IV to start the construction of majestic defensive walls. Because of the fights among rival families for the rule of Rome, the new Pope, John XII, asked the Ottonian Emperors for protection, crowing in Rome Otto I in 962. Since the Pope wanted to concentrate both the temporal and the spiritual power in his figure, the Roman Emperor Henry IV sieged the Pope in Castel Sant'Angelo. He was later set free by Robert Guiscard in 1084. The fight against the temporal power of the Church did not stop, bringing to Italy Frederick Barbarossa, who wanted to oppose the Pope. The most influential families of Rome alternated in the Senate of the city, which was restored, and continued their opposition to the Pope in particular, since the relationships with the emperor broke. In 1263, the Pope appointed Charles of Anjou as Senator, who was opposing the Hohenstaufen dynasty. From Pope Clement V, the Papacy moved to Avignon, entering a period of decline for Rome, whose economy depended on the Papacy and the pilgrimages. When the Pope came back to Rome in 1377, he found a weakened city in a period characterised by strong instability with fights between the Commune of Rome and the Pope and the Western Schism between Roman and French popes, which finally ended with the election of Martin V as Pope.


Modern history

After his election, the new Pope settled in Rome in 1420, and started new works for the city. He wanted Rome to be great like it was in the past and called all the best artists and architects, such as Michelangelo (who painted in this period part of the Sistine Chapel). The immense amount of funds needed for the works made necessary the sale of the indulgences, bringing to issues in Germany. Martin Luther guided this rebellion against the Church, which ended in the Protestant Reformation. Emperor Charles V tried to stop the rebellion but, known that the Pope was plotting against him, he sent the mercenaries Landsknechte, who plundered Rome in1527. In 1600, Rome was the capital of Baroque and many artists came here from around the world. During the Napoleonic occupation, Rome was proclaimed "second city of the French empire" and, after his domination, the Roman Republic was established in 1849. The unification process of Italy under the Savoy rule excluded the city since the Pope called Napoleon III for help. When in 1870 the king of France started his war against Prussia, he was no more able to protect the Church State and the Italian army could enter Rome, which was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy, becoming the capital of the reign.
 

Tourism

Talking about Rome in only a few words is very difficult. Every road and building tells the visitor about its ancient history: the capital of the Roman Empire, the Rome of the gladiators and the devastated Rome. Nowadays, Rome is also a very busy city, with 24/7 open shops, traffic jams, coming and going of people and tourists. Anyhow, Rome is always one of the most beautiful cities in the world with its particular atmosphere.

Here, only the must-see things are listed so that you can breathe a little of its past and its charm.

  • The Colosseum (or Coliseum): According to an epigram attributed to the English monk, Venerable Bede, "when the Colosseum will fall, also Rome will fall together with the entire world". This immense arena was inaugurated as the Flavian Amphitheatre and only afterwards it was called the Colosseum, probably owing to the colossal statue of Emperor Nero located nearby. The monument was started by the Emperor Vespasian in 72 AD and was completed eight years after. Here, the Romans could attend the gladiators' fights, as well as gladiators versus fierce beasts or naval battles. This is nowadays one of the most important monuments in Rome that witnesses the greatness of the city in the ancient years. Near to the Colosseum, one can find some people dressed like Centurions (professional officers of the Roman army, after the Marian reforms of 107 BC). The visitor can talk to them and have their picture taken next to them.
  • The Arch of Constantine: situated just behind the Colosseum, this majestic arch was the last greatest monument to have been erected in Rome before the fight of the Byzantines. It commemorates the victory of Constantine over Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312. It is the best preserved Roman arch and features three archways and beautiful carved decorations.
  • The Roman Pantheon: According to the legend, this majestic monument was built in the exact point where Romulus, at his death, was taken to the sky by an eagle. This temple, which is dedicated to all pagan gods, was built in 118–125 BC by the Emperor Hadrian. In 609 it was converted into a Christian Basilica and called Saint Mary ad Martyres, and, since 1870, it hosts the tombs of the kings of Italy. The main characteristic of the monument is its hemispheric cupola (a small, usually dome-like, structure resting on top of a building that serves as a lookout and admits light and air inside the building) with 43.3 metres diameter (the cupola is also 43.3 metres distant from the floor) and with a opening at its very top called the oculus (the eye). From this opening both light and rain can enter. The rain quickly flows in the central and lateral holes. This opening creates the stack effect, when the warm air goes up generating a breaking of water drops.
  • The Fountain of Trevi (la fontana di Trevi): This famous fountain was designed by Nicolò Salvi and is supplied with water from the Augustan aqueduct. This majestic work is based on sea motifs and fuses together the Baroque and the Classic style. Furthermore, in the right side of the fountain one can see a pot in travertine (a type of limestone deposited by mineral springs, commonly used in Italy as building material), called the Asso di Coppe (meaning the Ace of Cups card of the deck), which was put there by the architect to tease a barber who used to criticise his work.
  • Navona Square: This is one of the most appreciated places in Rome, where one can rest sitting outside and admire the Baroque sculptures all around. It is located now at the very spot of the ancient Stadium of Domitian, which hosted the athletic competitions in the Roman period. Until the nineteenth century, in August, the square was inundated to offer some refreshment to the Romans. The main attraction here is the Fountain of the Four Rivers (i.e. the river Ganges, the Nile, the Danube and the Rio de la Plata), which are represented by four giants located on a pyramidal rock from where a Roman obelisk rises. In front of the fountain one can see the church of Saint Mary in Agone and the Moor Fountain. The square is populated by tourists during daytime and by young people in the night. During the Christmas period the square hosts an open Christmas market with artisanal works.
  • The Vatican Museums: The complex of the Vatican Museums includes thirteen museums and it was born from the collection or commission of the Popes. The greatest treasures are represented by the works of Greek and Roman times, the Egyptian mummies and the Etruscan art masterpieces. Its Gallery gathers paintings of the period between the twelfth and the nineteenth century with works by Raphael, Caravaggio, and Leonardo da Vinci. The museums include also frescoed rooms, such as the Borgia Apartment by Pinturicchio painted in 1490, the rooms frescoed by Raphael and the famous Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo.
  • Trastevere: It is one of the most typical neighbourhoods in Rome with its streets paved with cobblestones and its medieval houses characterised by Giulietta balconies and walls covered by climbing plants. During the imperial period this was the residential area of the nobles; in the Middle Ages it was a labyrinth of dirty alleys and now it is one of the most popular places in Rome.
  • St. Peter's Basilica: With its cupola built by Michelangelo and its monumental facade, St. Peter's Basilica dominates St. Peter's Square with the famous colonnade designed by Bernini. This Basilica is the hearth of the Roman Catholic Church and, according to the tradition, it is the burial site of St. Peter, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus and also the first Bishop of Rome. It is believed that St. Peter's tomb is located just below the altar and for this reason many Popes have been buried at St. Peter's Basilica since the Early Christian period. On this very site, Constantine ordered the construction of a church in AD 313, which has been replaced by the modern basilica in 1626 (the works started in 1506). Besides Donato Bramante, the architect of the church, Michelangelo, Giacomo della Porta and Bernini are few of the artists that took part in the building of the so-called "greatest of all the churches of Christendom". In fact, the most important artists of the Roman Renaissance and Baroque left here great masterpieces, such as "The Pietà" by Michelangelo, the "Monument to Pope Urban VIII" with its baldaquin (Italian: baldacchino) and "The Throne of St Peter" by Bernini.
  • The Roman Forum: it was the centre of the Roman public life, including elections, public speeches, trials and it was the core of all commercial affairs. Many of the oldest and most important structures of the ancient city were located on or near the Forum. The Roman kingdom's earliest shrines and temples were located on the south-eastern edge. These included the ancient former royal residence, the Regia (eighth century BC), the Temple of Vesta (seventh century BC), with the surrounding complex of the Vestal Virgins. Other archaic shrines can be found in the northwest area, such as the Umbilicus urbis (the symbolic centre of the city from which all distances were measured) and the Vulcanal (Shrine of Vulcan), developed into the Comitium (assembly area). The Senate House, government offices, tribunals, temples, memorials and statues were located there together with the Trajan's forum and the Basilica Ulpia to the north. During the reign of Constantine the construction of the Basilica of Maxentium (AD 312) signed the moment of the maximum expansion of the Forum.
  • The Altar of Fatherland: The Altare della Patria, as it is called in Italian, also known as the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II (National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II) or "il Vittoriano" is a monument built in honour of Victor Emanuel II, first king of unified Italy. The monument is built with marble and features stairways, Corinthian-style columns, the equestrian statue of Victor Emanuel II and two statues of the goddess Victory riding two quadrigas (chariots drawn by four horses). The monument holds the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from the First World War (WWI), emblem of all the Italian soldiers died in all the wars.
  • The Circus Maximus: the Circus Maximus was a Roman chariot racing stadium and a sport venue. It was located in the valley formed by the Palatine and Aventine hills and was, together with the Colosseum, the most impressive structure in Rome. It seems that the last competitions took place in AD 549.
  • Castel Sant'Angelo: This castle, built on one side of the river Tiber in the second century, was used as a mausoleum by Emperor Hadrian. During the Middle Ages, the castle became a fortress and was connected to the Vatican by a secret passage, used by the Popes to escape the intruders. From the fourteenth century it became papal residence and in the nineteenth century a prison, barracks and finally a museum. Nowadays, the great building hosts contemporary art exhibitions.
  • The Baths of Caracalla: they represent one of the biggest and better preserved thermal complexes of the ancient times. Completed and inaugurated in 216, under the reign of Caracalla, the complex covered almost ten hectares of land, including also libraries, shops, gardens and sport facilities. Listed as one of the seven wonders of Rome by ancient historians, the baths survive nowadays into some remains whose grandiosity we can only imagine. The complex was abandoned after the sixth century after the siege of Rome by the Goths.  
     

Shopping & going out

Besides art and history, in Rome the visitor can find also fashion and glamour. Walking between Via del Corso and Via del Babuino and crossing Via dei Condotti and the area of Campo Marzio, the visitor can find the main Italian and international fashion brands. In Rome, one can also find the traditional markets where one can look for particular clothes and objects. The main market is definitely the market of Porta Portese (it takes place only on Sunday from 6.00 until 14.00), where one can find literally anything. For the art and antiquities lovers, the right place to go is the area surrounding Via Giulia.

Furthermore, Rome offers many nightlife places, which satisfy any kind of expectation. If one is looking for the typical place that locals like, one can go to Campo dei Fiori with its pubs and small bars open until late. The students mostly gather together in the area of San Lorenzo. During summer, one can also move to Ostia, a close-by seaside town, with its bars and discos at the beach.
 

Gastronomy

The most famous and typical Roman dish is definitely the bucatini all'amatriciana, which is composed by pasta (in particular, bucatini is thick spaghetti-like pasta with a hole running through the centre), tomato sauce, lard and pecorino cheese. It seems that the original recipe of this dish was born in Amatrice, a town in Lazio and was the shepherds' dish. Other typical meals are the "spaghetti alla carbonara" and the "abbacchio alla romana" (month-old lamb cooked with garlic, oil, cubes of ham and spices and served with roasted potatoes). Furthermore, other typical dishes are the "coda alla vaccinara" (ox tail cooked with large amounts of vegetables, tomatoes, ham, pancetta and aromatic herbs) and the porchetta (a savoury, greasy and moist boneless pork roast). Finally, in the dessert section, it is worth mentioning the maritozzo with cream, which is a soft piece of sweet bread, with pine nuts, raisins and candied orange peel, cut into halves and filled with whipped cream.

 

Map of Rome with hotels

The blue pins with the letter H indicate the location of various hotels in Rome. Click on the blue pin for more information about a specific hotel.