Located in southern Italy, Rome was built 2,700 years ago on seven hills—the Capitoline, Quirinal, Viminal, Esquiline, and Palatine. After a kingless period, it gained great power and wealth under the Roman Empire.
By the seventeenth century, Roman wealth and excess fueled criticism by reformed Protestants like Physicist Galileo. Roman architecture and artists influenced Renaissance and Baroque styles worldwide.
The Seven Hills
The Seven Hills (Latin: Septem colles/montes Romae) lying east of the Tiber form Rome’s geographical heart, located within its ancient walls. Various legends and histories are linked to each hill, as well as forthcoming moments of importance and sway in the history of Rome.
The first of the seven hills, and probably the most famous of them all is Palatine Hill, where legend has it that Romulus and Remus were suckled by a she-wolf. From this hill they formed a new society that eventually became known as Rome.
During the Republican period this was where rich Romans lived, but by the Imperial era it was the main palace for the emperor. Today this area is home to the Capitoline Museums. With its precise design it is one of the most beautiful areas in the city.
The Colosseum was the centrepiece of Vespasian’s vast arena complex and opened with a bang in AD 80. It was designed to host a wide variety of events, including gladiatorial games and, a particularly popular form of entertainment, animal hunts and battles (venatio).
Due to the building’s elliptical shape, the audience could see the action from any seat. It was possible to seat up to fifty thousand people, who were seated according to their social ranking and were protected from the sun by 240 wooden masts called vomitoria.
It was an ambitious project that involved draining a huge manmade lake and creating the Colosseum on top. Vespasian’s engineers also turned the lake into a series of canals that fed a continuous flow of water to sewage below.
The perfect weather and stunning landscapes of Rome beckon many people into the city parks to stroll. The park at Villa Doria Pamphilj is especially beautiful with a wide variety of plants, statues, and fountains.
Throughout the centuries the Forum developed, progressed and expanded as the needs of Rome’s growing population demanded more space. Emperors added statues, arches and basilicas to the area.
In the early days of the Republic Julius Caesar became a national hero after his assassination, and it was here that Octavius built the Temple of Caesar to honour his adoptive father. The Arch of Titus was also a celebration monument built by the emperor Domitian to honour his brother Titus’s military victories over the uprisings in Judea in 81 AD.
The Pantheon was built in 27 BCE and completed in 25 BCE by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, a Roman general who was a close collaborator of the Emperor Augustus. A Latin inscription on the frieze identifies Agrippa as its patron: “Marcus Agrippa L[ucii] F[ilius] Co[nsul] Tertium Fecit.”
The structure is a massive domed space consisting of a portico with granite columns and a circular rotunda. At its apse is an opening (or oculus) in the dome that allows light—and sometimes rain—to enter. The building is one of the best-preserved of all Roman monuments. It has the distinction of being the only ancient building in Rome to survive intact from antiquity to the present day.
Among Rome’s most spectacular public squares, Piazza Navona is an elegant showcase of showy fountains and Baroque palazzi. The fountains are especially impressive by day and night, the latter when they are illuminated.
The centerpiece is Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers), a melange of Christianity’s most important rivers and crowned by an obelisk. It’s one of the city’s most famous fountains and a must-see.
Visitors have long had the tradition of tossing a coin into the fountain to ensure a return visit to Rome. It is also used to raise money for Caritas, a Roman Catholic charity that helps feed the city’s low-income residents. This is a worthy cause and the money is collected by volunteers.