The history of Rome goes back about three thousand years. It is one of the oldest and most important cities in the world. Latin, wich has its origins in Rome, has dominated culture for two thousand years; law, born in Rome, has inspired Western law codes; art and Roman architectural styles have been used as models for centuries in the most advanced countries.
The influence of this city, first at the centre of the Roman Empire, then as the centre of Christianity, has no equal in the history of the Western world.
TOURS ROME / CLASSICAL ROME
PIAZZA NAVONA : Roman athletic games took place in that area still in Republican times. Emperor Nero built an amphitheatre that Domitian transformed into "Circus Agonis" for 30'000 spectators, all in brick and travertine. At the end of the Empire the Circus decay had already begun: in the Middle Ages, tough,games and performances still took place there and in the shadow of half-destroyed arcades stood a shantytown (we would define it like that today) and Christian aedicule, among wich one dedicated to the martyr St.Agnes. In the Middle Ages still, the first palaces were build that belonged to powerful Roman families. They formed the Platea Agona that later on become Piazza Navona. In the second half of the fifteenth century, Sixtus IV levelled the plane and paved the ground with bricks. In the following century Gregory XIII Boncompagni let built two fountains: the one wich is in the south was then called the "Triton" Fountain, later one it took the name of "Moor" Fountain when it was modified by G.L.Bernini. In the middle of the XVII century the Pamphili family (Pope Innocenzo) built a large family palace, following Maderno's plan,in the place of two existing buildings. Francesco Borromini was then charged with the construction of the Collegio Innocenziano and of S.Agnese in Agone Church that was completed by Bernini who also build the large Fountain of the Four Rivers. For centuries the square was seat of fairs, tournaments and performances. On every August weekend all drains were closed, the square was flooded and practically transformed into a huge basin.
PIAZZA DEL POPOLO : This space was not build at the time of the Roman Empire. It was delimited by the Aurelian Wall and the Pincio hill and included some sepulchres. Two of them, having a pyramid form, were designed to mark the beginning of the urban stretch of the Via Flaminia, the one leading to the Capitolium. At the end of the year 1000 a Chapel dedicated to the Virgin was built there, to thank for re-conquered Jerusalem (I Crusade). It was called S.Maria del Popolo because it was build also thanks to the people contribution. In the thirteenth century it was rebuilt a fundamentis and transformed into a real church, and in the following century the building began: a small square, altough arranged in this way, was thoroughly desolated until 1824. It did not even have a paving: in that year the Roman architect Giuseppe Valadier provided for its rearrangement and startet to build two hemicycles delimited by four heads on the larger sides of the funnel. The hemicycles included the S.Maria del Popolo Church with opposite the barracks, wich were intended for the Carabinieris later on in 1870; on the other side were two opposite, very similar buildings, at the beginning of Via del Babuino and Via di Ripetta. Giacomo della Porta's fountain was removed (it stands in Piazza Nicosia today) and replaced with four circular basins fed by as many lions in red porphyry in Egyptian style.
TREVI FOUNTAIN : Maybe it is not the most beautiful, but it is certainly the most spectacular among so called "show" (mostra) fountain of Rome. It is a matter of fact the Aqua Vergin mostra fountain: the name of the water could be due to the fact that it arrived pure and uncontaminated from it sources, or to the divining rod,"virga", that discovered them. The same holds true for the origin of Trevi: this is the way the water began to be called under Nicholas V's papacy (1447-1455) when the Pope, after carrying out the connection works to the springs, built a simple but beatiful fountain (following a drawing by Leon Battista Alberti) in a place called "dello Trejo". From Trejo to Trevi it's a short way. Three centuries afterwords Pope Clemens XII decided to replace it with another monumental one. After a short competition among different architects, Nicola Salvi's project was chosen and works began in 1735 and finished in 1761 under Pope's Clemens XIII papacy. It is twenty meters wide and twenty-six meters high, it has a triumphal arch in the centre made up of four Corinthian columns on wich is based Clemens XII's coat of arms, crowned by a baluster with four statues symbolising the four seasons. In the middle, on a rocky base with cliffs and figures, is the statue of Ocean on a shell-shaped chariot drawn by two sea-horses led by two tritons. The two horses are represented as a calm figure the one and as a rough one the other, just symbolise the state of the sea. Two statues (abundance and salobriousness) are in the lateral niches, while the upper basreliefs represent Agrippa deciding to build the aqueduct and the above mentioned "virgo"showing the source to the soldiers. The big basin with lifted edges, built at the level of the roadway, logically symbolises the sea.
PIAZZA DI SPAGNA : At the beginning of the sixteenth century future Piazza di Spagna was already a fundamental reference point for visitors; starting from here, as a matter of fact, you could almost directly reach Ponte S.Angelo, the entrance to the Vatican citadel and,therefore, St.Peter's Basilica. Already in the seventeenth century it was possible to see urban buildings, in particular on the left of the Pincio hill Vicolo del Bottino could already be noticed, where presently is the entrance of the subway. At the same time Urban VII Barberini requested Pietro Bernini (Gian lorenzo's father) to build the "Barcaccia" fountain; it is decorated with the bees of the Pope family and with french lilies. All this hoped for a renewed friendship between the Pope and France itself, a quite unhappy relationship at the time. The area on wich the Trinita' Church stood, as a matter of fact, had been bought by French Charles VIII in the previous century,who had given it for a present to the Minims from Calabria whose founder,S.Francesco da Paola,had been spiritual support of his father,Louis XI,for a long time of his life.In any case,the Platea della Trinità was divided in two at the beginning of the seventeenth century:in the north the so-called Platea di Francia and in the south the Platea di Spagna.The latter took its name from the fact that the Monaldeschi family had granted the use of its Palace,facing the Gabrielli-Mignanelli Palace,to the Spanish Ambassador at the Pontifical State(it still has the same destination today).With regard to Platea di Francia,at the time of Louis XIV,the Sun King,Cardinal Mazzarino commissioned a series of projects for the arrangement but none of them was successful.Alexander VII Chigi opposed them fiercely probably because,at the centre of the terrace on the stairs,according to all projects,should have stood a large statue of Le Roi Soleil.When the latter died,finally,the project was assigned to arch. Francesco de Santis and the work was completed in 1726. In 1854, subsequent to the proclamation of the Immaculate Conception dogma, a column of Roman Age in cipolin was built, wich had been found in 1777 underneath Campus Martius. The column stood in front of the Spanish Embassy, in the square that was now thoroughly called "di Spagna" and a brass statue of the Virgin was placed on the top. It should be noted that Italian and foreign artists and writers lived in the little houses on the right of the staircase at different times.At no. 26 we should recall Keats (today the house is the seat of Keats Shelley Memorial), while at n. 31 is the Giorgio De Chirico Foundation (he lived there until his death in 1978).
BOCCA DELLA VERITA' : (Mouth of Truth), it is a large stone disk depicting the face of a faun or river god,with its mouth open.It is probably a monumental slab to close a drain, but according to legend, the stone was used to judge people's honesty: who ever told a lie while holding his hand in the mouth would have ended up pulling out only the stump. Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck also fell subject to its mysterious charm in the famous film Roman Holiday.
PIAZZA DEL CAMPIDOGLIO : The square is situated on the Capitoline Hill, wich has always been the privileged seat of divinity and power. Altough it is the lowest and least extensive of the Seven Hills of Rome,in the early 6th century B.C. there stood the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus Capitolinus, by far the most important temple of ancient Rome. Near the present-day church of Santa Maria Ara Coeli was, instead, the Temple of Juno Moneta. It was precisely in the Temple of Juno Moneta, i.e."exhorter, admonisher", that the first mint of Rome was etablished, and the goddesse's epithet later gave rise to the Italian word "moneta" to mean "coin". In 390 B.C.the Gauls, commanded by King Brennus, stormed into Rome, crossing the Capitoline Hill, but the sacred geese of Juno, kept here, started squawking, The Romans awakened by the noise of the animals, were thus able to repel the assailants. During the Middle Ages the summit of the hill, partially abandoned, leading it to be called Monte Caprino after the goats grazing there, was the site of a marketplace. In the market the mesure for wine was the inside of an ancient column drum, while that for wheat, the ruggitella, was the urn of the ashes of the Empress Agrippina. The square, as an actual urbanistic element, was created only starting in 1538, when Pope Paul III entrusted its arrangement to Michelangelo. Michelangelo designed the lovely star-shaped pavement pattern, the facade of Palazzo Senatorio, the seat of the City of Rome since 1143, and the two palaces embracing the square, today the renovated seat of the Capitoline Museums, the oldest museums in the world. The equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, of wich a faithful copy can be seen in the centre of the square and the original is in the museums, managed to pass unharmed trough the Middle Ages, a period when metals were melted down and reused, only thanks to a misunderstanding: the popes, who were its owners until the 15th century, had identified the person dedicated as Constantine, the first Christian emperor. Legend has it that when the schreech-owl between the horse's ears will hoot, the end of the world will arrive. This event seems to be very far off, hoewer, considering that the owl is, in reality, a tuft of the horse's mane !
ST. PETER'S BASILICA : It is certainly the largest temple of Christianity, it literally needs books to describe it thoroughly. Its sizes should be sufficient as an example: internal lenght m. 186 (including the portico it reaches m. 211,50); height of the nave m. 44; lenght of the transept m. 137,50; width of the facade m. 115; diameter of the dome m. 42; height of the dome m. 132,50 (up to the top of the cross). The first basilica with one nave and four aisles, divided by 22 marble columns, was built for Constantine's will in 322 on what appears to have been ascertained as being historically (and archeologicaly) the Apostle's tomb after his crucifixion on the Via Cornelia. After it had gone to rack and ruin, Pope Nicholas V decided to rebuild it and charged Bernardo Rossellino with this task (1542). After the Pope's death works stopped unfortunately, until Julius II della Rovere rose to the papacy and turned to one of the most important architects of the time,Donato Bramante.In order to realize his project (a large Greek cross basilica with a dome and belfry),the latter razed to the ground all that was left of previous buildings and was therefore called by his contemporaries "maestro ruinante".After the Pope's and Bramante's death (within the space of a year)only the four central pillars with the springing arches had been realized,a structure that however conditioned also Raphael's subsequent plan with Latin cross.The sack of Rome and Charles V's invasion slowed further down the works that went on under Baldassarre Peruzzi's direction first and Antonio da Sangallo's the Younger then.It took Paul III Farnese to give new strenght and he commissioned Michelangelo to realize the work (1547).The latter returned to Bramante's original design of a central plan:he intended to realize the largest dome ever seen before and in order to do that he strongly strenghtened the four pillars.It was an extraordinary plan from the static point of view but unfortunately it could not be thoroughly realized by its designer; when Michelangelo died the works had stopped at tambour height. Giacomo della Porta and Domenico Fontana built the large dome and the lantern above the tambour. Paul V Borghese commissioned Giovanni Fontana and his nephew, Carlo Maderno, to complete the basilica, transforming it again into a Latin cross church and adding three spans and the entrance portico. Maderno built also the facade (1612). In any case the dedication took place under the papacy of Urban VIII, in 1626.After Maderno's death, Gian Lorenzo Bernini became first architect of St.Peter's. In 1655 Pope Alexander VII Chigi entrusted him with the project of the new square in front of the basilica. The square was no doubt up to the place of worship it referred to, it was surrounded by a colonnade consisting of 284 columns and 88 pillars with 96 five meters high statues on the attic, that were built by a group of sculptors under Bernini's direction. The square is completed by the big central obelisk (once in the Circus of Nero) and by two fountains, the one on the right by Maderno dating back to 1613 and the one on the left by Bernini of the year 1675. The list of the works contained in the basilica would not justify the title of this series (minimaxima). It is sufficient to mention only some of them, beginning with the doors, the last of them being by Giacomo Manzù; the XIII century statue of blessing Christ, a probable work by Arnolfo di Cambio; the pieta' marble group by Michelangelo; the monument for Clemens XIII by Antonio Canova; Urban VII pulpit and tomb both by Bernini; the funeral monument for Innocent VIII by Pollaiolo; the majestic brass canopy over the papal altar by Bernini...are only some of the artistic treasures contained in the "first" church of the world.
JANICULUM HILL : The promenade of the Janiculum was created starting in 1880 and dedicated to Giuseppe Garibaldi, an equestrian monument whom can be admired in the square carrying his name. Slightly beyond, his corageous companion Anita is also commemorated, while the 80 busts arranged along the avenues portray heroes from Garibaldi's campaigns. From the square, every day at noon, the hour is "announced" with the firing of an Austrian-Hungarian cannon dating from world War I. From the Janiculum, the visitor has the possibility to enjoy one of the most spectacular views over the "Eternal City".
TOURS ROME / HISTORICAL ROME
COLOSSEUM : Architectural wonder of the ancient world and universal symbol of Rome, the Colosseum was referred to by the Romans as "Amphiteatrum Flavium", from the name of the imperial family of the Flavians, who built it. Construction began in 72 AD during the reign of Vespasian and was completed only after eight years of intensive building, by his son Titus in 80 AD. The lavish celebrations for its inauguration included games and combats that went on for 100 days, during wich thousands of wild animals were killed. In order to understand why a structure with the planimetric and architectural features of amphiteatre had not been conceived earlier in the ancient world, we must consider that the passion for this new type of entertainment, gladiatorial combat with wild animals, could be satisfied solely in the period of maximum expansion of the Roman empire. Only after the conquest of the distant provinces of Asia and Africa was it possible for the people of the Latin world to discover the strange, exotic and terrifying aspect of wild beasts. The audience intrigued by their ferocity, dimensions and agility, grew more and more fascinated by this exciting form of entertainment, especially if the animals were confronted by courageous men. At the beginning of the 1st century BC, the growing passion for these shows stimulated Roman architects to conceive an innovative type of public buildings. The central location of the Colosseum was extremely functional at the time, and was made possible by the disastrous fire of 64 AD, during the rule of Nero. After the fire, large spaces became available right in the heart of Rome, allowing the town planners to finally redisign the city centre according to modern criteria. The ideal site to build the Colosseum was the centrally located bed of the great artificial lake of the "Domus Aurea" (stagnum neronis), wich facilitated excavation for the foundation. Building began, according to the plan of an ingenious unknown architect, whose project corresponded perfectly to the function of the structure. Some scholars maintain that the Colosseum held up to 60'000 people who could enter and leave easily and have an equally good view from all sections of seats; including the highest tiers.Facilities and refreshments were also necessary, considering that in warm weather the games went on for entire days at a time. Like every amphiteatre, the Colosseum was equipped with a "Velarium", an awning that shaded the spectators from the heat of the sun. With the rise of Christianity and progressive decline of the Roman Empire, activity in the amphiteatre diminished and in the Middle Ages, the glorious monument found itself at the centre of depopulated city in ruins. From that time, it became the object of constant, extensive plunder at the hands of the barbarian invaders and of the Romans themselves. Following the disastrous earthquake of 1349, a large portion of the walls and of the supporting arches of the exterior collapsed; the blocks of travertine that formed the building frame were removed in large quantities and utilized to reconstruct the buildings that had been destroyed. The Colosseum was completely abandoned, then gradually transformed into a fortress and eventually used as an almost inexhaustible quarry of building materials. Its state of extreme decay led Pope Sixtus V to consider total demolition, but in the end fortunately preferred to include it in the pilgrim route of the Basilicas. Systematic sacking ended only in the 18th century, when Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758) dedicated the Flavian Amphiteatre to the Passion of Christ and erected the cross that rises in the central section, to the side of the arena. Despite all these tragic events, what remains of this Roman architectural marwel allows us to understand the spirit of the famous prophecy spoken by the Venerable Bede, who lived in the 8th century, "As long as the Colosseum stands, so will Rome; when Rome falls, so will the world".
THE ANCIENT VIA APPIA : It was the first and most important of the great roads wich the Romans built. Rightly called "Regina Viarum", or queen of roads, it was constructed towards the end of the 4th century B.C.in order to set up a fast communication between Rome and Capua. The year of birth of the road was 312 B.C., when Appius Claudius held the office of censor in Rome: he was the magistrate who had the road built, giving it its own name. Its planning followed a surprisingly modern approach, wich left the intermediate towns to one side, tough they were linked to it by apposite streets, and aimed straight to the objective. The road thus had to be built overcoming great natural obstacles like the Pontine marshes by means of important engineering works. The first stretch, as far as Terracina, was an extremely long straight line of approximately ninety kilometers in lenght, the last 28 of wich flanked by an artificial canal that allowed one to alternate the carriage or horseback trip with a boat ride. After Terracina the road turned towards Fondi, then passed trough the Itri gorge to slope down to Formia and Minturno. After having passed Sinuessa (today called Mondragone) with another straight stretch it aimed at Casilinum (present-day Capua),on the Volturno river, and from there reached the ancient city of Capua, known today as Santa Maria Capua Vetere. The whole distance was 132 miles, and it was normally covered in a journey lasting five or six days. As a consequence of the further expansion of Rome in the south of Italy, the Appian way was lenghtened several times:at first immediately after 268 B.C., as far as Beneventum, then from there to the Appennines, thence to Venosa and finally on to Taranto.During the second century before Christ, lastly,it was taken as far as Brindisi, gateway to the East. The stretch after Benevento was howewer gradually substituted by an alternative route, a shorter one, wich crossed all Puglia. During the first years of the second century A.D. this was made into a real variant by the Emperor Trajan, who added his name to it. Along the new Appian Trajan way it was possible to get from Rome to Brindisi in 13 or 14 days, covering a total of 365 miles. The Appian way was paved with huge stones called basoli, made of basalt rock and roughly in polygonal in shape. The carriage-way had a standard width of 14 Roman feet (approximately 4,15 metres) wich was sufficient to allow two carriages going in opposite directions to cross. Two hard-packed earth walkways limited by a stone kerb, and at least one and a half metres in width each, flanked by the carriageway. Every 7 or 9 miles (10-13 km) in heavy-traffic traits, and every 10 or 12 miles (14-17 km) in less frequented stretches, there were post-stations along the road to allow for a change of horses and to offer a place of rest and dwelling for travellers. Near the towns the streets were flanked by great villas, and especially by tombs and funerary monuments of various kinds.
ROMAN FORUM : The area stretching from the Capitol to the Appia Antica is without doubt today's largest site of antiquity, an archeological excavation that continues to yield surprises and discoveries about the Rome of 2'500 years ago, an unrivalled combination of history, art and nature in the shade of the Seven Hills. Some historians believe that the name Forum comes from the latin ferendo (bringing) because it was the place where disputes were solved and business was conducted. According to others its origin is fores, in the sense of enclosure. It is the oldest of the Forums and is said to have been built by the legendary founder of Rome, Romulus. Originally, it was a marshy area at the bottom of a valley used as cemetery, later drained when the Cloaca Maxima was built. Over the years important monuments were gradually added to the Forum, wich became the centre of the city's social life.
PANTHEON : It is the building of ancient Rome wich has been preserved best down to the present day, and is a true masterpiece of architecture.The name of Agrippa, wich can still be read on the facade, remembers the son-in-law of the emperor Augustus, who first built this temple dedicated "to all the gods". The present-day Pantheon,however, completely different from the original, is the work of the Emperor Hadrian, who rebuilt the monument in the early 2nd century, keeping only the ancient inscription out of modesty. In the 6th century the Byzantine emperor Phocas gave the building to Pope Boniface IV, who turned it into the present church of Sancta Maria ad Martyres. For the solemn consecration of the church, the pope had 28 cartloads of bones and martyrs brought from the catacombs, putting them underneath the altar. During the ceremony, as the notes of the Gloria were stuck, the Roman saw swarms of devils rise up and fly out of the hole of the dome. The most amazing characteristic of the building is the exceptional covering dome. It is the largest dome ever created out of concrete: it measures 43,30 m. in diameter and is greater than that of St.Peter's! The entire building is conceived as a perfect geometric figure:a sphere inserted in a cylinder. The diameter of the sphere coincides with height of the cylinder. The dome, created with different materials, increasingly lighter as they go upwards, ends with a large open "eye", of a diameter of 9 metres. Through this opening enters the rain, wich is conveyed into the drains visible on the pavement. The Pantheon today is the sanctuary of the kings of Italy: in fact it holds the tombs of Victor Emmanuel II, Humbert I and Margherita di Savoia. In an ancient sarcophagus there is also the tomb of great painter Raffaello Sanzio (Raphael).
SAINT SEBASTIAN’S CATACOMBS : Originally the name of the cemetery was catacumbas, that means near the subsidence, because of the quarry of pozzolana there present and with time it took the name of Saint Sebastian, the martyr here buried. The loculus both of pagan and Christian people. Around the II century, the area of the quarries was filled up to raise three mausoleums dedicated to Clodius Hermes, to the Innocentories and to the Ascia and where some Christians were buried there in the first half of the III century. The area was again filled up to realize the “triclia”: an arcade delimited by a wall on wich hundreds of Graffiti with invocations to Peter and Paul have been decodified. The two saints were venerated here around 250 as it was not possible to venerate them on their tombs in the Vatican City or on the Ostiense Road. For this reason the monument became famous as memory Apostolorum. Later, on the same site, the Emperor Costantino (306-337) raised up a magnificient circular basilica.
SAINT CALLISTO’S CATACOMBS : The monumental complex, located between the II and III mile of the Appian Way, takes its name from the martyr Pope Saint Callisto. When he was a deacon Pope Zefrino made him responsible of the administration of the cemetery, wich was considered the most important graveyard of the Roman Church in fact, many Popes and martyrs were buried there. The monument is made up of”on-ground” graveyards, with annexed hypogeal, dated II century AC at the beginning independent and then linked to each other from a wide and huge community catacomb area. Only two buildings of the on-ground structures are still visible: the eastern and western “tricoria”. The latter probably hosted the tomb of Pope Zefirino and one of the martyr Tarcisio.