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Introduction

Rome (Italian: Roma), the 'Eternal City', is the capital of Italy and of the Lazio (Latium) region. It's the famed city of the Roman Empire, the Seven Hills, La Dolce Vita (sweet life), the Vatican City and Three Coins in the Fountain. Rome, as a millenium-long centre of power, culture and religion, having been the centre of one of the globe's greatest civilizations ever, has exterted a huge influence over the world in its c. 2,500 years of existence.

Rome is a modern and interesting city with a robust heritage; this place has long been famous among travelers. Rome Caput Mundi, Rome the ageless City. A different city around the world because of the entirely opposite styles of art and life that manage to live side by side there: Imperial Rome and Baroque Rome, sophisticated Rome and working-class Rome.

Rome possesses a long and turbulent history. No other city had the attention center of the world for such a long period. The city more loved of the Roman Empire, satisfied with architectural jewelry by her emperors, but also often taken, raided and destroyed. Also fires and earthquakes generated their scars, but each time the eternal city recovered from her injuries.

Rome's history is narrowly related to the history of Europe. Not just the Roman emperors, but also medieval emperors and kings like Charlemagne or Otto I saw Rome as the true seat of power. They confronted the new rulers, the popes for the supreme power. It was the dispute about who was the true representative of God; all was related with the power. Both emperor and pope believed to be true inheritors of the Roman Empire.

The Historic Center of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With wonderful palaces, millenium-old churches and basilicas, grand romantic ruins, opulent monuments, ornate statues and graceful fountains, Rome has an immensely rich historical heritage and cosmopolitan atmosphere, making it one of Europe and the world's most visited, famous, influential and beautiful capitals. Today, also, Rome has a growing nightlife scene, and is also seen as a shopping heaven, being regarded as one of the fashion capitals of the world (some of Italy's oldest jewellery and clothing establishments were founded in the city). So, with so many sights and things to do, Rome can truly be classified a "global city".

It's commented one life is not enough to get to understand Rome. Maybe you'll need about ten, as much as the numerous vagabond cats that also occupy the city, but a week will serve for a first introduction. At each corner of each street has a story to offer. Countless stories together narrate the history of a three thousand year old city. Two weeks may be enough for a hasty tour through most everything; a month would be better. Fortunately, Rome (population 2.900.000) is compact enough to skim the best in three (full) days, and if you have more time we guarantee you will find delightful and fulfilling ways to use it.

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History

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.

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Rome Sightseeing
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Pantheon
The Pantheon is a magnificent ancient temple in Rome that was later converted into the church of Santa Maria ad Martyres. Dating from 125 AD, this is the most complete ancient building in Rome and one of the city's most spectacular sights.

Until the 20th century, the Pantheon was the largest concrete structure in the world. Michelangelo studied its great dome before starting work on the dome of St. Peter's Basilica.

The Pantheon was dedicated to pan theos, "all the gods." When it became a church, it was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and all the martyrs.

The Pantheon is the burial place of several important Italians (including the artist Raphael), and it remains an active church. It is a major tourist destination and a popular place for weddings.

Ancient Rome
The main area for exploring the ruins of ancient Rome is in Rome/Colosseo either side of Via dei Fori Imperiali, which connects the Colosseum and Piazza Venezia. Constructed between 1931 and 1933, at the time of Mussolini, this road destroyed a large area of Renaissance and medieval buildings constructed on top of ruins of the ancient forums and ended forever plans for an archeological park stretching all the way to the Appian Way. Heading towards the Colosseum from Piazza Venezia, you see the Roman Forum on your right and Trajan's Forum and Market on the left. To the right of the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine and the beginning of the Palatine Hill, which will eventually lead you to ruins of the Flavian Palace and a view of the Circus Maximus (see Rome/Aventino-Testaccio). To the left, after the Colosseum is a wide, tree-lined path that climbs through the Colle Oppio park. Underneath this park is the Golden House of Nero (Domus Aurea), an enormous and spectacular underground complex restored and then closed again due to damage caused by heavy rain. Further to the left on the Esquiline Hill are ruins of Trajan's baths.

The Piazzas
The narrow streets frequently broaden out into small or large squares (piazzas), which usually have one or more churches and a fountain or two. Apart from Piazza Navona and Piazza della Rotonda (in front of the Pantheon), take in the nearby Piazza della Minerva, with its unique elephant statue by Bernini and Piazza Colonna with the column of Marcus Aurelius and Palazzo Chigi, meeting place of the Italian Government. On the other side of Corso Vittorio Emanuele are Piazza Farnese with the Palazzo of the same name (now the French Embassy) and two interesting fountains and the flower sellers at Campo dei Fiori, scene of Rome's executions in the old days. All of these squares are a short distance from each other in Old Rome. The enormous Piazza del Popolo in the North Center, which provided an imposing entrance to the city when it represented the northern boundary of Rome, is well worth a visit. A short walk back towards the center brings you to Piazza di Spagna at the foot of the Spanish Steps. Yet another fascinating fountain here. The area was much used as backdrop for the 1953 film Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.

Churches

St. Peter’s Basilica – A huge sanctuary of Christian religion. Its façade is 45 meters high, and its enormous dome is 136 meters. St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world, overlooks the square that carries the same name that was designed by Bernini and which is surrounded by a colonnade. Grandeur and majesty: this is the sensation that one gets walking up Via della Conciliazione towards Piazza San Pietro. One of the most important works of art inside is the “Pietà” sculpture by Michelangelo, that was created between 1498 and 1500.

The Sistine Chapel – This chapel owes its name to Sixtus IV, the Pope who commissioned the building of the chapel at the end of the 14th century. The Chapel was decorated by famous 15th century painters such as Botticelli and il Ghirlandaio. Later, in the 16th century, Michelangelo was called upon to paint all the frescoes on the chapel’s vaulted ceiling: about 1000 square meters. He painted frescoes representing stories from the Bible such as the amazing Universal Judgment, which caused a scandal because of the nudity of about four hundred people in it, and the Creation of Mankind.

San Giovanni in Laterano – This is the Cathedral of Rome, the most important church after St. Peter’s. The first church was built in 314, when the Emperor Constantine gave the land to the Pope. The current building complex is made up of the Church, the Baptistery, Palazzo Lateranense, the Scala Santa and the Hospital of San Giovanni.

San Paolo fuori le mura – This church is in Via Ostiense and was founded in 330. It was only finished, however, in the 5th century. The Church was built on the wishes of Constantine, who wished to commemorate the Deacon Lorenzo, who became a martyr together with Pope Sixtus II in the middle of the 3rd century, with a magnificent tomb.

Santa Maria Maggiore – This church stands on the Esquilino hill and is the first Roman church to be named after the Holy Virgin. Its bell tower is the highest in Rome. There is a story that this was the site where fragments of wood from Jesus’ crib were kept. For this reason, the church was called Santa Maria ad Praesepe for a certain period of time.

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The Vatican Museums – This group of museums is divided into several sections such as the Egyptian Museum, the Ethnological Museum, the Painting Gallery and the Raffaello Rooms to name a few. As well as the ancient artifacts, the Vatican Museums contain hundreds of works of art commissioned and collected by the Popes over the centuries and created by the most famous artists in history. The statue of Laocoonte in the courtyard of Palazzo del Belvedere is not to be missed.

The Capitoline Museums – This museum, founded in 1471, houses findings and works of art that tell the full history of Rome, from the antique sculptures and bas-reliefs portraying the acts of the emperors to the paintings on show in the Picture Gallery.

Galleria Borghese – This is one of the largest collections in the world. The collection was begun in 1600 by the Borghese family; it was plundered by Napoleon at the beginning of the 19th century and then partly recompiled once more and was acquired by the State at the beginning of the 20th century. There are many works of art by painters and sculptors to see: Amor sacro e Amor Profano by Tiziano, la Pietà by Rubens, Davide con la testa di Golia by Caravaggio, Apollo e Dafne, David and Pluto e Prosperina by Bernini.

The Seven Hills of Rome
To the modern visitor, the Seven Hills of Rome can be rather difficult to identify. In the first place generations of buildings constructed on top of each other and the construction of tall buildings in the valleys have tended to make the hills less pronounced than they originally were. Secondly, there are clearly more than seven hills. In Roman days many of these were outside the city boundaries.

The seven hills were first occupied by small settlements and not recognized as a city for some time. Rome came into being as these settlements acted together to drain the marshy valleys between them and turn them into markets and fora. The Roman Forum used to be a swamp.

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Rome Transport
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Rome is an easy place to get to. It’s served by direct flights from across the world and hundreds of European connections. Once you’re in the city, there’s a comprehensive public transport system which makes getting around pretty simple.

Taxi

Rome’s taxi drivers are no better or worse than those in any other city. Some will try to fleece you, others won’t. To minimise the risk, make sure your taxi is licensed (it’ll be white or yellow with the letters SPQR on the front door), and always go with the metered fare, never an arranged price (the set fares to and from the airports are an exception to this rule).

Bus & tram

Rome’s buses and trams are run by ATAC (800 43 17 84; www.atac.roma.it). The main bus station is in front of Stazione Termini on Piazza dei Cinquecento, where there’s an information booth (7.30am-8pm). Other important hubs are at Largo di Torre Argentina, Piazza Venezia and Piazza San Silvestro.

Airlines

Rome is served by most of the world’s major international airlines and by a growing number of low-cost operators. Most airlines have counters in the departure hall at Fiumicino airport (Leonardo da Vinci Airport) and some have ticket offices in the city centre, usually on or around central Via Barberini.

Train

Rome's main railway station is Termini Station which is locked between 00:30 and 04:30. Most long-distance trains passing through Rome between these times will stop at Tiburtina station instead.

Other main stations include Ostiense, Trastevere, Tuscolana, Tiburtina.

Metro

Rome’s metro system is of limited value to visitors, with the two lines, A and B, bypassing much of the centro storico. The two lines traverse the city in an X-shape, crossing at Stazione Termini, the only point at which you can change from one line to the other. Trains run approximately every five to 10 minutes between 5.30am and 11.30pm (one hour later on Saturday). However, until 2008 or 2009, Line A is closing for engineering works at 9pm every night. To replace it there are two temporary bus lines: MA1 from Battistini to Arco di Travertino and MA2 from Viale G Washington to Anagnina.

Bicycle

The centre of Rome doesn’t lend itself to cycling: there are steep hills, treacherous cobbled roads, and the traffic is terrible. Things improve on Sundays when much of the city centre (and Via Appia Antica) is usually closed to traffic.

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Location

 

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