|Situated on the River
Tiber, between the Apennine Mountains
and the Tyrrhenian Sea, the ‘Eternal
City’ of Rome (Roma) was once the
administrative centre of this mighty Roman Empire, governing a vast
region that stretched from Britain to Mesopotamia.
Today, it remains the seat of the Italian government and home to
numerous ministerial offices but is superseded by Milan, in the
north, for finance and business.
The legendary beginnings of Rome are related in
the tale of Romulus and Remus.
Princess Rhea Silvia, ravished by Mars,
gave birth to the twins and abandoned them to fate. The River Tiber
carried them down to the Palatine Hill, where a
she-wolf mothered the babes until their discovery by the shepherd.
Romulus later killed Remus, before going on to found Rome in the
marshy lowlands of seven hills. The anniversary of Rome’s
foundation 21 April 753BC, is now marked by a public holiday. The
historians’ version is no less astonishing. It traces the
rise of the city from unimportant pastoral settlement and the earliest
remains date back to the ninth century BC ruled over by a string
of emperors. Rome saw a second period of development during the
15th-century Renaissance, when the Papacy took permanent residence
in the city. Although Rome’s power has since waned, the city
remains the essence of European civilisation.
Ruins dating from Rome’s glory days lie within an area known
as Roma Antica (Ancient Rome) and include the monumental
Colosseum and the Foro Romano
(Roman Forum), a crumbling legacy of pagan temples, broken marble
and triumphal arches.
Buildings from the Renaissance period are concentrated
within the centro storico (the historic centre), situated between
Via del Corso and the Tevere (River
Tiber). Here, a labyrinth of narrow, cobbled side streets opens
out onto magnificent piazzas presided over by Baroque churches,
regal palaces and exquisite fountains.
The romantic Piazza Navona with Bernini’s
Fountain of the Four Rivers, Piazza di Spagna
and the sweeping Spanish Steps, and the Trevi
Fountain immortalised by Fellini’s La Dolce
Vita (1959), all lie within walking distance of each other.
Modern life continues amid this theatre of breathtaking monuments,
as thousands of years of history are animated by more recent innovations,
sophisticated boutiques, rowdy pizzerias and a merry-go-round of
cars, and mopeds and buses.
Across the river and to the west, lies the Vatican State
which is home to the Pope and spiritual centre
of the Roman Catholic Church. South of the Vatican,
one finds the bohemian quarter of Trastevere, packed
with trattorie and small wine bars. Further south still is the Testaccio
district, renowned for nightclubs and live music.
is a major source of income and tourists come and go during the
year. The city is blessed with a warm Mediterranean climate, making
Rome particularly pleasant to visit during the autumn and spring.
In August, it is hot and sticky and when most of the locals head
for the coast. Many shops and bars close for the summer break and
the streets are quite empty save for visitors. Until recently, Rome
was frequently criticised for being a chaotic and poorly maintained.
However, celebrations for the year 2000 prompted the completion
of a massive urban renewal scheme. Tons of scaffolding were finally
dismantled to reveal beautifully restored facades, cleverly revamped
museums and a rationalised public transport system. Today the citizens
and tourists alike continue to benefit from the improvements carried
out for the Jubilee celebrations during the Jubilee, when the Eternal
City celebrated the fact that the millennium was 2000 years since
the birth of Christ.