Rome, historic city and capital of Roma provincia (province), of Lazio regione (region), and of the country of Italy. Rome is located in the central portion of the Italian peninsula, on the Tiber River about 15 miles (24 km) inland from the Tyrrhenian Sea. Once the capital of an ancient republic and empire whose armies and polity defined the Western world in antiquity and left seemingly indelible imprints thereafter, the spiritual and physical seat of the Roman Catholic Church, and the site of major pinnacles of artistic and intellectual achievement, Rome is the Eternal City, remaining today a political capital, a religious centre, and a memorial to the creative imagination of the past.
Character of the city
For well over a millennium, Rome controlled the destiny of all civilization known to Europe, but then it fell into dissolution and disrepair. Physically mutilated, economically paralyzed, politically senile, and militarily impotent by the late Middle Ages, Rome nevertheless remained a world power—as an idea. The force of Rome the lawgiver, teacher, and builder continued to radiate throughout Europe. Although the situation of the popes from the 6th to the 15th century was often precarious, Rome knew glory as the fountainhead of Christianity and eventually won back its power and wealth and reestablished itself as a place of beauty, a source of learning, and a capital of the arts. Rome’s contemporary history reflects the long-standing tension between the spiritual power of the papacy and the political power of the Italian state capital. Rome was the last city-state to become part of a unified Italy, and it did so only under duress, after the invasion of Italian troops in 1870. The pope took refuge in the Vatican thereafter. Rome was made the capital of Italy (not without protests from Florence, which had been the capital since 1865), and the new state filled the city with ministries and barracks. Yet the Catholic church continued to reject Italian authority until a compromise was reached with Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in 1929, when both Italy and Vatican City recognized the sovereignty of the other. Mussolini, meanwhile, created a cult of personality that challenged that of the pope himself, and his Fascist Party tried to re-create the glories of Rome’s imperial past through a massive public works program. Since Mussolini’s fall and the traumas of World War II, when the city was occupied by Germans, politics have continued to dominate Rome’s agenda—although regionalism began, in the 1980s, to devolve some political power away from the capital. Lagging behind Milan and Turin economically, Rome has maintained a peripheral place within the Italian and European economies. It also has been plagued with perennial housing shortages and traffic congestion. However, the late 20th and early 21st centuries brought increased efforts to resolve Rome’s infrastructural problems and to foster a Roman cultural revival.
Rome’s hot, dry summer days, with high temperatures often above 75 °F (24 °C), are frequently cooled in the afternoons by the ponentino, a west wind that rises from the Tyrrhenian Sea. The city receives roughly 30 inches (750 mm) of precipitation annually; spring and autumn are the rainiest seasons. Frosts and occasional light snowfalls punctuate the otherwise mild winters, when high temperatures average just above 50 °F (10 °C). The tramontana, a cold, dry wind from the north, frequents the city in the winter. The ancient centre of Rome is divided into 22 rioni (districts), the names of most dating from Classical times, while surrounding it are 35 quartieri urbani (urban sectors) that began to be officially absorbed into the municipality after 1911. Within the city limits on the western and northwestern fringes are six large suburbi (suburbs). About 6 miles (10 km) out from the centre of the city, a belt highway describes a huge circle around the capital, tying together the antique viae (roads)—among them the Via Appia (known in English as the Appian Way), the Via Aurelia, and the Via Flaminia—that led to ancient Rome. Masses of modern apartment buildings rise in the districts outside the centre, where, by contrast, contemporary construction is less conspicuous.
Also called Flavian Amphitheatre, giant amphitheatre built in Rome under the Flavian emperors. Construction of the Colosseum was begun sometime between 70 and 72 CE during the reign of Vespasian. It is located just east of the Palatine Hill, on the grounds of what was Nero’s Golden House. The artificial lake that was the centrepiece of that palace complex was drained, and the Colosseum was sited there, a decision that was as much symbolic as it was practical. Vespasian, whose path to the throne had relatively humble beginnings, chose to replace the tyrannical emperor’s private lake with a public amphitheatre that could host tens of thousands of Romans. The structure was officially dedicated in 80 CE by Titus in a ceremony that included 100 days of games. Later, in 82 CE, Domitian completed the work by adding the uppermost story. Unlike earlier amphitheatres, which were nearly all dug into convenient hillsides for extra support, the Colosseum is a freestanding structure of stone and concrete, using a complex system of barrel vaults and groin vaults and measuring 620 by 513 feet (189 by 156 metres) overall. Three of the arena’s stories are encircled by arcades framed on the exterior by engaged columns in the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian orders; the structure’s rising arrangement of columns became the basis of the Renaissance codification known as the assemblage of orders. The main structural framework and facade are travertine, the secondary walls are volcanic tufa, and the inner bowl and the arcade vaults are concrete. The amphitheatre seated some 50,000 spectators, who were shielded from the sun by a massive retractable velarium (awning). Supporting masts extended from corbels built into the Colosseum’s top, or attic, story, and hundreds of Roman sailors were required to manipulate the rigging that extended and retracted the velarium. The Colosseum was the scene of thousands of hand-to-hand combats between gladiators, of contests between men and animals, and of many larger combats, including mock naval engagements. However, it is uncertain whether the arena was the site of the martyrdom of early Christians. In medieval times, the Colosseum was used as a church, then as a fortress by two prominent Roman families, the Frangipane and the Annibaldi. The Colosseum was damaged by lightning and earthquakes and, even more severely, by vandalism and pollution. All the marble seats and decorative materials disappeared, as the site was treated as little more than a quarry for more than 1,000 years. Preservation of the Colosseum began in earnest in the 19th century, with notable efforts led by Pius VIII, and a restoration project was undertaken in the 1990s. It has long been one of Rome’s major tourist attractions, receiving close to seven million visitors annually. Changing exhibitions relating to the culture of ancient Rome are regularly mounted.