ITALY : ROME
Rome (Italian and Latin: Roma) is the capital of Italy and of its
Latium region. It is located on the Tiber and Aniene rivers. The Vatican
City, a sovereign enclave within Rome, is the seat of the Roman Catholic
Church and the home of the Pope.
Rome is the largest city and comune in Italy; the comune or
municipality is one of the largest in Europe with an area of 1290 square
kilometers. Within the city limits, the population is 2.553.873 (31
December 2004); almost 3.5 million live in the general area of Rome as
represented by the province of Rome.
The city's history extends nearly 2,800 years, during which time it
has been the seat of ancient Rome (the Roman Kingdom, Roman Republic,
Roman Empire), and later the Papal States, Kingdom of Italy and Italian
Republic. Rome is also called "the Eternal City."
The legendary beginnings of Rome are related in the tale of Romulus
and Remus. Princess Rhea Silvia, ravished by Mars (the God of War), gave
birth to the twins and abandoned them to fate. The River Tiber carried
them to the Palatine Hill, where a she-wolf mothered the babes until
their discovery by a 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 (the earliest remains date
back to the ninth century BC) to vast empire, ruled over by a string of
emperors. Rome saw a second period of development during the
15th-century Renaissance, when the Papacy took up 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 (historic centre), situated
between Via del Corso and the Tevere (River Tiber). Here, a labyrinth of
narrow, winding, 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, buses and mopeds. Across the
river, to the west, lies the Vatican State – 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.
Tourism is a major source of income and visitors come and go
throughout the year. The city is blessed with a warm Mediterranean
climate, making Rome particularly pleasant to visit in autumn and
spring. In August, it is hot and sticky and most of the locals head for
the coast – many shops and bars close for the summer break and the
streets are strangely empty save for visitors. Until recently, Rome was
frequently criticised for being noisy, 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, citizens and
visitors alike continue to benefit from the improvements carried out for
the Jubilee celebrations, when the Eternal City celebrated the fact that
the millennium was 2,000 years since the birth of Christ.