According to the legend, the Trojan twins Romus and Remulus founded Rome on 21st April 753 BC; although the version offered by the legend appears rather simplified, archaeological remains confirm that there was a large necropolis in the Esquilino area at that time. Rome was formed from the union of the peoples from the seven hills: Palatino, Aventino, Campidoglio, Quirinale, Viminale, Esquilino and Celio.
In the middle of the 7th century BC, the Etruscans came to the Lazio region. For the region, the Etruscan conquest represented a sudden and considerable contribution to civilisation: living in tribes gave way to urban life, pastoral life to agriculture; they started building with stones, etc. From modest villages scattered across the Roman hills, the Etruscan Kings created a city in the material sense of the word and created a centralised state. The construction of the ’Cloaca Maxima’, dates back to this period; it is one of the most ancient sewage systems in the world and was built mainly to clean the area of the Roman Forum.
Etruscan domination ended with what became known as the Revolution of 509, which ushered in the republican period. Thus between 509 BC and 27 BC, Rome and its conquered territories became the Roman Republic. During the Republican period, the city underwent major changes and growth thanks to the construction of new roads, public buildings and temples in the areas of Campidoglio, Palatino and the Forum. Aqueducts and bridges were built to link the shores of the Tiber.
Rome conquered the Italian territories, including Sicily and Sardinia thanks to an army made of small landowners. Afterwards it undertook the conquest of the Mediterranean, fighting the Carthaginians (Punic wars) in the west and the Macedonians in the east. Once both armies were vanquished Rome gained control over the Mediterranean.
With the death of Julius Caesar, in 44 BC, started a period of instability in Roman political life, which ended in 31 BC with the rise to power of Octavius Augustus. With Octavius Augustus began the era of imperial Rome, during which the city enjoyed its greatest period of development from an urban and architectural point of view.
During Nero’s reign, in 64, a fire swept through a large part of Rome, which made it necessary to rebuild the city according to new rules (using stones for instance) to avoid the risk of new fires. Constantine’s reign saw the building of the first places of worship and the first Christian churches. Early religious buildings were private buildings where the first Christians met in secret. As time went by, the Pope became responsible, amongst other things, for building new churches and transforming ancient buildings into churches, in ever-closer proximity to the city centre.
The Roman Empire reached its zenith between the 1st century BC and the 2nd century AD.
However from the year 192 a succession of corrupt emperors led Rome to a steep economic, social and political decline, which culminated in the year 476 with the fall of the Western Roman Empire at the hands of the barbarian armies led by Odoacro. Only the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantine kingdom, remained and would last for another 1000 years.
Battles between the Gothic kings and Byzantine emperors continued until the year 552 with power changing hands on a number of occasions.
In 552, the Byzantine Empire finally conquered Rome, but the seat of Imperial power remained in Ravenna. At that time, the population in Rome dropped sharply; it was concentrated in the lower districts due to a lack of water in the upper parts of the city.
Between the 6th and 7th centuries, the Church became increasingly powerful and amassed properties, which belonged previously to private owners. These later fell under Byzantine control. Thanks to Gregory I (590-604) churches got organised and provided shelter and food to needy Roman citizens. The Papal State was born thanks to the massive wealth accumulated by the Roman church. The state had its own central administration made up of church officials and local militias. The High Clergy and the militia were responsible for choosing the Pope. All this gave Rome and the Papal State new importance and power.
As a result of the crisis in the Byzantine Empire during the 7th century, Rome suffered attacks by the Lombard, and it fell upon Pope Gregory the Great to defend Rome and reach an agreement with the invaders by which they renounced their attacks in return for an annual payment of 500 pounds of gold.
In the 9th century the Arabs, who attacked the districts outside the walls and stole the bodies of holy martyrs, threatened Rome. The Basilica of Saint Peter was also looted in 856 and it became necessary to protect the Vatican by building the walls known as “Civitas Leonina”.
The city began to witness demands by new merchant families who were beginning to prosper. They started to organise themselves and this led to a complete shake-up of the Senate in 1143 to oppose the power of the Pope and of Church organisations. Thanks to Senator Brancaleone in 1252, Roman citizens were recognised with policies that made their rights a top priority. In 1358 the city organised itself into a free municipality and in 1363 new ordinances were passed in favour of its citizens.
In 1377, Pope Gregory XI returned to Rome and faced a power struggle between the old aristocratic families and the new families of merchants and craftsmen. In the end, after forty years of conflict, Pope Martino V restored order to the city.
In 1400 Rome became the world centre of Christianity, which gave the city greater political importance. In the 15th century, the Popes encouraged a major urban renewal in Rome: they wanted to endow Rome with the beauty and splendour it deserved by building palaces such as the new Basilica of St Peter and the Sistine chapel by Michelangelo.
In 1500, Rome acquired great importance in the field of town planning and renaissance architecture thanks to the increasing power of the Papal state and the numerous architects in the service of the papal court. Despite the looting of 1527, this period of development and renovation continued throughout the city. Michelangelo played a key role here, with his paintings and sculptures, and his design for the plaza di Campidoglio, the Basilica of Saint Peter and the construction of the Porta Pía.
In 1600, Rome became the world capital of baroque architecture. The columns of Saint Peter’s Square, the fountain of the four rivers on Plaza Navona, etc were built at that time. Rome also lived through Martin Luther’s reformation and the counter-reformation movement within the Roman Catholic Church.
In the 18th century, Rome attracted major artists and intellectuals from abroad, amongst whom Velasquez and Goethe.
In 1849, a new Republic of Italy was born after the revolutions and the rule of Napoleon I. Well-known for their contribution to Italy’s unification are Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi, although the House of Savoy completed the process. But the Pope did not approve of Italy’s unification under the House of Savoy and under Pope Píus IX, with the help of the French, Rome and Venice were excluded from the unification imposed by the House of Savoy.
However during the Franco Prussian war of 1870, Napoleon III failed to protect the papal state and the Italian army entered Rome, bringing the city and the entire Lazio region under the control of the Kingdom of Italy. The House of Savoy decided that Rome would be the new capital city of the Kingdom of Italy.
The beginning of the 20th century saw the rise of fascism. In 1929 the State and the Church signed the Lateran Pacts by which the Italian state handed over the Vatican to the Pope and recognised its sovereignty. To celebrate the reconciliation between the Italian government and the church, a grand avenue, the ‘’Via della Conciliazione’’ was built.
During Mussolini’s rule the futuristic area known as EUR (Esposizione Universale di Roma 1942) was built.
The Olympic Games were held in Rome in 1960 and new infrastructures such as the Olympic stadium were built. The stadium was also used for the World Cup in 1990. For the Millennium celebrations in 2000, the Italian government restored many palaces and monuments in Rome.
Rome has been the capital city of the Vatican since the 8th century, of the Kingdom of Italy since 1871 and of the Republic of Italy since 1946.
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