Words and Photography: Paul Shawcross
Over the centuries people have referred to Rome as the Eternal City because it has always been there playing a major role in the history and culture, not only of Italy, but also of Europe. The very name evokes images of its glorious past, its exciting ambience and its voluble, vibrant populace.
Rome is probably the oldest City in Europe. Its founders occupied the famous Seven Hills and there is evidence suggesting occupation more than 2700 years ago. Legend states it was named for Romulus who, together with his twin Remus, had been abandoned and found on the Tiber. Later Romulus killed Remus and took command of the tribe which occupied the Palatine, one of the Seven Hills, thus starting a civilisation which was to dominate the Classical World.
In 509 BC the Roman Republic was founded and flourished under elected consuls and a tribune for many years but eventually it resulted in the dictatorship of Julius Caesar. His assassination in 44 BC led to 17 years of civil war until eventually his great-nephew Augustus became Emperor.
Thus began the period of Imperial Rome during which the Empire expanded further and brought great prosperity to the City. Inevitably it declined and Rome fell into the hands of Barbarian invaders ushering in a dark period which was to last a thousand years.
Not until the 15th/16th century did it recover when many great Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo and Raphael helped to restore the splendours of this great City although Rome had to wait until Italian Unification in 1871 to become the capital of Italy again.
Most of the sights people come to see are located near the centre but there is so much to see that you need a week to even scratch the surface.
Most of the sights people come to see are located near the centre but there is so much to see that you need a week to even scratch the surface. There are some which should not be missed and undoubtedly the Forum is the place to start. The first thing to strike the visitor is its sheer size - there are temples too numerous to mention, all in a wonderful state of repair considering their age, and other vestiges of the commercial and religious life of the capital. Just to the west of the Forum is that symbol of Rome, the iconic Colosseum, begun by Vespasian in 72 AD and used for gladiatorial contests. It remains a very impressive structure and the modern visitor can only marvel at the intricate design which could accommodate 55,000 spectators.
Just above the Forum is the Palatine hill which contains the vestiges of the House of Livia, wife of Augustus and the Domus Augustana where the Emperors lived. This is where Rome began and you can even see the huts of Romulus.
A little way from the Forum, to the North West, is the amazing structure of the Pantheon which was constructed as the ‘Temple of all the Gods' in the early second century. Its vast coffered concrete dome and oculus, to allow light to reach the interior, are the most impressive features of this building which survived because it became a church. In front is the Piazza della Rotunda one of Rome's many fabulous Piazzas which include the Piazzas del Popolo and Navona all exemplifying the Roman way of life and love of outdoor living.
Outdoor living is very much part of the City's culture and everywhere there are restaurants, cafes and bars where the accent is on eating or drinking al fresco. In fact, eating and drinking generally is what much of Roman life is about and wherever you go there are establishments which specialise in food and drink in its many forms. Gelatterie or ice-cream parlours which sell vast quantities of arguably the world's best ice cream; Pizzerie which sell the ubiquitous pizza, although Roman versions are a cut above; Enoteche or wine bars which sell Italian wine in the main; Pasticcerie or pastry shops which sell some of the most delightful confections known to man and Birreire or beer houses which are undergoing something of a revival.
Non specialist outlets include Trattorie and Ristoranti as well as the profusion of bars or cafes that are meeting places for Romans of all ages and which open early (usually 7.30am) so people can set themselves up for the day with an espresso! Some, Caffè Greco and La Caffettiera, are very stylish and reflect the elegance of earlier times.
... it draws visitors from all over the world to see its splendid sights and enjoy its wonderful culture.
In the evening people meet in the bars and cafes and it is an entertainment in itself to watch and listen discreetly to the animated discourse taking place a couple of tables away. However, prior to all this, many take part in that most Italian of activities, the passeggiata, when the locals turn out in their best clothes between five and seven in the evening to walk up and down linked arm-in-arm to see and be seen. So next time you are on the Via del Corso or the Piazza Navona make sure you don your Armani suit or Versace dress and join in the fun! As the capital of the Roman Empire Rome had brought about a united Europe, albeit by force of arms, long before modern politicians came here to sign the Treaty of Rome in 1957 which established the European Union thus confirming the City's modern significance. Nowadays, a confident modern capital, it draws visitors from all over the world to see its splendid sights and enjoy its wonderful culture and lifestyle.