How difficult it is to fully comprehend a time period when all roads led to Rome unless you’ve walked the timeless streets of the city that was once so influential, it continues to be part of the basic groundwork in Western politics, religion and education. Time floats backwards like pages in a book, from an industrialized modern civilization to ruins still echoing with the words of its senate and ghostly cheers rise up out of crumbling coliseums.
Rome receives over four million visitors a year to the famous early Roman coliseum alone. Although it has fallen into ruin, its majestic past is still evident in the intricacy of its architectural design and the magnitude of the structure. It was built to accommodate 55,000 spectators within its four story dimensions. It was constructed nearly two thousand years ago, and was the main centre for games that started with comedic acts and displays of exotic animals and progressed throughout the day to some very brutal events. Clad with marble and adorned with 160 larger-than-life statues, the southern side was destroyed by an earthquake in 847 CE, with the materials used, including the marble cladding, to create other landmark structures.
In 509 BCE, the Forum Romanum was the centre of Roman life. These early city planners constructed a sewage system that drained water away from the marshlands of the valley to the Tiber river. With this infrastructure in place, the forum became the place where the senate made decisions, where speakers made passionate appeals to the public and the emperor announced new victories. Although the area now lays in ruins, it is still possible to imagine the grandiosity of the ancient city, with temples to the gods and basilicas for the courts, administration and business. The oldest basilica was constructed in 179 BCE by consuls Marcus Aemilius Lepidus and Marcus FulviusNobilor. It was destroyed by fire and sacked by the Visigoths in 410 CE.
The second most frequently visited antiquated marvel was built more than 1,800 years ago. Originally built as a temple for Roman gods, the Pantheon was converted into a church in 609 CE and now contains the tombs of several Italian kings, as well as that of the masterful artist, Rafael. The most remarkable aspect about the building, apart from its ability to withstand the ages, is its forty-three metre high dome. It was the largest dome in the world until 1436, when the Florence Cathedral was constructed.
The Pantheon was a feat in architectural engineering. The portico’s sixteen, sixty ton columns were quarried and Egypt and transported to Rome using barges and vessels. The enormity of the dome presented a problem for early Romans who did not have at their disposal modern methods of reinforcement. Their solution was to gradually make the walls thinner, using two different types of concrete. At the base, the concrete was a heavy solution, while as the top of the dome neared completion, a lighter, thinner concrete was used, along with coffers in the ceiling and an opening at the top to decrease the weight of the dome. Still standing, the Pantheon is a testimony to early Roman advancements.
Because of its far-ranging and long-lasting influence, Rome is sometimes called the Capital of the World. While it no longer reigns with the political thunder and military might of its former heritage, it’s still considered the seat of Christianity and the home of the Catholic Church. Rome has been the holy site for Christian pilgrimages since the Middle Ages, and continues to attract millions of believers each year. For many, the highlight of their holiday is a trip to Vatican City, the world’s smallest country and headquarters for the papacy.
Vatican City’s magnetic draw isn’t confined only to the faithful. History opens its gates with the elegant and expansive St. Peter’s Square. Laid out by Bernini during the pontificates of Alexander VII and Clement IX, during the years 1657 - 1667, the square is surrounded by two enormous colonnades, with 284 Doric columns arranged in four rows, supporting 140 statues depicting Roman Catholic Saints. In the centre of the square, you’ll find the 25.31 metre tall obelisk, brought to Rome in 38 CE from Heliopolis, located on the Nile Delta.
Nor do the religious restrict their visits to the Vatican City. There are over nine hundred churches in Rome, many with a long, detailed history. The greatest of these is the St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world. The foundation for the original church was laid out in approximately 319 CE and constructed in 349 CE. By the middle of the fifteenth century, it was falling into ruin and Pope Nicholas V ordered its reconstruction and enlargement. It took one hundred years for the new basilica to be built, with numerous changes made by the architects. The most notable of those who made changes to the design was Michelangelo Buonarroti.
Along with a large number of churches and pilgrimage sites where it was believed Jesus was sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate, where the apostle Paul realized his destiny as a Christian and was subsequently martyred, along with Peter, a rich historical life lurks within the deep catacombs than run through forty known locations. Their construction began in the second century CE, and are a treasure in frescos and sculpture. Practically abandoned by the tenth century, the were accidentally rediscovered in 1578, after which, they became a monument to the Christian faith.
From its earliest beginnings as an empire, Rome has been a centralized location for the arts. A century of internal peace during the fifteenth century nurtured the blossoming seeds of the Italian Renaissance. The popes engaged the best artists of the time to grace their structures, including the Saint Peter's Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and Ponte Sisto. The Italian masters employed to create these timeless works of art include Michelangelo, Botticelli, Raphael and CosimoRosselli.