The History of Rome in a Nutshell

Rome is now the capital of Italy, but used to be more or less the capital of the world. It has more than two thousand five hundred years of history behind it and left its mark on all of the Mediterranean and most of northern Europe and northern Africa.

A Very Short History of Rome

Rome is supposed to have been founded by the twins Remus and Romulus, who were fed and raised by the famous Roman she-wolf (still the symbol of the Eternal City) before being found by a shepherd, who took them in and raised them as his own sons. The birthplace of the city is thought to have been somewhere on the Palatine Hill (the Lupercale, the cave where the two twins were suckled by the she-wolf, is thought to have been discovered below the ruins a couple of years ago) and its first settlements date back to the 8th century BC.

The original village quickly became important. Being located along the banks of the river Tiber, it became an important centre of trade.

Initially the land was settled by the Etruscans, who made Rome the capital of their Kingdom, then (500 BC) it became the seat of the Roman Republic and then the capital of the Roman Empire (27 BC). Until the Middle Ages it remained the most important, powerful and wealthy city of the known world.

Constantine the Great was the first emperor to embrace Christianity in the early 4th century AD and under his reign Rome became the major city of the Catholic Church as well.

The year 330 was an important year for Rome, in a negative sense. Emperor Constantine decided to move to the new city of Constantinople with his entire imperial possessions. Rome itself became a sort of provincial capital and the one and a half million inhabitants the city had in the 2nd century dwindled to the miserable number of 35 thousand in the 12th century.

Although its political power diminished during the Middle Ages, Rome became an important destination for pilgrims (and the focus of power struggles between the Holy Roman Empire and the Pope).

The low point occurred in the year 1308, when Pope Clement V decided to move from Rome to Avignon.

Shortly before, in 1300, there had been a brief revival, when Pope Boniface VIII had declared the very first Giubileo (“Holy Year”). Two million pilgrims visited Rome during that year, but this had no long-lasting effect and also exposed the ramshackle infrastructure of the Eternal City.

In the 15th century the Italian Renaissance brought new life into the city and churches (a.o. the present Saint Peter’s Basilica), bridges, etc. were constructed all over the city. These works were often commissioned by the church, which at the same time and as a result, also gained political importance.

In 1555, all Jews had to leave Trastevere to live in the walled Ghetto across the river.

Towards the end of the 16th century, Pope Sixtus V had the city completely redesigned. After Via Sistina and Via Felice (both named after him) were built, the population in this part of town increased and a number of churches were also built in the district.

In the 19th century a new struggle for power took place, with the French troops defending the Pope from the people who wanted a unified Kingdom of Italy. In the end the latter prevailed and Rome became the capital of the new country.

After World War I, during the fascist period under the dictator Mussolini, Rome‘s population grew and many public works were ordered, though this often led to ordinary citizens being forced to move from the inner city to ugly dwellings on the outskirts.

After World War II, the monarchy was dismantled and the Italian Republic was created.

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