The legendary beginnings of Rome are related in the tale of Romulus and Remus. Vestal virgin 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 Palatine Hill, where a she-wolf mothered the babes until their discovery by a shepherd. The brothers later argued over where to found a new city, and Romulus killed Remus. The rest…is history.
History’s version of events is spectacular in a different way. The city developed from an unimportant pastoral settlement (the earliest remains date back to the ninth century BC) to a vast empire, ruled over by a string of emperors before the fall of the Roman Empire around the 5th century.
But during its ascendancy, Rome was the capital of an empire dominating the whole of the Meditteranean and at the time, the largest city in the world. Some historians believe its population was almost 3.5 million people. This grandeur increased under Augustus, who finished many of the building projects initiated by Caesar, as well as adding his own. It is believed that he is said to have commented that he found Rome a city of brick and left it a city of marble.
Rome saw a second period of development during the 15th-century Renaissance, when the Papacy took up permanent residence in the city after moving from Florence. Over the next 200 years, many of the city’s most impressive buildings, such as St Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Trevi fountain, were commissioned by the great papal dynasties. The popes were also patrons of great artists ranging from Michelangelo and Raphael to Botticelli.
By the 17th century, Rome had been furnished with its ornate baroque cityscape of churches, fountains and palazzo just in time to take on the mantle of capital city in 1861, when Italy was finally unified and Victor Emmanuel proclaimed King.
The early 20th century brought mayhem for Rome as Italy reluctantly entered WWI; shortly afterward Benito Mussolini and the Fascist party took the helm of the government, allying Italy with Nazi Germany. Not long later, Rome came under fire during WWII, with the bombing of Ciampino airport, the San Lorenzo freight yard Scalo del Littorio and even the Vatican before Rome was liberated from the Germans in 1944.
After the war, the city grew and modernised significantly, and became a fashionable city by the 1950s and early 1960s. It was during this period that the phrase "la dolce vita" ("the sweet life") was coined, with popular classic fims such as Ben Hur, Quo Vadis, Roman Holiday and La Dolce Vita filmed in the city.
Today, the city is a modern metropolis boasting a unique combination of old and new; the Coliseum (widely considered as one of the world’s wonders) is only a short walk from the upscale shopping centre of Via Condotti, host to retail tycoons like Louis Vuitton, Hermes, and Cartier. Rome’s rich historical past has woven itself into modern day living, so so like the natives, just soak it all in. After all, when in Rome…