The capital of Italy is Rome, which is one of the most famous cities in Europe. It was the city around which the Roman Empire was formed, and it is still brimming with cultural and historical significance. Rome is so famous that it was once called Caput Mundi, which means “Capital of the World” in Latin. It’s also been called the City of Seven Hills and the Eternal City, among other names.
Rome’s fame as a historical city may sometimes overshadow details about the city as it is currently, and we’ll look at some of these details in this post. We’ll see exactly where Rome is located, learn about the city’s history, and explore several other features of Italy’s capital city.
Where is Rome?
Rome is located near central Italy, about 24 km (15 mi) inland from the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is in the Lazio Region, one of the 4 central regions of Italy. Rome is not only the capital of Lazio, but also the capital of Italy.
The political map of Italy below illustrates the location of Italy’s major cities, including Rome:
History of Rome
Rome is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on Earth, which means it’s also got an incredibly long and complex history. Unlike most other cities, to speak about the history of Rome is to also speak about the history of an empire. There is archeological evidence that suggests humans settled in the area up to 14,000 years ago, but the date of the actual founding of Rome is in debate.
According to Roman legend, the city was founded in 753 CE by Romulus, the twin of Remus. The story is a myth handed down from ancient Romans and depicts the two twins, sons of the god Jupiter and raised by a she-wolf, who decided to build a city. Romulus allegedly killed his twin after an argument, and the city took his name.
After the legendary founding of the city, Rome entered a period of monarchical rule, starting with King Romulus. A series of seven kings ruled the city and empire before an oligarchic republic was formed. The empire went through a number of dramatic political changes over its thousand-year existence, and the city of Rome remained an important administrative and cultural hub throughout.
Middle Ages and Renaissance
The Roman Empire is considered to have ended in 476 CE when the last Roman Emperor of the West was deposed by Odoacer. This began a period of rule by the Ostrogoths in Rome, which lasted until East Romans recaptured the city as a result of the Gothic War. The war lasted for almost 20 years, and there were two sacks on the city of Rome during this time that devastated the city.
Rome had an estimated population of 1 million people in 300 CE, and it’s thought by many that the population dropped to just 100,000 or less by 500 AD, in large part because of the Gothic War. At this time, the once sprawling city had been reduced to clusters of inhabited buildings located between ruins, market gardens, and vegetation. The next several hundred years saw Rome gain increased power as the center of the Catholic Church and the formation of the Holy Roman Empire.
Rome experienced its Rennaisance period from about the mid-15th century until the mid-16th century. Artists flocked to the city during this time, and several masters such as Michelangelo, Raphael, and da Vinci did their famous works during this period.
Modern and Contemporary History
The next stages in the history of Rome saw it fall under the control of the Papal States and France before it became a part of the Kingdom of Italy, during which time the capital was transferred from Florence to Rome. In the years after World War I, Rome experienced the rise of fascism led by Benito Mussolini and was then allied with Nazi Germany in 1938. Mussolini was deposed in 1943, and Italy signed an armistice the same year.
The period of time in Italy following World War II is sometimes referred to as the “Italian economic miracle.” It was a time of modernization and reconstruction which helped Rome become a fashionable city. Several famous movies were filmed in the city during this time, and its population grew as people moved into the city.
Today, Rome is known as one of the world’s top tourist destinations for its ancient history and Italian cuisine.
How old is Rome?
Rome was founded in 753 BCE, making it more than 2,500 years old.
How did Rome fall?
While there are varying answers to this question, a common theory is that the city fell after repeated invasions by Barbarian tribes. The Western Roman Empire fell in 476 CE when Odoacer deposed then King Romulus Augustus.
What language did Romans speak?
The official language of the Roman Empire was Latin, which spread throughout the Mediterranean during the empire’s reign. Today, Italian is the official language spoken in Rome.
Is Rome expensive?
Yes, Rome is a fairly expensive city. This is largely because it is such a popular tourist destination, but there are also a number of free attractions in the city, and food and accommodation are available at a wide range of prices.
Features of Rome
Geography and Climate
Rome is located along the shores of the Tiber River, which flows through the city, in the central-western part of the Italian Peninsula. The area of Rome includes seven hills, the most famous of which is Palatine Hill.
In the summer, Rome experiences warm, dry weather during days that often have a high above 24 °C (75 °F). The ponentino, a wind that blows in from the Tyrrhenian Sea, often cools these days in the afternoon. Winters in Rome are typically mild but sometimes include frost or light snowfall. High temperatures average 10 °C (50 °F) during the winter season.
There are almost 2.8 million people living in Rome and almost 4.3 million living in the Metropolitan Area of Rome. The vast majority of people living in Rome are Italian, and about 9.5% are of non-Italian origin. Roughly half of the immigrant population comes from other European countries, and the other half comes primarily from the Philippines, Bangladesh, and China.
Rome has been an important religious center and pilgrimage site for centuries, and the population is predominantly Christian. There are around 900 churches in Rome, and there are many very important cathedrals located in the city. Vatican City is also, of course, where the pope resides and the center of the Catholic Church.
Rome is the capital city of Italy, and as such, it is home to the country’s most important institutions. These include international cultural and scientific institutions as well as those central to the Italian government, like the Presidency of the Republic and the Parliament.
Like many other national capitals, Rome’s economy is largely service-based, and there is an absence of heavy industry in the city. Rome is also home to Italy’s largest international airport and supports a massive tourism industry that is important to the city’s economy. Other productive sectors in Rome are banking, research, and high-technology companies.
Things to Do and Places to See in Rome
Tourism in Italy is a very big deal, and its capital city is full of things to see and do. In fact, Rome is one of the most visited destinations in Europe, with approximately nine million foreign visitors coming to the city each year.
The Colosseum is one of the most impressive and popular tourist attractions in Rome. It is a giant, oval amphitheater in the center of Rome and is the largest ancient amphitheater in the world. Originally designed for mass entertainment of up to 80,000 people, events such as gladiatorial contests, animal hunts, and dramas were carried out in the building.
Entering the Colosseum is possible with a purchase of a ticket, but opening times vary throughout the year.
The Pantheon is one of the best-preserved ancient buildings in Rome, and that’s one reason it’s such a tourist hot spot. It was constructed sometime around 126 CE by Emperor Hadrian, who built it on the site of an older temple that had burned down.
Now a Church, the Pantheon is free for anyone to enter, though special events make this occasionally impossible. The building is also wonderful to admire from the outside.
Another iconic Roman landmark, Trevi Fountain was designed by Nicola Salvi and completed in 1762. It’s one of the most famous fountains in the world and the largest Baroque fountain in the city of Rome. The fountain features a sculpture of the Roman god Oceanus in the center, and the detail of each sculpture is extraordinary.
It’s free to visit this fountain, but you’ll likely have to contend with many other tourists. It’s become a tradition to throw a coin over your shoulder into the fountain for good luck.
If the politics and everyday life of ancient Rome are of interest to you, the Roman Forum is a must-see. Criminal trials, public speeches, elections, and gladiator matches are just some of the events that took place here.
There’s a lot to see at the Roman Forum, but the Arch of Severus and the Temple of Saturn are two major highlights. It’s located near the Colosseum, and it’s possible to purchase tickets to see both, but be sure to give yourself enough time to really explore.
Vatican City is a city-state within Rome that is the headquarters of the Catholic Church and the home of the Pope. It’s free to enter Vatican City, but know that you’ll likely be with large crowds, as it is a highly important religious location. St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, and the Vatican Museums are all attractions that visitors can spend time enjoying.
Located in the northern area of Rome’s inner city, the Galleria Borghese is part of the larger Borghese Complex, although the Villa Borghese Gardens are considered a separate attraction. The gallery is sizable, spanning twenty rooms over two floors, and it houses paintings, sculptures, and antiques. Some of the most famous artists with works on display in the gallery are Titian, Raphael, and Barocci.
If you’ve got more time after experiencing the gallery, there are several other museums in the Villa Borghese Gardens or nearby. Some of these are the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art and the National Etruscan Museum.
While classical and renaissance art is what most might associate with Rome, it’s also got a world-class modern and contemporary art museum. MAXXI, or the National Museum of 21st-Century Arts, features exciting art and architecture work from contemporary artists as well as workshops, conferences, shows, and much more.
The building itself is a site to behold. It was designed by Zaha Hadid, took ten years to build, and won the Stirling Prize for architecture from the Royal Institute of British Architects. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, and ticket information can be found on the official website.
This museum is unlike any other in Rome, or in the rest of the world for that matter. It’s an electrical power station that has been repurposed into a museum. This means visitors will get to marvel at classical sculptures that were excavated in the 19th and 20th centuries as they are displayed next to giant industrial machinery.
Visiting the Centrale Montemartini is an experience unlike any other and a great option for anyone interested in seeing an off-the-beaten-path side of ancient Rome.
Piazza di Spagna
Known as the “Spanish Square” in English, the Piazza di Spagna is one of the most-visited places in Rome. The name of the square comes from the fact that the Spanish Embassy to the Vatican is located here. This is also the site of the Spanish Steps, another popular Roman landmark, that lead into the square. At the bottom of these stairs is the Fontana della Barcaccia, which was completed in 1627. The name of this fountain translates to “Fountain of the Ugly Boat” in English.
Mouth of Truth
The Mouth of Truth is a huge marble disk that depicts a face with open eyes and an open mouth. It weighs about 1300 kg (2800 lbs), and legend has it that anyone who is a liar or lies while their hand is in the mouth will have it bitten off.
It isn’t known what exactly the disc was used for, but some theories include it being a drain for the Temple of Hercules Victor or that it was used to drain the blood of cattle sacrificed to Hercules. The disc is referenced in a number of writings and has a prominent role in the 1953 movie Roman holiday.