Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Rome
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Capital of Italy and of Lazio region, on the River Tiber, 27 km/17 mi from the Tyrrhenian Sea; population (2001 est) 2,459,800.

Rome is an important transport hub and cultural centre. A large section of the population finds employment in government and other offices: the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church (the Vatican City State, a separate sovereign area within Rome) and other international bodies, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), are here. It is also a destination for many tourists and pilgrims. Industries include engineering, printing, food processing, electronics, and the manufacture of chemicals, pharmaceuticals, plastics, and clothes. The city is a centre for the film and fashion industries. Called the Eternal City, Rome is one of the world's richest cities in history and art; among the remains of the ancient city (see Rome, ancient) are the Forum, Colosseum, and Pantheon.

History (For early history see Rome, ancient.) After the deposition of the last emperor, Romulus Augustulus, in 476, the papacy became the real ruler of Rome and from the 8th century was recognized as such. The Sack of Rome (1527) led to an era of rebuilding, and most of the great palaces and churches were built in the 16th and 17th centuries. As a result of the French Revolution, Rome temporarily became a republic (1798–99), and was annexed to the French Empire (1808–14) until the pope returned on Napoleon's fall. During the 1848–49 revolution a republic was established under Giuseppe Mazzini's leadership, but, in spite of Giuseppe Garibaldi's defence, was overthrown by French troops.

In 1870 Rome became the capital of Italy, the pope retiring into the Vatican until 1929 when the Vatican City was recognized as a sovereign state. The occupation of Rome by the Fascists (1922) marked the beginning of Mussolini's rule; in 1943 Rome was occupied by Germany, and in 1944 was liberated by the Allies.

Features East of the river are the seven hills on which Rome was originally built (Quirinal, Aventine, Caelian, Esquiline, Viminal, Palatine, and Capitoline); to the west are the quarter of Trastevere, the residential quarters of the Prati, and the Vatican. Among ancient buildings and monuments are Castel Sant'Angelo (the mausoleum of the emperor Hadrian), the baths of Caracalla (AD 206), the Colosseum (completed AD 80), and the Arch of Constantine (c. 315). The Appian Way, bordered by ancient tombs, retains long sections of the old paving stones. Among the Renaissance palaces are the Lateran, Quirinal, Colonna, Borghese (now the Villa Umberto I), Barberini, and Farnese (designed by Michelangelo). The Trevi Fountain (1762) fronts the palace of the dukes of Poli, near the Quirinal.

The many churches of different periods include the five greater or patriarchal basilicas: St John Lateran (S Giovanni in Laterano); St Peter's (S Pietro), the largest church in the world, within the Vatican; St Paul's Outside the Walls (S Paolo fuori le Mura), founded by the emperor Constantine on St Paul's grave; St Mary Major (Sta Maria Maggiore, with the city's highest campanile (bell-tower); and St Lawrence Outside the Walls (S Lorenzo fuori le Mura). The Vatican Palace, which adjoins St Peter's, is the residence of the pope. Other ancient churches of interest are S Pietro in Vincoli, which houses the chains that fettered St Peter; Sta Maria in Cosmedin, built before the 6th century on the remains of a pagan temple; and the Pantheon, also built on pagan edifices.

Several important roads date from the era of Mussolini, notably the Via dei Fori Imperiali (formerly the Via dell'Impero) and the Via della Conciliazione, running from St Peter's to the Castel Sant'Angelo. The house where the English poet John Keats died is near the Piazza di Spagna, known for the Spanish Steps, the flight of 132 steps that ascend from the square to the Church of the Sta Trinità dei Monti and the Villa Medici.

The city has numerous museums, including the vast papal collections (dating from the 15th century) of the Vatican, the Lateran museum, the Capitol, the National (in the Villa Giulia park), and the Thermae. The Sistine Chapel, with frescoes by Michelangelo, lies within the Vatican. Other public art collections are the Corsini and Galleria d'Arte; private collections include the Barberini, Doria, Albani, and Collona. The University of Rome was founded in 1303 by Pope Boniface VIII.

Layout of the city The active business life of the city is centred on the lower ground between the hills, the Pincio quarter, and the river. This lower portion, within the vicinity of the Vatican and the Trastevere quarter, formed the medieval city, but few secular buildings of medieval date remain.

The Via del Corso, the Via Giulia (1505–10), and the Via dei Banchi Nuovi remain much as they have been for centuries, and the buildings in the densely populated centre of Rome, between the Via del Corso and the Tiber, have adapted well to modern needs. Of the great squares, the Piazza Navona, the Campo dei Fiori, the Piazza del Quirinale, and Piazza Venezia survive; the Piazza di Spagna and the Piazza del Popolo date from the 18th and 19th centuries. From the Colosseum the Via di S Gregorio runs past the Arch of Constantine and the baths of Caracalla to the Appian Way. The Corso Vittorio Emanuele, a street leading northwest from the Piazza Venezia to the river, crosses the Campo Marzio district which lies in the loop of the Tiber, and contains several Renaissance palaces, including Farnese, Spada, Altieri, and Madama, and also the Pantheon.

A bridge across the river leads from here to the Vatican City, and another, the Ponte Sant'Angelo (the central arches of which date from Hadrian's time) leads to the Castel Sant'Angelo, which was converted from a mausoleum into a fortress in the Middle Ages, and has served as a meeting place for church councils, a refuge for the pope, and a prison.

In the neighbourhood of the Via del Corso (or Corso) there are several 17th-century palaces, including the Chigi (now the Foreign Ministry), Doria, and Sciarra Colonna. This quarter – including the Via Condotti, which runs east from the Corso to the baroque Spanish Steps, and other streets running between the Corso and Via del Babuino – forms the heart of Rome's most elegant shopping district. To the east of the Piazza del Popolo is the Villa Umberto I, built by Cardinal Scipione Caffarelli-Borghese early in the 17th century; it is now a museum housing a collection of sculptures and paintings. The villa stands in the largest of Rome's public parks, and is connected with the Pincio gardens, a promenade situated high above the city to the north. There is another public park to the east on the Janiculum Hill, above Trastevere; here there is a statue of Garibaldi. A ridge running north and south, the Janiculum offers a splendid view of the city below, and was fortified in early times.

The city gates Of the ancient city gates, several are preserved and still in use. The Porta del Popolo is the historic entrance from the north. The Porta Pia, in the east wall, is the one by which Italian troops entered the city in 1870. The Porta S Giovanni, by the Lateran, is the starting point of the road to Naples, and the Porta Tiburtina leads to the road to Tivoli, Sulmona, and the central Adriatic coast. The Appian Way begins at the Porta Sebastiano.

Government and institutions The senate and chamber of deputies of the republic meet in the Montecitorio Palace off the Corso. The ministries and many of the law courts and public offices are in the northeast sector of the city centre around the Via 20 Settembre, or in the Zona EUR (built for the projected Esposizione Universale di Roma of 1942) in the southern suburbs. The EUR forms a distinct and carefully planned collection of public buildings, sports facilities, and housing, set in parkland with a large artificial lake.

Pilgrimage Many sites around the city remind pilgrims of the cost of being a Christian during the Roman Empire. The catacombs (underground galleries) were where Christians who were being persecuted met and worshipped in secret, and where many Christians were also buried. A monastery, built on the traditional site of the Christian executions, lies 5 km/3 mi outside Rome. St Paul, who was put to death during the Christian persecutions of AD 64, is said to be buried beneath the church of S Paolo fuori le Mura (St Paul's Outside the Walls). The pope, and his Sunday appearances on a balcony overlooking St Peter's Square, remains a main attraction for Roman Catholics across the world.

Education Rome has many colleges and seminaries for training Roman Catholic clergy; some of these are national colleges of different countries. There are schools of history, archaeology, architecture, and music; and many foreign institutes.

Transport The city has an underground railway system (opened in 1955), which was carefully engineered to avoid disturbances to ancient monuments.



mosaic at the Church of San Clemente

St Peter's Cathedral


© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

Related Articles

Full text Article Rome, Italy
Encyclopedia of Urban Studies

Throughout its 3,000-year history, the city of Rome has been both a key administrative center and the scene of notable artistic achievements. In...

Full text Article ROME
Gods, Goddesses, and Mythology

Much of the mythology of pre-Christian Rome is derived from the belief system of ancient Greece, and many Roman deities have clear Greek...

Full text Article Rome
The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization

AB URBE Condita (from the Founding of the City) Roman foundation legend traces the origins of the city to April 21, 753 bce, although the history

See more from Credo