Rome, which was founded over 2,700 years ago, is considered by many to be the most beautiful city in the world, and the Italians themselves call it "la Città Eterna" (the Eternal City). The weather there in the fall is comfortable and dry, with the Italian sun shining on tree-lined boulevards, on the ornate facades of magnificent palaces, churches, and basilicas, on the white and rose-colored marble of ancient Roman temples, columns, triumphal arches, aqueducts, and bridges, on Renaissance and baroque squares adorned by graceful fountains and statues, on flower-laden terraces, gardens, and parks with breathtaking views of the city, and on an endless profusion of elegant cafés and restaurants, open-air markets, bakeries, gelaterie (ice cream shops), pasticcerie (pastry shops), salumerie (visually stunning delicatessens filled to the rafters with irresistible foods), and wood-stove pizzerie.
Erected on seven beautiful hills along the banks of the River Tiber, Rome, now a city of three million people, casts a spell on anyone who has the good fortune to visit it. Ancient Rome, which lasted well over 1,000 years, came to rule a truly immense empire that stretched from Scotland across most of Europe all the way to Turkey, Armenia, and Mesopotamia, from the Middle East across North Africa to the Straits of Gibraltar. Later, after the Western Empire collapsed (the Eastern Empire, whose capital was Byzantium, lasted almost another 1,000 years, until 1453), Rome became the center of western Christendom, and distinguished artists and architects came in droves to work for the popes during the Renaissance. Rome's unique history, which shaped the entire modern world, is enshrined in innumerable monuments throughout the city dating from the ancient, early Christian, medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, and subsequent periods.
Here are some examples:
- The Colosseum, a gigantic stone amphitheater, could easily accommodate 55,000 spectators. There, ships were sunk in staged naval battles and gladiators and dangerous animals fought.
- The Roman Forum, center of political, commercial and judicial life in ancient Rome, is filled with the striking remnants of great temples, triumphal arches, columns, porticos, and imperial buildings.
- St. Peter's Basilica's spectacular dome designed by Michelangelo and awesome colonnade designed by Bernini make a profound impression. This vast basilica, the largest Christian temple in the world, rises above the crypt where St. Peter, the first pope, is buried.
- The Catacombs are underground complexes where the early Christians buried their dead, including many of their saints. There are several catacombs scattered throughout the city, and some contain beautiful frescoes of Christian scenes. The remains of St. Peter and St. Paul would appear to have been placed at one time in the Catacombs of Saint Sebastian, as inscriptions on its walls suggest.
- The astonishing Pantheon, originally erected under Augustus Caesar and rebuilt under Hadrian in the 2nd Century A.D., is still perfectly intact. It was the largest domed structure in the world for well over a thousand years.
- The Vatican houses endless treasures of ancient and Renaissance art in the Vatican Museums, including a vast collection of ancient Greek, Egyptian, Etruscan, and Roman statues. The Vatican also contains the famous Sistine Chapel, an extraordinary library, and stately gardens.
- The Castel Sant'Angelo, which began as the Emperor Hadrian's mausoleum, was converted into a major fortress overlooking the River Tiber in medieval times.
- The Old Appian Way is a 3rd-century Roman road, where, according to Christian tradition, Peter met Christ and asked him, "Domine, quo vadis?" "Where are you going, Lord?" (The famous Quo Vadis church marks the spot.) Thousands of well-preserved Roman tombs covered with ancient Latin inscriptions still stand under the beautiful cypress trees that line the Old Appian Way.
- Santa Maria in Trastevere, located on a beautiful piazza bearing the same name, is a great medieval church containing 12th-century mosaics on both the inside and the outside. The 17th-century fountain at the center of the square, where students often meet, is illuminated at night.
- The magnificent Spanish Steps, which overlook a Baroque fountain, are a popular place to sit and observe Roman life. The house where the English Romantic poet John Keats lived - and died - in Rome, now a charming museum, is right next to them, as are the Caffè Greco, a beautiful 18th-century café frequented by Casanova, Keats, Byron, Goethe, Liszt, and Wagner, and Babington's Tea Rooms, a grand 19th-century English gathering-place where you can get a hearty breakfast or high tea.
- Via Veneto is a street of elegant hotels, restaurants, and cafés that Fellini's film, La Dolce Vita, made famous.
There are hundreds of other Etruscan, ancient Roman, early Christian, medieval, Byzantine, Renaissance, Baroque, and 19th- and 20th-century treasures throughout the city.