Rome, Italian Roma, historic city and capital of Roma provincia (province), of Lazio regione (region), and of the country of Italy. Rome is located in the central portion of the Italian peninsula, on the Tiber River about 15 miles (24 km) inland from the Tyrrhenian Sea. Once the capital of an ancient republic and empire whose armies and polity defined the Western world in antiquity and left seemingly indelible imprints thereafter, the spiritual and physical seat of the Roman Catholic Church, and the site of major pinnacles of artistic and intellectual achievement, Rome is the Eternal City, remaining today a political capital, a religious centre, and a memorial to the creative imagination of the past. Area city, 496 square miles (1.285 square km); province, 2066 square miles (5352 square km). Pop. (2016) city, 2.879.175; province, 3.997.465; (2007 est.) urban agglom., 3.339.000; province, 4.353.738.
Character of the city
For well over a millennium, Rome controlled the destiny of all civilization known to Europe, but then it fell into dissolution and disrepair. Physically mutilated, economically paralyzed, politically senile, and militarily impotent by the late Middle Ages, Rome nevertheless remained a world power—as an idea. The force of Rome the lawgiver, teacher, and builder continued to radiate throughout Europe. Although the situation of the popes from the 6th to the 15th century was often precarious, Rome knew glory as the fountainhead of Christianity and eventually won back its power and wealth and reestablished itself as a place of beauty, a source of learning, and a capital of the arts.
Rome’s contemporary history reflects the long-standing tension between the spiritual power of the papacy and the political power of the Italian state capital. Rome was the last city-state to become part of a unified Italy, and it did so only under duress, after the invasion of Italian troops in 1870. The pope took refuge in the Vatican thereafter. Rome was made the capital of Italy (not without protests from Florence, which had been the capital since 1865), and the new state filled the city with ministries and barracks. Yet the Catholic church continued to reject Italian authority until a compromise was reached with Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in 1929, when both Italy and Vatican City recognized the sovereignty of the other. Mussolini, meanwhile, created a cult of personality that challenged that of the pope himself, and his Fascist Party tried to re-create the glories of Rome’s imperial past through a massive public works program.
Since Mussolini’s fall and the traumas of World War II, when the city was occupied by Germans, politics have continued to dominate Rome’s agenda—although regionalism began, in the 1980s, to devolve some political power away from the capital. Lagging behind Milan and Turin economically, Rome has maintained a peripheral place within the Italian and European economies. It also has been plagued with perennial housing shortages and traffic congestion. However, the late 20th and early 21st centuries brought increased efforts to resolve Rome’s infrastructural problems and to foster a Roman cultural revival.
The Roman countryside, the Campagna, was one of the last areas of central Italy to be settled in antiquity. Rome was built on a defensible hill that dominated the last downstream, high-banked river crossing where traverse of the Tiber was facilitated by a midstream island. This hill, Palatine Hill, was one of a group of hills, traditionally counted as seven, around which the ancient city grew. The other hills are the Capitoline, the Quirinal, the Viminal, the Esquiline, the Caelian, and the Aventine.
Rome’s hot, dry summer days, with high temperatures often above 75 °F (24 °C), are frequently cooled in the afternoons by the ponentino, a west wind that rises from the Tyrrhenian Sea. The city receives roughly 30 inches (750 mm) of precipitation annually; spring and autumn are the rainiest seasons. Frosts and occasional light snowfalls punctuate the otherwise mild winters, when high temperatures average just above 50 °F (10 °C). The tramontana, a cold, dry wind from the north, frequents the city in the winter.
The ancient centre of Rome is divided into 22 rioni (districts), the names of most dating from Classical times, while surrounding it are 35 quartieri urbani (urban sectors) that began to be officially absorbed into the municipality after 1911. Within the city limits on the western and northwestern fringes are six large suburbi (suburbs). About 6 miles (10 km) out from the centre of the city, a belt highway describes a huge circle around the capital, tying together the antique viae (roads)—among them the Via Appia (known in English as the Appian Way), the Via Aurelia, and the Via Flaminia—that led to ancient Rome. Masses of modern apartment buildings rise in the districts outside the centre, where, by contrast, contemporary construction is less conspicuous.
Indeed, ancient city walls still enclose much of the city centre, which is the area of Rome to which tourists flock. The so-called Servian Wall, named for the 6th-century-bce Roman king Servius Tullius but built almost certainly 12 years after the Gauls’ destruction of Rome in 390 bce, enclosed most of the Esquiline and Caelian hills and all of the other five. It was built into ramparts that dated at least from the early Roman Republic. Although Rome grew beyond the Servian defenses, no new wall was constructed until the emperor Aurelian began building in brick-faced concrete in 270 ce. Approximately 12.5 miles (20 km) long and girdling about 4 square miles (10 square km), the Aurelian Wall is still largely intact. Small as it is, the old city contains hundreds of hotels, more than 200 palazzi (palaces), several of the city’s major parks, the residence of the Italian president, the houses of parliament, offices of local and national government, and the great historical monuments, in addition to thousands of offices, restaurants, and bars.
Many of the treasures of Rome no longer can be seen where they were placed originally, many can be seen only in other cities of the world, and many others still in Rome represent the spoils of conquest brought to the city from around the ancient world or the cannibalizing of one age or of one faith upon the creations of an earlier one. Rome was sacked first by the Gauls (see Celts) in 390 bce and subsequently by the Visigoths in 410 ce, the Vandals in 455, the Normans in 1084, and troops of the Holy Roman emperor Charles V in 1527. Muslims laid it under siege in 846. The Great Fire of Rome—Nero’s fire—occurred in 64 ce, and fires and earthquakes ravaged individual buildings or whole areas fairly often over the millennia. But, of all these scourges, it was the stripping of the structures of antiquity for building materials, especially from the 9th century through the 16th, that destroyed more of Classical Rome than any other force. The heritage of the past that survives in Rome is nevertheless unsurpassed in any city of the West.