Once the capital of the entirety of Western civilization—Rome is one of the most fascinating cities I have ever been to. Before this trip with my parents, I thought I already knew a lot about the history of Rome and the Roman Empire, but thanks to an amazing tour guide, I was able to learn so much more about the history of Rome and just how fascinating it truly is. As such, I am here to share my newfound knowledge with you so that you can be just as fascinated as I was!
La Fontana di Trevi: One of the most beautiful sights in Rome
At The Heart of Rome
At the core of all events in history is the geography. Almost all civilizations have had to adapt to their geographical circumstances in one way or another. The Romans were no different; their capital city of Rome was built on a floodplane. This gave Rome the benefit of having highly fertile lands to cultivate crops. However, this had the quite obvious downside of flooding during periods of high river discharge.
In order to control and prevent the flooding from damaging the city, the ancient Romans constructed a structure known as the Cloaca Maxima. This massive dam-like structure controlled the flow of the rivers near the city of Rome and helped to control water levels, prevent floods, and provide drinking water for the citizens of Rome. This structure was so well built, that it actually is still in use to this very day!
Well, with a caveat. After the fall of the Western Roman empire, the city of Rome suddenly lost the vast majority of it’s population. This meant that most of the ancient buildings and structures (including the Cloaca Maxima) went unmaintained. As a result, the dam stopped functioning properly, and soon, the ground levels within the city of Rome began to rise.
Eventually, as Rome began to be repopulated, new structures started to be constructed—quite literally right on top of the old ones. If you go to the city of Rome today, you will see that most of the ancient ruins and structures are actually a few feet underground. There are even sections of Rome where you can visit that takes you underground through several different layers—each layer containing constructions from a different era of Rome’s history!
A City in Ruins
Unfortunately, most of the exposed ancient ruins still around today in Rome are just that—ruined. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Papacy allowed anyone within the city to take whatever they wanted from the different structures and artifacts, except for any building designated as a church. This is the primary reason why famous structures from the Colloseum have seemingly massive pieces missing—they were likely literally stripped for parts! The result of this decrees is that much of the old Roman structures that were still around on the surface today are almost completely stripped and destroyed. That being said, there does exist a few stark examples of important buildings still around to this day—the Pantheon being the best example.
The interior of the colosseum—you can see how much of it is destroyed or missing.
The Pantheon is the oldest building still intact in Rome today and quite possibly the most well-preserved ancient Roman building in the world. In Latin, the Pan in Pantheon refers to all, while Theo is the word for God. Thus, the Pantheon is literally a building for all of the gods. This building is one of the most fascinating feats of architecture in all of history—to the point that scientists and engineers are unsure as to whether or not it could even have been recreated today.
The building’s dome is still the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. In the center of the dome is a hole known as the oculus. This hole is literally the perfect size. If it were even a centimeter bigger, the dome would not be structurally sound and collapse. The sun shines in through this dome at a specific angle depending on the day of the year; the light is always pointing towards the entrance on the Roman New Year, symbolizing a new beginning for Rome. Despite having an open roof, the building never floods due to rain thanks to perfectly placed holes on the beautiful marble floor that collect rainwater and send it away.
Sorry about the blurry quality in the photo. My phone had a really hard time capturing the magnificence of the oculus!
This is just scratching the surface on the history of Rome. Here, I am only covering the Roman/Classical era. I could write a whole other post about what happened after the fall and the legacy of the Papacy and the Vatican, but that’s something for another day. If this post inspired a bit of curiosity regarding Rome, I highly recommend you do your own research or even plan a trip—I promise you won’t regret it!