The Squares of Rome
Welcome to the Rome section of my website.
I created these pages out of tour notes I wrote about the city of Rome some years back.
As a Vatican tour guide, my clients were always asking me did I do tours of Rome?
Unfortunately not as I am not licensed for the city, I cannot do tours of Rome,
and getting a licence for Rome is almost impossible if you are not Italian.
Accordingly, I have created these pages so people can self guide themselves
around the city or just find out some info about Rome's many piazzas and fountains.
I hope this site is of some use to you. Enjoy!
Generally speaking Rome has had two bursts of building activity; Roman and Roman Catholic.
Circa 500 BC to 475 AD
Most major buildings or squares in the city have Roman foundations or a history which explains their names
or function. The ancient Romans were originally a monarchy from 753 BC to 509 BC, the mythical Romulus founding
the settlement around the Capitoline Hill and Forum.
The Romans booted out their last king Tarquinius Superbus in 509 BC and became a republic along the Greek model.
This form of government with regular elections would exist for over four hundred and fifty years. Victorious generals
and magistrates would commission buildings to honour their families and enshrine their name in the popular consciousness.
Examples include much of the Roman forum and Largo Argentina
Julius Caesar dismantled much the Roman Republic's Constitution, concentrating power in his own hands as Dictator for Life.
His death in 44 BC at the hands of Brutus and Cassius lead to a civil war which
Caesar's great nephew Octavian won. Octavian Caesar was given the title Augustus, the revered one, in 27 BC was Rome's
first Emperor in all but name. In future all Roman leaders would call themselves Imperator Caesar Augustus
and then their own name; Imperator, which means military general, is where we get the English word Emperor.
The emperors built many buildings around the city to ensure their names and those of their family would be remembered.
These include the Pantheon
, much of the Roman Forum, the Colosseum,
, the theatre of Marcellus
among many other buildings.
Roman Catholic phase
Circa 800 AD to 1870 AD
After the fall of the Roman Empire in the west in 475 AD, about 1500 years ago, the Catholic Church became the
effective rulers of the city. They had been given substantial influence and grants by the Roman Emperor Constantine
(308 to 333 AD) and on these lands built St. Peter's Basilica
St. John the Lateran and St. Paul's outside the Walls. A future Emperor Theodosius made Christianity the state religion
of the Empire (380 AD) meaning paganism was finished officially although it did continue for another 100 years or so.
Previous pagan temples were converted in to Roman Catholic Churches (the Pantheon
Santa Maria Sopra Minerva) and the Bishop of Rome or Pope (papa or father) carved out increasing influence as the
head of the church in the West.
Constantine had moved the Roman Empire's capital to the east renaming Byzantium Constantinople (it's now Istanbul).
It was still officially called the Roman Empire, but it was too far away to mount effective control over the city.
German warlords threatened Rome over the next 400 years until Pope Leo III made an alliance with the strongest
tribe in Europe, the Franks (or future French) who were Roman Catholic. Pepin the Short (Charlemagne's father) gave the pope
control over Rome and its surrounding regions which were now called the Papal States. Pope Leo III cemented this alliance
by crowning Charlemagne or Charles the Great in St. Peter's on Christmas 800 AD. The Frankish Empire would eventually
be called the Holy Roman Empire and Rome was now part of the Papal States, which extended coast to coast and as
far north as Bologna, dominating central Italy for the next thousand years.
The second and most noticeable phase of building in the city now began in earnest.
From the years 1470 to 1770 the Pope's would cause the creation of
Campo di Fiori
the Fountain of Moses
the Jewish Ghetto
Piazza del Popolo
the Spanish Steps
and the Trevi Fountain
Famous artists and architects during this period include Michelangelo, Raphael Sanzio, Leonardo da Vinci,
Gianlorenzo Bernini, Giacomo della Porta, Giuseppe Valadier among others. The Catholic Church was directly
involved in promoting the Renaissance and the Baroque artistic periods.
1870 AD -
In 1870 the city states of Italy unified in to the country we basically know today.
The Papal States were seized and Rome became the capital of the new country. The new state, cleared the Roman Forum
and opened it to the public, renovated other buildings and created Il Vittoriano which is the white wedding cake
shaped building on Piazza Venezia. In the 1920s Mussolini took power in Italy and went about glorifying the city,
completing Michelangelo's floor design on the Campidoglio
, and creating two major roads
that provide scenic views;
Via dei Fori Imperiali lining the Colosseum to Piazza Venezia and Via Concilizione linking St. Peter's to Castel Sant Angelo.
He is still criticised by archaeologists and historians to this day for destroying or covering up ancient Roman ruins.
Mussolini was killed during the Second World War (1939 to 1945) and Italy had a constitutional referendum to abolish the
monarchy shortly afterwards. It is now a democratic republic with a president as head of state.
The state carries out restorations of the city's monuments on a regular basis and new finds are still being
made in excavations.