History of Rome
Roma's history is tightly connected to the history of Europe as a whole. Not just the Roman emperors but also meddieval emperors and kings, such as Charlemagne and Otto I, regarded Rome as the true seat of power; only here could their authority, through benediction by the popes, be sanctified.
Orient yourself facing the large marble monument (Vittoriano/'Wedding Cake') to the south. Take a brief look to your right at the balcony of Palazzo Venezia from which Mussolini used to orate. Dominating the square, the Vittoriano is the monument to King Victor Emanuele, the unifier of Italy. (The 1870 Resorgimento - Italy is a young country, despite its ancient heritage.) Gaudy to some, the Italians derisively call it the Wedding Cake or the Typewriter.
The flame in the center and the military guards mark Italy's tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Cross the square toward the right side of the Wedding Cake (or 'Typewriter') and go up the street (via del Teatro Marcello). On your left after you pass the monument you'll see some ruins. They're the remains of a Roman insula. The insulae were apartment houses. Looking down, you'll see where ground level was 2000 years ago. Insulae were as tall as 6-7 stories. Roadways were quite narrow (10-20 feet) and so the streets were dark and smelly.
Piazza del Popolo
The Porta del Popolo on the north side of the Piazza marks one end, while the East is dominated by the passeggiata del Pincio. This piazza served as an exposition hall, a stadium, and a theater for popular plays. The face of the piazza changed a great deal from the 1400's to the 1800's, with the reconstruction of the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo, the placement of the Flaminian obelisk at the center of the piazza, and the addition of neo-classical elements by Giuseppe Valadier.
Halfway between via del Corso and Piazza Barberini on via del Tritone you'll find a street on the south side called via Mortaro. It leads to via Poli which will take you in two blocks to the Trevi Fountain. A homely area, and generally overcrowded (with tourists like us), but a beautiful fountain, especially since they've renovated and cleaned it. A rarely visited fountain until the movie classics: "Three Coins in the Fountain" (1954) which opens with a view of this fountain and of course "La Dolce Vita" (1960) with Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni kissing in the fountain. These films made the fountain the romantic center of Rome: "You've never lived until you've lived in Rome!"
The fountain is not only celebrated for its excellent water but for the legend that, whoever drinks it or throws a coin in the fountain, will assure his return to Rome. We don't recommend drinking the water though, so: with your back to the fountain, a coin thrown by right hand over left shoulder (or is it left hand over right shoulder?) into the fountain will guarantee your return to Rome. (It's often worked for us!) Go at night, when the fountain is lit, and you will fall in love with the magic of Rome's many fountains!
The architect Salvi built this magnificent fountain in the time of Clement XII. It is making the front of a big palace and is adorned by statues and reliefs by several artists of Bernini's school. From all the spots of the rock section at the bottom of the fountain there 's water sprouting out.
After visiting the Pantheon, turn left on leaving and use a map to find your way to the west, and the Piazza Navona. (It's straight ahead, but if it's your first time in Rome, a map may be comforting.) Piazza Navona is built on the foundations of Domitian's Circus, and you'll recognize the shape.
A Christmas fair fills it in December. There are three fountains, of which the one in the center is world class, the fountain of the four rivers. The Tre Scalini ice cream shop (Gelateria) is famous for its Tartufo (Truffle) ice cream, preferably Tartufo con Panna - with whipped cream. Forget the calories ... splurge!
On the side of the square there is the church Sant'Agnese Agone which is a wonderful example of baroque architecture.
Go to the north end of the piazza, past the toy store to see the remains of the stadium foundations. Walk around the corner to your left and you'll see them below the sidewalk.
History of Rome
History In the 20th century, Rome went through yet another growth spurt. The pope was made sovereign of Vatican City in 1929. The new administration was more interested in offices and housing blocks than churches, and during the 1930s the city expanded beyond the city walls. During Mussolini's rule, in the 1920s and '30s, Rome took on Fascist airs, puffing out its chest with wide boulevards and overblown architecture. Dreams of imperial glory led Mussolini to form an alliance with Germany during WWII, and the nightmare that ensued helped set the scene for Italy 's transformation from a totalitarian regime into a republic in 1946.
The postwar years saw Rome expanding physically and becoming the centre of Italy 's film industry until the early 1960s. The 1970s and '80s were marked by more violent transformations, namely those of some radical student groups (who had a long list of complaints about Italy 's left-wing governments) into right-wing terrorists. The Brigate Rosse (Red Brigade) was the most notorious group, going so far as to kidnap and eventually murder former prime minister Aldo Moro in Rome in 1978. Recent History The last few decades of the 20th century saw a mixture of economic success and wide-ranging corruption scandals which touched many a politician, public official and businessperson.
The public reacted with perverse moral indignation in 1994 by electing a stridently right-wing coalition headed by a billionaire media magnate, Silvio Berlusconi. Amid claims of corruption, the government fell, and after some years of typically Italian political musical chairs, Berlusconi returned from the desert to win the 2001 national elections, promising 'few words and plenty of action'. Despite the landslide victory, his right-wing govern men t's activities have regularly been greeted with large-scale protests. As late as December 2002 he was again under suspicion of corruption, but he seems to have a way with the legal system and may just yet again avoid trouble.
The Jubilee Year in 2000, during which around 16 million Catholic pilgrims visited the city, gave Rome impetus to clean up her act. Billions were spent cleaning church and palazzo facades, improving roads and transport, and reclaiming public spaces from the car parks they'd become. At the start of the new millennium Rome had never looked more beautiful. Meanwhile, Rome proper ostensibly remains, as it has always been, an administrative and tourist centre, without much sign of industry or trade, but lots of political intrigue.
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