At roughly about the middle portion of the Italian peninsula in the Mediterranean Sea sits one of the greatest cities in the world. It is not without full reason that it goes by the moniker of the Eternal City, having existed as a city for over two millennia and a half. Straddling the River Tiber and nestled upon seven hills lies Rome, once a city-state that became the center of one of the oldest republics, then the heart of the most glorious empire in ancient times, then the center of faith for one of the major religions of the world, and now capital of the Republic and former Kingdom of Italy. Rome has served the greater history of man in many different ways through the passing of centuries. Today it is a major tourist destination on the sheer weight of historical value alone, and it is only enhanced further by its rich culture and arts scene, plus its proximity to the beating heart of the Catholic Faith.
While the modern city of Rome, and the greater Metropolitan Rome, has territory that now far dwarf the land area occupied by the historical, ancient city, it is the spot to the east and north of the meandering Tiber River where the best of the sights can be seen. The vaunted Seven Hills of Rome are arranged in a rough circle with the Palatine Hill in the center. The Palatine is said to be one of the most ancient parts of the city, and is filled with a number of residences by the emperors of the Imperial era; it is from the hill’s name that the word “palace” comes from after all, and the likes of Augustus, Tiberius and Domitian had magnificent domiciles sharing space on the hill with temples for Apollo and Cybele.
At points around the foot of the Palatine, one can find some of the most iconic structures of Rome: the Forum or marketplace, the Coliseum amphitheater – synonymous with the city itself – where gladiator contests and the like were held, and the ancient chariot race stadium called the Circus Maximus, now a public park.
To the north west of the Palatine is the Capitoline Hill, where once were located other temples to the ancient Roman gods, and then as a site for the civic government for Rome. It is this function that led to the name Capitoline becoming the origin for “capitol” or a legislature government building. These government houses, designed by the great Renaissance artist Michelangelo, are now a museum complex showcasing marvelous works of art from all across the great periods of Roman history.
The other hills of Rome have their own treasures to be found as well. The Quirinal Hill, north of the Capitoline, is the site of the palace that is now the official residence of the Italian President. The American White House is only one-twentieth its size in comparison. The Aventine is a quaint residential area with its own basilica (of Santa Sabina) and the city’s Rose Garden; well-off Romans make their homes at the Caelian and the Esquiline (where the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is). Finally the Viminal is home to government offices, the Teatro dell’Opera and the grand Rome Termini, or railway station.
But there are other magnificent sights to be seen outside the core of earliest Rome. Close to the Quirinal is the Trevi district that is the site of the famous Trevi fountain, and allegedly a traveler’s magical assurance that he might return to Rome in the future (by tossing a coin into it, naturally). Not far from there is the Piazza di Spagna, the former Spanish Embassy to the Holy See, that is reached by the picturesque Spanish Steps. A bit further west, closer to the eastern banks of the Tiber, is the Pantheon, a former Roman temple that is now a church. Crossing the Tiber to the western bank, one can get to the Parco Adriano where the Castel Sant’Angelo, an old Papal fortress, stands.
From there it is but a ways to the north and west where can be seen Rome’s most esteemed guest, the world’s smallest country within its city limits and seat of the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church: Vatican City. Standing on the same-named hill due north and west of Rome of the Seven Hills, it would draw countless numbers of faithful to visit and celebrate mass and other milestones of the Christian calendar with the Holy Father, all of whom would make the short trip from the grand city all around it.
It was said that the first Caesar of the Roman Empire, Augustus, remarked that he first saw Rome as a city made of brick, and that he left it as a city made of marble. That anecdote poetically illustrates the grand evolution of Rome, from the heart of a great ancient civilization, to the center of a worldwide faith, to a beacon of fine arts and culture during the Renaissance. The modern city that stands today carries the memories of its past forms proudly, presenting them for the world to see and invite them to visit, again and again. This is the glory of the Eternal City that is Rome, one that will continue to fascinate all people of this age and beyond.