Rome: The Modern City

In the past half century Rome has expanded well beyond the walls started in the 3d cent. by Emperor Aurelian, and it now extends north to the Aniene. Long sections of the ancient walls have been preserved, however, and archaeology remains an essential element of modern city-planning in Rome. Ancient marble columns and ruins rising beside modern apartments and offices, noisy boulevards, and luxurious villas and gardens characterize the modern city of Rome. As in ancient times, the larger section of Rome lies on the left bank of the Tiber, which intersects the city in three wide curves and is spanned by over 20 bridges.

As in ancient times Rome is a center of transportation. It is the focus of international traffic by road, rail, sea (at the port of Civitavecchia), and air (at Leonardo da Vinci international airport at Fiumicino) and is as well a cultural, religious, political, and commercial center of international importance. Public transportation in Rome is provided by an elaborate bus system. A subway, the Metropolitana, was opened in 1955. Rome's large number of automobiles has caused serious traffic congestion, and in the 1970s and 80s various attempts were made to deal with the problem, including the banning of traffic in certain parts of the city. The economy of Rome depends to a very large extent on the tourist trade. The city is also a center of banking, insurance, printing, publishing, and fashion. Italy's movie industry (founded in 1936) is located at nearby Cinecitta.

Aside from modern residential quarters, the right-bank section of Rome contains Vatican City, including Saint Peter's Church, the Castel Sant' Angelo, and the ancient quarter of Trastevere. In describing the larger left-bank section one may use the Piazza Venezia, a central square, as a convenient point of departure. It lies at the foot of the old Capitol (see Capitoline Hill) and borders on the huge monument to King Victor Emmanuel II and on the Palazzo Venezia, a Renaissance palace from the balcony of which Mussolini used to address the crowds. A broad avenue, the Via dei Fori Imperiali, runs from the Piazza Venezia SE to the Colosseum, leaving the Emperors' Fora and at a distance the Church of St. Peter in Chains (San Pietro in Vincoli) to the left, and the Capitol and the ancient Forum to the right. From the Colosseum the Via di San Gregorio continues south past the Arch of Constantine and the Baths of Caracalla to the Appian Way. There, as in other places on the outskirts of Rome, are large catacombs. From the Piazza Venezia another modern thoroughfare, the Via del Mare, leads southwestward to the Tiber and then east past the Basilica of St. Paul's Outside the Walls (San Paolo fuori le Mure) to Ostia, Rome's ancient port now blocked by silt, to the sea at Lido di Roma.

The narrow and busy Via del Corso leads N from the Piazza Venezia past the Piazza Colonna (now the heart of Rome) to the Piazza del Popolo at the gate of the old Flaminian Way. East of the Piazza del Popolo are the Pincian Hill, commanding one of the finest views of Rome, and the famous Borghese Villa. In the widest westward bend of the Tiber, W of the Via del Corso, is the Campo Marzio quarter (anciently, Campus Martius), where most of the medieval buildings are located; there also are the Pantheon (now a church) and the parliament buildings. To the east of the Via del Corso the fashionable Via Condotti leads to the Piazza di Spagna; a flight of 132 steps ascends from that square to the Church of the Santa Trinità dei Monti and the Villa Medici. The Quirinal palace is NE of the Piazza Venezia. In the southeastern section, near the gate of San Giovanni, are the Lateran buildings.

As an educational center Rome possesses—aside from the Univ. of Rome (founded 1303)—the colleges of the church, several academies of fine arts, and the Accademia di Santa Cecilia (founded 1584), the world's oldest academy of music. The opera house is one of Europe's grandest. The various institutes of the Univ. of Rome were formerly scattered throughout the city but were transferred in 1935 to the northeastern section.

Among the countless churches of Rome there are five patriarchal basilicas—St. Peter's, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore), St. Lawrence Outside the Walls, and St. Paul's Outside the Walls. With the exception of St. Mary Major, the basilicas and other ancient churches occupy the sites of martyrs' tombs. Characteristic of the old Roman churches are their fine mosaics (4th–12th cent.) and the use of colored marble for decoration, introduced in the 12th cent. by the workers in marble known as Cosmati. Rome's first mosque opened in 1995.

Among Rome's many palaces and villas the Farnese Palace (begun 1514) and the Farnesina (1508–11) are particularly famous; others, all dating from the 17th cent., are those of the great Roman families, the Colonna, Chigi, Torlonia, and Doria. Rome is celebrated for its beautiful Renaissance and baroque fountains, such as the ornate Fontana di Trevi (18th cent.). Its richest museums and libraries are in the Vatican. Others include the National (in the Villa Giulia), Capitoline, and Torlonia museums, notable for their antiquities; and the Borghese, Corsini, Doria, and Colonna collections of paintings.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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