Marijana Milićević tells us about the beauty and the history of the city of a million moonlit places: Rome.
Ancient Rome was one of the greatest superpowers in history. Indeed, its legacy continues to shape our lives. For almost a thousand years, the Romans dominated the then known world, marking an age of unprecedented progress and stability. However, they also ruled through violence and slavery, while its epic history was often decided for better or worse by different critical moments.
Constantine the Great
From a historical point of view, Rome experienced some of the biggest changes during the reign of Constantine the Great, born as Flavius Valerius Constantinus on February 27, 272 AD in Nais, today’s Niš, Serbia. Having his biggest enemy in the eastern part of the empire, Maxentius, in 312 Constantine engaged with him a civil war. After the bloody Battle of the Milvian Bridge, where thousands of soldiers were killed, Constantine won.
Before, he had ordered to embroider the symbol of Christianity on the soldiers’ armors, believing that this decision would result to be crucial for the ultimate success. Constantine’s victory over Maxentius in 312 and the Edict of Milan proclaiming the permanently established religious toleration for Christianity in 313, were two key events in the his future career and religious policies, which significantly influenced not only his life, but also the whole course of the history of the Roman Empire and Christianity in general.
If we walk between the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill, we will see the famous Arch of Constantine. The first things that stand out to the eye of an observer are the sculptures that adorn the arcade, made in the characteristic classicist style of the ancient era.
The Flavian dynasty
All roads lead to Rome, and precisely to Rome’s main symbol, the Colosseum. For one of the seven world wonders of the new age, refecting the powerful size of the antique architecture and the legendary stories of gladiators, we should thank the Flavian dynasty. The work on the building that we now have the opportunity to admire, was started by Vespasian in the year 70 AD, and was completed by his son Titus, eight years later.
It is believed that the name Colosseum originates from the colossal sculpture of Emperor Nero in front of the building, but doubts remain. Here, in front of fifty thousand spectators, both from the higher ranks and the poorer layers of the Roman society, there were fighting gladiators, but also simulations of naval battles, for which the amphitheater was filled with water. The great significance of the most famous Roman sight is best quoted by Venerable Bede: ‘While the Colosseum stands, Rome will also stand: when the Colosseum falls, Rome will fall, and when Rome falls, the world will also be gone!’.
Great squares, great stories
Piazza Campo de’ Fiori
Two things make this square part of the history and the social fabric of Rome. On the one hand, its flowers and delicious fruits are loved also by the tourist, on the other hand it represents a permanent reminder of the 16th century Inquisition. Moreover, Campo de’ Fiori is an extremely atypical Roman square, as there are no churches. Indeed, this square was the place where the Catholic Church performed executions and punishment by scourging.
It is always here where, on February 17, 1600, the famous philosopher and monk Giordano Bruno was burned alive on charges of heresy. In memory of the philosopher, in 1888, a bronze statue was built in the square of the ‘Field of Flowers’. The sculptor Ettore Ferrari designed the head of the sculpture facing the Vatican, as a warning sign.
Piazza Navona is a masterpiece of Baroque architecture. Indeed, this square is witness of all the changes that took place throughout the age-old history of Rome. It was built in the 17th century on the foundation of the ancient Stadium of Domitian, opened in 86 AD and dedicated to the Greek athletic games highly appreciated by the emperor, as the citizens of Rome perceived them as immoral. There are three famous fountains by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in this square: Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of Four Rivers), Fontana del Moro (Fountain of the Moor) and Fontana del Nettuno (Neptune Fountain).
Piazza del Popolo
People’s Square is Rome’s main square. This ellipsoid hot spot is surrounded by three churches and, at its center, there is an Egyptian obelisk, where you can have an incredible view of the city. On the southern side, there are two twin churches built in the 17th century, Santa Maria in Montesanto and Santa Maria dei Miracoli. On the opposite side, there is the old Roman gate, or Flaminia gate, part of the so-called Aurelius walls, built during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
This door faced the road to the north (Flaminia Street), becoming the first point of the city where passengers coming from the northern parts of Italy were controlled before entering the walls. Next to the gate, there is the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo, the oldest church in the square, built in the 11th century on the tomb of Emperor Nero on the orders of Pope Pascal II. The construction of the church was financed mainly through the pockets of Roman people (‘popolo‘, in Italian), explaining why it is called Piazza del Popolo, which means ‘belonging to the people’.
Rome truly wins mind and heart at first sight, thanks to the countless, impressive ancient traces and to the Renaissance works of great painters and sculptors. Perhaps, the verses of the song ‘Arrivederci Roma’ (Goodbye to Rome) best describe all this beauty:
‘Arrivederci Roma, Goodbye, goodbye to Rome…
City of a million moonlit places, city of a million warm embraces, where I found the one of all the faces, far from home!’.