Piazza Navona Rome
Region and City Guides

Famous Landmarks in Rome

What have the Romans ever done for us asks John Cleese’s character in the Monty Python film The Life of Brian. As the sketch points out, the Romans were responsible for quite a lot of innovations.

The Romans also left a legacy of architecture, engineering and art. In this post, I’ll outline the famous landmarks in Rome associated with the different historical periods along with a brief summary of each period.

KINGDOM OF ROME: 753BC – 509BC

Legend has it that abandoned brothers Romulus and Remus were saved and raised by a she-wolf. The brothers were rivals as much as allies. Romulus later killed Remus and went on to found Rome in 753BC.

Romulus was the first of seven kings. The final king was quite brutal in his treatment of his subjects and was overthrown in 509BC.

LANDMARKS: Palatine Hill is where Romulus is said to have founded Rome. Construction on the Roman Forum began in this era.

Roman Forum

ROMAN REPUBLIC: 509BC – 44BC

Rome was now run by two elected consuls. In 450BC, the basic laws of the Republic were written on 12 bronze slabs and displayed in the Roman Forum.

Rome was attacked by the Gauls, and the Republic engaged in the Punic Wars with the Phoenician city of Carthage. Rome began to expand its borders including into Greece. It adopted many Greek innovations.

In 49BC Julius Caesar became leader but was assassinated in 44BC by a group led by Brutus when Caesar heightened his autocratic powers. The event was known as the Ides of March.

LANDMARKS: Construction on the Roman Forum continued (e.g. Forum of Caesar). Palatine Hill was home to well-known citizens such as Cicero.

ROMAN EMPIRE: 27BC – 476AD

A power vacuum was created on the death of Julius Caesar. Octavian and Mark Antony triumphed over Brutus and divided the empire between them; Octavian in the west and Mark Antony in the east with Cleopatra. Octavian deposed Mark Antony’s rule and became the first emperor of the Roman Empire, giving himself the name Augustus.

The leaders of the Roman Empire appointed themselves as Gods, leading to the persecution of anyone who believed in other Gods (i.e. Christians). Other Roman emperors include Tiberius, Claudius (conquered England), Nero, Titus, Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, Diocletian, and Constantine the Great.

In the 4th century, Constantine the Great moved the Eastern Roman Empire’s capital city to Byzantium, re-naming it Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul). He was the first emperor to convert to Christianity.

Rome was invaded by Germanic tribes in the 5th century, deposing Romulus Augustus who was the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire.

The Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) remained intact until conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 15th century.

LANDMARKS: Pantheon, Colosseum, Arch of Constantine, Trajan’s Column, Roman Forum final building, Palatine Hill (Where emperors resided), Santa Pudenziana Basilica, Column of Marcus Aurelius in Piazza Colonna, Scala Sancta at Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano.

Capitoline Museum contains sculptures from this era. A number of obelisks date from this era: St. Peter’s Square, Lateran Obelisk. Constantine’s Basilica was built in the area where St. Peter’s Basilica now stands.

The Pantheon

MIDDLE AGES: 476AD – 15th CENTURY

During Constantine’s rule, Christian Bishops were granted a certain degree of influence. The thousand years following the fall of the Roman Empire saw a power struggle between the popes and the various invading forces. 

The Goths, Lombards, Arabs and Normans all invaded Rome during this period. Charlemagne, king of the Franks, was offered a deal to occupy Rome in return for protection.

During this period, Rome’s population plummeted and the city lost influence to other Italian cities such as Ravenna, Venice and Florence. The papacy even re-located to Avignon in France from 1309 to 1377 when Catherine of Siena convinced the pope to return to Rome. The papacy also moved to Pisa from 1409 to 1415.

LANDMARKS: Basilica of St. Clement, Basilica of Santa Prasseda, Basilica of Santa Cecilia.

RENAISSANCE ROME: 15TH & 16TH CENTURY

The papacy power struggles ended when a member of the influential Colonna family became Pope Martin V in 1417.

Peace began to reign and Rome underwent a re-birth (renaissance). This period was a time of great art and architecture, but of papal corruption and debauchery as well. Those appalled by such transgressions broke away to form Protestantism (Reformation).

LANDMARKS: The works of Michaelangelo and Raphael mark this period. St. Peter’s Basilica was re-built during this period with Michaelangelo as architect. He also painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Museums.

St Peters Square Vatican City
St. Peter’s Basilica and Square

BAROQUE TO MODERN ROME: 17th CENTURY ONWARDS

Great art and architecture were also a feature of the subsequent Baroque period. But it was also a period that focused on a spiritual revival to counteract the Protestant movement. Bernini was the outstanding artist of this period. The St. Peter’s rebuild was completed during this period as well.

LANDMARKS: Piazza Navona, St. Peter’s Square Colonnade, Piazza Berberini, Pantheon Fountain, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps.

Trevi Fountain Rome
Trevi Fountain

The 19th century in Italy was marked by the drive to create a unified Italy which became a reality when the Italian Parliament first met in Turin in 1861.

In 1871, Rome became the capital of a united Kingdom of Italy with Victor Emmanuel II as King. The popes stayed within the Vatican grounds during this period.

LANDMARKS: Piazza del Popolo

Piazza del Popolo Rome
Piazza del Popolo

Benito Mussolini became Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Italy in 1922. What followed was a two-decade dictatorship. In 1929, Mussolini signed the Lateran Treaty which granted the Vatican independence. After 1600 years, the power struggle between secular and sacred Rome came to an end.

LANDMARKS: Victor Emmanuel Monument.

Victor Emmanuel monument Rome
Victor Emmanuel monument

FAMOUS LANDMARKS IN ROME: FINAL THOUGHTS

To see all of the above landmarks in a large city with a history that dates back almost 3,000 years will be a sizeable undertaking. My 3-Day Itinerary for Rome post divides the city into areas so it’s possible to see several eras of city’s history in the one day.  

Poet Tibullus called Rome the Eternal City during the empire days and it’s a description that’s apt. Rome has been one of the most influential cities in Europe, leaving a legacy of architecture, language and governance among other achievements.

For general information on travelling in Italy check out my Solo Travel in Italy post.

Famous landmarks in Rome

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