By Soren Rivero
Rome is a world-renowned city highly admired for its incredible architecture, vast history, and delicious food. The sights in this global charm are truly endless, and chances are you’re probably familiar with famous landmarks like the Colosseum and Trevi Fountain.
But what if we told you that this city has some amazing, if occasionally peculiar, history? To help you get more acquainted, we’re diving into some of the unknown sides of Rome.
Where Did Rome Come From?
According to the founding Myth of Rome, this city was first discovered by a pair of twin brothers on the banks of the Tiber River in Central Italy on April 21st, 753 B.C.E The two lucky winners of this soon-to-be phenomena were twin brothers Romulus and Remus. The two were said to be nourished by a she-wolf as infants after they were nearly drowned in the river. Romulus and Remus enacted revenge on those who tried to drown them as kids and reclaimed the city for their own. A dispute between them ended in the death of Remus, in which the enduring brother renamed the city to: Rome!
You can actually see a monument dedicated to the she-wolf, named the Capitoline Wolf, in downtown Rome! If you’re interested in history or taking photos, this is a must-see monument in Rome.
Rome: From Toddler to Giant
Early people of Rome learned to live alongside each other through what the Greeks call synoecism— the act of unifying together. Trade was the highlight of this city even from the early days. Bridges were built across rivers and a central marketplace made for an excellent spot for people to sell goods. While most of these are now gone, the oldest iteration of a marketplace in Rome is Campo dei Fiori, built around the 17th century. If you’re looking for fun things to do in Rome, paying a visit to this beautiful square is definitely worth it.
A few kingdoms ruled the land throughout the early ages, in which they’d borrow ideas from other cultures, such as the Greeks. Even to this day, you can see inspiration in food, architecture, language, social, and religion from many other cultures.
A perfect example of this is Rome's most famous church, St. Peter’s Basilica, which is of Catholic descent. Interestingly, Romans were traditionally polytheistic before Catholicism was accepted by Emperor Constantine in 313 C.E.
Fall of Rome
The emperors of Rome initiated attacks on many neighboring regions and kingdoms as their power continued to grow. By 200 B.C.E., The Roman Republic had conquered nearly all of Italy, and subsequently parts of Greece, Spain, the Mediterranean, some areas in Asia, and even Northern Africa. It’s suspected that at its peak, the Roman Empire had over 4 million sq.kL to its name! Maybe that’s why we have Rome-inspired foods all across the world, such as gelato and carbonara.
Over the next hundred years, Rome would continue to be an extremely dominant force in the Eastern Hemisphere under numerous different emperors. Some notable ones that you’ve probably heard of are Augustus, Marcus Aurelius, Nero, Gallus, and Septimus Severus. Influence from these emperors can be seen in famous landmarks in Europe such as Hadrian’s Wall in the United Kingdom, built under Emperor Hadrian.
A split was made that divided Rome into two halves by Constantine the Great. In 476 C.E., the Northern Half fell at the hands of the Germanic Tribes; the Western Half (Byzantine Empire) thrived for thousands of years until its defeat by the Ottoman Empire in 1453.
Byzantine’s former capitol, Constantinople, is now modern day Istanbul. In 1861, Italy unified under a single king, and the now small city of Rome was made its capital!
The Icons of Rome: Landmarks, Sites, Monuments, and Their Secrets
So aside from the incredible history of the Roman Republic that ultimately shaped the world’s history, what else makes Rome such an incredible place? To answer this question: everything.
One simply has to look at the immense amount of historical sites spread throughout not only Rome, but other places in the world. Most of these iconic landmarks to see during travel are either directly from the Roman Republic, donated to them, or influenced by them.
Arguably one of the most popular landmarks in Rome is the Colosseum. It’s an amazing sight to see in Italy, with it being the focal point of many tours throughout the country.
One lesser known fact about the Colosseum is that it’s also called the Flavian Amphitheater. Construction for this giant amphitheater was started by the Flavian emperors around 70 C.E. under the rule of Vespasian. This emperor had quite humble beginnings. He wanted to erase some of the tyrannical influence leftover by his predecessor, so he mapped the Colosseum to be built on the previous emperor’s private lake.
Construction was not completed until years later. In 80 C.E. Titus dedicated it by arranging a ceremony with over 100 games. Now replenished, the Colosseum is one of Italy’s most famous tourist attractions!
The Colosseum is well known for its history with gladiator battles, chariot races, and public executions. You can visit the Colosseum and see the spectator arena, but what some people might not know is that there is more to the Colosseum than meets the eye. There’s an underground part of the Colosseum that’s rather dark and narrow. This portion of the Colosseum only opened up to visitors in 2010. If you want to adventure through it, you’ll need to have both a special pass and permission from a licensed guide.
Just a few glances across the underground, and you’ll quickly find out that the Colosseum was indeed a multi-functional hypogaeum. Grooves and slits in the walls hint to a particularly grim past. People sent for execution, animals, and gladiators were kept underground to await their fate. The incredibly tight architecture and dim lighting proves that the conditions these people and animals were kept in were unfavorable, to say the least.
Most of the underground was left unexplored for a while, and its complex system is now categorized as a labyrinth. Navigating through both the Colosseum and the underground can take quite some time. There are stations where you can tune in to listen to pre-recorded information at designated spots.
Before leaving through the Southern Exit, look up and you can see a fresco depicting the crucifixion.
Near Rome: A Somber Shroud Engulfs Vatican City
Did you know that Vatican City is the world’s smallest independent nation-state? This small nation is surrounded by Rome and operates separately from Italy, but it's still one of the best places to see in Rome. It's home to the infamous St. Peter’s Basilica and is also the seat of the Roman Catholic Church.
A trip to Rome is not complete without seeing some of the iconic sites in the Vatican. But what about its secrets?
First, exorcisms. In mid 2018, the Vatican opened up a course designed to train well over 200 priests in the practice of exorcisms. An increased need for exorcisms from Catholics around the world prompted this decision. In addition, the priests and bishops at the Vatican themselves have even performed well over 100,000 exorcisms throughout time.
Next, the Vatican has the highest crime rate in the world. Of course, it is a small nation so it’s expected… though many of the crimes are actually petty thievery and mail fraud.
The Vatican has also been noted for many world class scandals regarding politics and power trips. Some of the most noteworthy information is categorized under the term ‘Secrets of the Vatican’ including Pope Pius XII involvement in WWII. We won't go too depth into all that here, but let's just say it's an interesting read for those fascinated by the secrets of the Vatican!
On a lighter note, some say that there are even magical artifacts hidden inside the Vatican, such as a device that can help you look back in time. Though it must be noted that these are highly speculative and must be taken with a grain (or two) of salt.
Look Closely and You Might See Via Margutta
There are so many things to do in Rome – sometimes it’s incredibly easy to get swamped underneath all of this and lose sight of Rome's true beauty. Via Margutta is a small street with plenty of mystery and enchantment surrounding it. It’s one part of Rome that many people aren’t aware of, mainly because of how hidden it is.
Located just a few blocks away from the Spanish Steps, this street started off as a small alleyway/sewer street used to connect palaces. It’s now a quiet street with mystifying elements, filled with unique artwork and beautiful lighting at night. Definitely worth the visit, especially since it was used as a scene for some famous movies such as Roman Holiday.
These are just a few of the unknown parts of Rome's history – the rest, well, you'll just have to discover for yourself on your next trip to Rome!