Rome is a city of romance and ancient ruins coexisting in the cosmopolitan chaos of a modern national capital. Vestiges of the Roman Empire’s power and building prowess, the Forum and the Colosseum, are iconic landmarks and tourism magnets. And as the acknowledged world seat of the Catholic Church, Rome’s monuments to religious wealth over the centuries, such as the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica, are important religious tourism sites and shrines. With a history dating back more than 3,000 years, and the art and architecture from along the way, Rome is a museum in itself. Within all of that exist hidden and obscure bits of culture and history.
The First and Largest European University is in Rome
Sapienza University of Rome -- often also referred to as Sapienza or the University of Rome -- is the city’s, and Europe’s, oldest college, established in 1303 A.D. It is the largest university in Europe, and the second largest higher-education system in the world. Specializing in aerospace engineering and scientific research, among many other disciplines, the university with more than 700 years of history today is also known for its international studies programs. Sapienza serves 112,000 students with a faculty and staff of 4,000 professors and 2,000 officials, technicians, and librarians.
Typical for ancient Roman times, the genesis of Sapienza is dramatic and controversial. It seems an early Roman with powerful ambitions, Benedetto Caetan, convinced Pope Celestino V to abdicate the papacy, then took his spot. Calling himself Pope Boniface VIII, in 1303 he promptly excommunicated King Philip IV of France in the aftermath of a religious-political power struggle. The same year, he opened Stadium Urbis, the University of Rome, outside the walls of the Vatican. Given the tumultuous times, the move didn’t alleviate all tensions, of course, but it did help set a tone for future cooperation between secular and religious scholarship.
Trevi Fountain Coins Fund the Needy
Nearly $800,000 worth of coins are tossed into Rome’s Trevi Fountain each year. The proceeds are donated to Caritas to help those in need. Located in the Quirinale district of the city, the enormous and intricately carved fountain is made mostly of travertine. It ended up being designed by Italian architect Nicola Salvi, and was subsequently completed by Giuseppe Pannini and several others. At roughly 86 meters in height and 160 feet wide, the ancient fountain is the largest Baroque fountain in the city of Rome and, arguably, the most famous public fountain in the world.
Salvi wasn’t the original architect involved with the project. Architect Alessandro Galilei, a relative of famous ancient astronomer Galileo, originally was given the commission for the fountain’s design by Pope Clemens XII in 1730. However, the announcement elicited outrage from citizens, because another top architect in contention -- Salvi -- was a native Roman, while Galilei was Florentine. The project was given to Salvi in part to quell the uprising.
St. Peter’s is the Biggest Church Ever
Viewed from afar, the scale of the buildings surrounding St. Peter’s Basilica gives you an idea of its immense size, as the otherwise sizable structures are dwarfed by the gigantic church in their midst. The Italian Renaissance behemoth is one of the pre-eminent Catholic holy shrines in the world. As such, it is visited by thousands of pilgrims and tourists on a monthly basis.
You don’t have to be devout in order to be awed by the basilica's grandeur. At 610 feet long and 150 feet high, the huge church is actually the second version. The first, which received basilica status due to its site above St. Peter’s tomb, was completed around 350 A.D. It stood for more than 1,000 years, but concerns over deterioration caused Pope Julias II to call for its demolition. Construction of the new basilica, which began in the early 1500s, took 120 years to complete. Its massive dome, some 140 feet in diameter, reaches a height of nearly 450 feet. After taking an elevator or hiking up the stairs, visitors to the dome level enjoy spectacular view of Rome and Vatican City.