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Rome as a Pre or Post Cruise Stop

The History of Rome - Part One

Rome is not only a major tourist destination, it’s also the city where many cruises start or finish. But as we know, Rome is not actually a cruise port city. Cruise ships do not dock in Rome. Civitavecchia is the port servicing the city of Rome and it lies about 37 miles north of Rome. However, for the purpose of my series on Rome as a Pre or Post Cruise stop, I will treat Rome as the actual port stop and include information about Civitavecchia in the entry entitled Civitavecchia as a port stop for Rome. My blog entries are divided into the following sections:

1.​ History

2. Transportation to and from the airport

3. Transportation to and from the port

4. Getting around the city

5. Places to see

6. Rome Markets

7. Hop on Hop off buses

8. Civitavecchia as a port stop for Rome

9. Fun Facts / Churches & Basilicas

In this blog posting, the first of two covering the history of Rome, I will address the origins of the city. The legend of Rome's creation and the story of the mighty Roman Empire, are fairly well known as both are taught (world wide), in schools. If that were not enough, souvenir shops or kiosks in Rome, generally have offerings that depict the story of the “twins” who founded the city. When rumour has it that the gods had a hand in the creation of a place, it stimulates the imagination.

As legend has it, Rome was founded in 753 B.C. by the twin sons of the Princess Rhea Silvia (who was also a vestal virgin), and Mars the god of war. The ruler, King Amulius, who had overthrown Rhea’s father from the throne, learned of the birth of Rhea's sons and fearing that the enfants would grow to manhood and depose him, decided to take measures to ensure that they did not reach manhood. Not wanting to outright murder the babies, he opted to let fate be the determining factor. Romulus and Remus were put into a basket, which was then placed in the Tiber river with the intent that the basket would fill with water and drown the twins. There is also a version of the story that has the basket left on the banks of the river so the twins would die of exposure. Either way, King Amulius was sure the twins would die without him actually being the one to physically kill them. However, the god of the river, Tiberinusa, saved that twins and gave them to a she-wolf who suckled the enfants. That is why you will see statues, murals and frescos depicting a female wolf suckling two young boys.

The twins were later adopted by a shepherd, grew to be adults, developed fighting skills and became strong, fearless warriors. Being natural leaders, they were soon followed by an army. They came to learn of their noble heritage and set out to retake the throne for their family. Romulus killed King Amulius thereby proving that the king’s fears about the threat that the twins posed to him, were valid.

Eventually the twins, having defeated the king and setting their maternal grandfather back upon the throne, searched for a place to build a city of their own with the intent of jointly ruling. The two brothers separated in their search for the perfect location and each found a hill they favoured as the site of their future city. The hills were adjacent to each other and while Remus wanted to build their new city on Aventine Hill, Romulus had chosen Palatine Hill. The twins quarreled and eventually Remus was killed. The most popular legend is that he was killed by his brother Romulus but there is also the theory that one of the gods killed him. Regardless of who actually killed Remus, the end result is that Romulus ruled as the sole king of Rome until his death. All the kings after Romulus were elected by the senate.

Historical records not based in myth, tell us that Rome is set within seven hills: Esquiline Hill, Palatine Hill, Aventine Hill, Capitoline Hill, Quirinal Hill, Viminal Hill and Caelian Hill. The two main hills supposedly selected by the twins are the fixed points for early construction and colonization. There is evidence of habitation that predated the official creation of Rome and about the time the city was established as more than a collection of dwellings, the land was ruled by the Etruscans. The low lying land, and more specifically, the land between the two hills supposedly selected by the twins, was very swampy and by 625 B.C. the Romans drained it and installed a sewer system which exists to this very day. With the draining of the swamp, building in the low-lying areas commenced and Rome grew. For those interested in the sewer system and early Roman structures, you can still see the opening of the sewer system as it drains into the Tiber River.

In the city’s recorded history, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus was the final Etruscan king of Rome before it became a republic in 509 B.C.. He reigned from 535 BC to 509 BC and was considered to have been an arrogant and aloof ruler who was out of touch with the population. Historical books commonly refer to him as Tarquin the Proud, a despot and horrific ruler. Once he was overthrown, Rome became a republic. Under the republic, the city continued to prosper and grow. With that growth came expansion, roads, central heating, personal cleanliness, sanitation measures and the Roman calendar.

In 390 B.C. the Gauls attacked and burned Rome but by 264 B.C. the Romans were back in control of the city and the area that is considered to be modern day Italy. Ancient Rome grew into an empire that soon encompassed most of Europe, Britain, north Africa and the Mediterranean islands. Among the many legacies of the Romans is the development of the Romance languages (Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian), which are all derived from Latin. Buildings that are Roman in origin, are found all over the ancient world in places that were under Roman occupation. The concept for those structures were mostly developed in the city of Rome. When you walk the streets of Rome you will see basilicas, triumphal arch, aqueducts and amphitheatres, all of which are creations of the Romans. Let's not forget about the sewers which drained away the filth of the city with every rain.

As we progress through the history of Rome as a city, we can see that the last western emperor abdicated in 476 and Rome went into a general decline in the fifth century A.D. As the power of the Roman empire weakened, so too did the city of Rome. However, Christianity had already begun to flourish and emerge from its humble origins. Where Christian teaching, baptisms and masses were once celebrated in secret, early religious structures were starting to be put into place in and around the city of Rome. Although you can still visit and tour some of the catacombs that harboured the Christians prior to the acceptance of the religion, the building of designated religious structures cemented Rome as a stronghold of Christianity. As the centuries passed, newer and more impressive churches were built, many of which are magnificent and will be covered in the Places to See or Churches & Basilicas sections of my Rome as a Port Stop blogs. Most of those churches were built on the original churches started in 200 – 300 A. D. Those original churches were often built on top of temples that had been dedicated to the old gods.

By 580 the population of Rome had shrunk to around 30,000. But Christianity helped reshape Rome as a city since the Catholic church was formed around the pope and the pope resided in Rome. There were a few periods where the papacy moved to another country or wherein there were two people declaring themselves to be the religious leader of the Catholic church (all for political reasons), but for the most part, Rome remained the preferred location for the Pope and by the sixth century, the great leaders and aristocracy of Europe would make pilgrimages there. As the wealth of the church grew, so too did the wealth of the city of Rome.

The crusades of 1095, 1147, 1189,1203 and 1218 contributed to the power and wealth of Rome. Far from draining the coffers of the church, it created a unified cause, and the selling of religious artifacts and mercies became a lucrative business. If you visit the Vatican museum, you will be able to view artifacts from the crusades.

By medieval times, the wealthy churchmen of the city of Rome were sponsoring the building of churches, shrines and pilgrimage stops. Artists flourished and money was liberally spent to fund the creation and decoration of religious facilities in support of the church.

As evidenced by the information in this blog, Rome has enjoyed a rich and storied past with two major influences that impacted heavily on the ancient and modern world. To this day, the two major draws of the city of Rome are the Roman ruins such as the Colosseum, Pantheon, and Forum and the Catholic links such as St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican.

Part two of the history of the city in the Rome as a Port Stop series will address Rome from 1500 to the modern day.

If you have any comments or questions related to this blog please feel free to add them to the comments section or contact me at


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