Located at the center of Italy, Lazio is home to both the religious and governing seats, making it truly the heart of the country. Five provinces are located in the region: Latina, Frosinone, Viterbo, Rieto and Rome, as well as the Vatican City. Named by ancient Latin inhabitants, the region was originally known as Latium, from the Latin “latus”, or “wide”, describing the partially flat region. The city of Rome was established in the 8th century BC; the region grew as the Romans conquered neighboring areas. The Roman Empire eventually fell and after the region entered a period of struggle, Lazio became one of the Pontifical States.
Lazio is perhaps the most visited region of Italy, as tourists flock not only to see and experience the art and architecture but also the beautiful natural landscape and wilderness. From ancient castle walls to mountainous expanses, historic landmarks to side streets and alleys, Lazio offers a remarkable look into the many facets of Italy.
Known as the “eternal city”, Rome is one of the founding regions of Western Civilization and is Italy’s capital and largest city. A modern metropolis that blends seamlessly with ancient sculptures, landmarks and religious monuments, visiting Rome is a one-of-a-kind experience. Located on the Tiber River, Rome’s history dates back two and a half thousand years to it’s founding in 753 BC by the twins Romulus and Remus. Governed initially by a series of kings, the Romans claimed the city and began ruling themselves. The Roman Republic was established and, with a combination of commercial success, military victories and subsequent assimilation, became the Roman Empire. Rome dominated Europe for the next thousand years. When the Empire fell in 476 BC, papal rule began to outgrow the government and Rome became the center of the Catholic Church as well as the capital of the Papal States. A succession of Popes ruled for the next ten centuries and the city prospered, becoming a center of Renaissance culture in the 15th century. Rome has grown to become a cosmopolitan destination as well as a remarkable monument to the past. With its unique combination of urban development and historical significance, it truly feels like an eternal city.
In a city with such a vast history, there are certain monuments that embody the heart of Rome. The Colosseum, which took ten years to construct, the Roman Forum and the Pantheon, a temple dedicated to “all the gods”, are landmarks of Ancient Rome. The Trevi Fountain is one of Rome’s main attractions and was built for Pope Clement XII. Rome is home to the most ancient church in the world, Santa Maria Maggiore, and the Basilica di San Giovani was the first church built in the city and is the cathedral of the diocese of Rome. Across the Tiber River is Trasteverre, a medieval and fascinating neighborhood well worth exploring. For an outdoor experience within the city, the Villa Borghese is a lovely spot to either stroll and enjoy the gardens or jog the avenues before settling in at one of the cafes. A common site in Rome has been of a cat perched among the ancient ruins; Torre Argentina cat sanctuary was created to help care for the stray cats of Rome, taking in nearly 2,000 cats. As unique as the city itself, these many attractions help to define and exemplify the duality of this modern and ancient city.
Within Rome, the walled enclave of the Vatican City is the smallest independent nation in the world and yet, despite its size, is bursting with significance. The walled city has a population of approximately 800 and constitutes 44 hectares (10 acres) and was originally part of the Papal States, which included most of central Italy. Beginning in 1860, the Papal States were absorbed into the Kingdom of Italy; in response, Pope Pius IX, then the ruler of Rome, declared himself a “prisoner of the Vatican”, remaining within the walled city and refusing to acknowledge Italy’s rule over Rome. Though Italy didn’t interfere with governance within the Vatican, they did commandeer other church property. The quandary of how to handle the Pope’s role and that of the Vatican was known as the “Roman Question”. The issue was eventually resolved in 1929 when the Lateran Treaty was drafted, granting the Vatican City sovereignty, as part of the Lateran Pact between the Holy See and Italy. The Lateran Pact established not only the sovereignty of the Vatican City but also granted a financial settlement to the Holy See for property loss and damage as well as pronouncing Catholicism the religion of Italy. The pact was included in Italy’s constitution in 1947. However, a new treaty established in 1985 amended some of the details of the original agreement, including deposing Catholicism as the country’s religion. Despite these changes, the sovereignty of the city-state has remained intact.
Because of it’s size, the Vatican City is easily traveled, and perhaps best seen, by foot. The holiest site of Catholicism and one of Rome’s major basilicas is St. Peter’s Basilica, the burial site of Saint Peter created by Michelangelo, Bernini, Raphael and Bramante. It was, until recent history, the largest church ever built, with a capacity to hold over 60,000 people. Directly in front of the basilica is St. Peter’s Piazza, another Bernini creation built in the Baroque Neoclassical style. The remarkable Musei Vaticani (Vatican Museums) are public museums that include sculpture, contemporary art and famous works by Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Giotto and Titian. However, the most famous site within the Vatican lies within the walls of the Pope’s residence: the Sistine Chapel is located in the Apostolic Palace and contains a remarkable frescoed ceiling said to be Michelangelo’s best work. Bernini, Botticelli and Raphael worked on the frescoed walls of the monumental structure as well and the result has drawn awestruck admirers from all over the world. These remarkable sites are well worth visiting but the sense of peace emanating within the walls of this small, holy and monumental city is perhaps its most compelling and powerful feature.