“Layers of the Lasagna” – A Brief History of Rome
Based on the title alone, most of you might think I have lost my mind while in Rome. That is pretty easy to do since Rome is quite overwhelming from all aspects (the traffic and getting lost about every 5 minutes in the complex history). To help simplify this, one of my amazing tour guides taught me about the Layers of the Lasagna. Understanding these layers of Roman history will make it much easier for first time visitors to Rome better understand what the heck they are looking at. For those of you not planning on visiting anytime soon, this article is kind of interesting and might help you in your next Trivia game.
As you may know, Rome is a city that is physically built on top of itself. You see it everywhere around the city. Street level has risen 10 meters (27 feet or more) over the 2500 year history of Rome. While you see lots of ruins around the city, there is as much as 65% of the total ruins still not excavated. Pretty amazing! So, just like the layers of the lasagna, you can also look at the break up Rome’s history as similar layers (of the lasagna).
Please note: I am not a Roman Scholar – rather just a tourist who found this information useful when exploring the many sites of Rome, so 100% accuracy is not required here.
Layer 1 of the Lasagna
The Seven Kings – From the founding of Rome in 753bc to about 500bc, Rome was ruled by the Seven Kings. Each king ruled over one of the seven hills of Rome. If you are visiting Rome, you will probably not see anything from this era.
Layer 2 of the Lasagna – The Republic
The Republic was modeled after the Greeks version of democracy (kind of). This period started in 500bc and went up to 44bc when Julius Caesar’s desire for power transformed Rome and changed the political structure. Fun Fact: Julius Caesar was assassinated while going to the bathroom (or Toilet for Europeans) in *** (see photo). If you are visiting Rome, much of the Roman Forum (which is amazing to see) is from this era. I highly recommend a guided tour of the Roman Forum. It is fairly complex, rich in history and a good guide can make it come alive.
Layer 3 of the Lasagna – The Empire
Augustus (adopted son of Caesars’) took power as the first emperor of Rome in 27bc. This era lasted until the fall of Rome in 476bc. The first two centuries of this period were very good to Rome. After that, Rome started its decline and by 476bc the barbarians seized Rome and began its destruction. Some of the most interesting ruins of this time were the Forums of the emperors (funny enough, right across the street from the ancient forums of the Republic era). As you walk around Rome, you will see most of the ruins (i.e. the Colosseum) with many holes in it. These holes were created by the barbarians stealing the precious bronze that was used to hold the marble into these structures. They did not want the marble which was taken by the Catholic church much later to decorate churches all over Rome, like St Peters Basilica.
Layer 4 of the Lasagna – The Ghost Period
After the fall of Rome in 476bc (of course it took many years for Rome to fall) to about the late 1400s (the time of the Renaissance period) Rome population went from over 1 million people at its peak to about 20,000 during the lowest point of this era. The greatest city ever created became a literal ghost town. Much of the ruins you see today were used as shelters for the Romans of this time. If you are visiting Rome, you will not find much from this era in the way of sites to see.
Layer 5 of the Lasagna – The Papal Era
During this era, the catholic church controlled Rome. This era went from the late 1400s to 1870 when the church was forced to give up control to the newly unified Italian (which actually was unified in 1861, but took until 1870 to regain control of Rome from the church. The Catholic church reshaped Rome and many of the buildings in modern day Rome were built during this time (including of course St Peter’s Basilica.). As the Catholic religion grew all over the world, the church became very wealthy and that wealth created the beauty that is Rome today.
Layer 6 of the Lasagna – The Unification of Italy
Italy is actually a fairly new country. The country was brought together in 1861 where prior to this modern day Italy was made up of many different kingdoms, each with their own rulers. The first king of the new unified Italy was Victor Emmanuel II. It took the Catholic church to 1870 to give up power over Rome. As part of the deal, the Italian government agreed to create Vatican City which is actually a separate country inside of Rome. The Vatican also controls small areas of land inside and outside of Rome where the most significant churches reside.
In honor of his father, Victor Emmanuel II son created one of the most spectacular buildings in Rome called Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, which is considered the center of Rome. As you can see from the picture, it is huge (just 1m smaller than the St Peters since there is a law in Rome that no building can be larger or higher than St Peters). This building is a must see when in Rome. I highly recommend taking the elevator to the very top as the views of Rome are spectacular.
I really hope this information is helpful for anyone planning to come to Rome. I wish I understood this before going on my first 5 tours!!!!
Ciao for now!