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Exploring Ancient Rome's Iconic Landmarks

By Duane Wells

Known as the Eternal City, Rome is steeped in history and culture and is renowned worldwide for its remarkable architecture. For more than 2,000 years, the city has witnessed the rise and fall of empires, the glory and tragedy of war, and the evolution of cultural enlightenment that continues to shape modern institutions.

The Colosseum Credit_ FotoGablitz_edited

Known as the Eternal City, Rome is steeped in history and culture and is renowned worldwide for its remarkable architecture. For more than 2,000 years, the city has witnessed the rise and fall of empires, the glory and tragedy of war, and the evolution of cultural enlightenment that continues to shape modern institutions.
 

Explorations of the city’s streets reveal lasting monuments whispering tales of Rome’s bygone, glorious days. Their ancient stones echo with the footsteps of emperors, gladiators, and everyday citizens. No four landmarks better epitomize the grandeur and complexity of ancient Rome than the Colosseum, the Appian Way, the Pantheon, and the Roman Catacombs.

 

Also known as the Flavian Amphitheater, the Colosseum has rightly been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as it perhaps is the most immediately recognizable symbol of ancient Rome’s majesty. Constructed in the 1st century C.E., this magnificent structure was the largest amphitheater ever built. Withstanding numerous challenges over time, like earthquakes, fires, and looting, the Colosseum today leaves visitors agog as it is an eternal testament to the skill and significance of its builders.
 

Once inside, one can almost hear reverberations of the 80,000-strong crowds that gathered inside to witness gladiators (often slaves or prisoners of war) pitted against each other in fierce battles to the death, alongside animal hunts and even mock sea battles. More than a form of amusement for the Roman citizens, these events displayed the might of the Roman Empire and symbolized their ability to conquer and control.

Regarding conquering and controlling, the Appian Way — also called the “Queen of Roads” — was a magnificent engineering feat of its day. Constructed in 312 B.C.E., it was the first and most important Roman military road, connecting Rome to the southern regions of the empire and serving as ancient Rome’s original superhighway.
 

Built with a durable stone surface and lined with tombs, the Appian Way became essential for trade, communication, and troop movement throughout the far-reaching empire. Across its long history, this crucial strategic route hosted processions of victorious generals, shaped Rome’s expansion, and served as the final resting place for numerous notable figures. Today, remnants of the ancient road are lined with tombs, mausoleums, and ruins, inviting visitors to take a stroll through monuments like the Mausoleum of Cecilia Metella -— a towering tomb built for the daughter of a Roman consul, as well as the Tomb of the Scipios. Scipio Africanus, the Roman general who famously defeated Hannibal, is reputed to have been buried in the tomb. 

Another monument to the ingenuity and craftsmanship of ancient Romans is the Pantheon; the sheer brilliance continues to inspire architects and engineers worldwide. With its groundbreaking circular design and central domed roof (known as the oculus), the structure showcases the Romans’ innovative use of concrete and their ability to create massive unsupported building openings. More than that, the Pantheon was an important religious site for the ancient Romans, housing statues of gods and acting as a place of worship.

The Colosseum Credit_ JayMPix_edited.jpg
Rome Credit_ Konstantinos Dimitros_edite

Though it was initially built as a temple to all gods, the Pantheon became a Christian church in the 7th century. The different eras of worship inside the structure explain why contemporary visitors marvel at the harmonious blend of pagan and Christian elements. This elemental blend and the structure’s intricate marblework and coffered ceiling are among the hallmarks constituting one of the most well-preserved ancient Roman buildings.

 

While the Pantheon reflects the evolution of ancient Rome’s religious life, the Roman Catacombs — beneath the present city’s bustling streets — reflect the complexity of that life during the Roman Empire. As the empire grew, Christianity faced persecution. It was considered illegal, so the Catacombs became a refuge for the religion’s early practitioners, providing a hidden sanctuary where they could worship freely.

 

Among the Catacombs’ captivating features are the mesmerizing frescoes and intricate carvings depicting scenes from biblical stories. These artistic representations served as a visual aid for believers and conveyed important theological messages. In modern times, the Catacombs remain a place of pilgrimage and reflection for those seeking a deeper connection to Rome’s early Christian history. Visitors can explore the winding tunnels, marvel at the ancient artwork, and glimpse the lives and beliefs of early Christians who sought solace and freedom in these underground sanctuaries, which also functioned as burial sites.

 

These four architectural wonders represent just a taste of the ancient treasures awaiting in Rome. Each site chronicles the city’s glorious and complicated history, from the Colosseum’s gladiatorial arena to the Pantheon’s serene dome and the Catacombs’ hidden depths to the Appian Way’s historical whispers. It is no wonder why these landmarks are a remarkable testament to the Roman Empire and the enduring legacy it has left on humankind.

Fontana del Pantheon  Credit_ Preto Pero

Getting there

New, 6x weekly, year-round service from O’Hare to Leonardo da Vinci – Fiumicino Airport (FCO) on ITA Airways (starts April 7, 2024, increases to 7x weekly on June 5, 2024); 7x weekly summer seasonal service on United Airlines (starts March 7, 2024); 7x weekly summer seasonal service on American Airlines (starts March 31, 2024).

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