Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Tuesday 20 April |
home iconArt & Culture
line break icon

Ancient Rome was not built in a day. But it was never really properly planned, either

ROME; PANTHEON

Roberta Dragan|Wikipedia|CC BY-SA 2.5

The Pantheon is Rome’s best preserved ancient building and has served as a Christian church for the past 1400 years.

Daniel Esparza - published on 01/26/19

The capital of the empire was developed, to a large extent, by random private initiative.

Whoever visits Rome nowadays can easily get lost in its many narrow streets, suddenly and randomly bumping into Agrippa’s Pantheon, Piazza Navona, or Santa Maria Maggiore. In its unique beauty, Rome can be (for those who are used to geometrically normative cities) quite chaotic. If that is your case, well, you are definitely not the first one to find that problematic: in 63 BC, Cicero angrily complained about the notorious differences between the careful planning of the Roman cities in Campania and the chaotic urban conditions of Rome, trapped between swamps and hills.

A series of articles published by The Guardian, back in 2016, on the mysteries surrounding not only the birth of Rome but of more than a dozen other cities, sheds light on its history.


ROME, TOUR BUS

Read more:
Rome bans tourist buses from the city center

Although the city had grown and built its walls in a more or less orderly fashion around the Temple of Jupiter (right on the top of the Capitoline Hill, which functioned virtually as one of the various centers of the city, to which victorious generals ascended in triumphant procession upon returning from a campaign), it is also true that part of Roman foreign policy contributed to making the city a jumble of randomly constructed streets and buildings. Since the Roman custom was to convert their defeated enemies into commercial partners, money flowed freely and abundantly into the city in the early years of the Republic. Thus, the city growing in the skirts of Capitoline Temple soon became a labyrinthine network of narrow alleys and multi-story wooden buildings, with its own forums, public squares, and markets built by private initiative. In other words, Rome grew as it could, wanted to, needed to, with little to no official supervision whatsoever.

So there was never any real planning after the foundation of the city? According to Roman historian Livio’s Ab Urbe Condita, the first Etruscan kings did attempt to build the city according to basic urban principles, but this was all left behind after the Gauls sacked the city in 390 BC.


CATACOMBS

Read more:
Rome’s Catacombs witness to the Catholic faith of the early Church

The lack of planning of the city, and the arbitrariness at the time of building, was definitively sealed when the prerogative of building a new temple was granted to the victorious generals wherever they wanted to. The prominent politicians who had enough money soon did the same: Sulla built a new state archive, Julius Caesar built a market, and Pompey built a theater in his own honor.

If you want to know more, visit the article publish by The Guardian here.

Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Top 10
1
SPANISH FLU
Bret Thoman, OFS
What Padre Pio saw in the Spanish Flu of 1918
2
EUCHARIST
Philip Kosloski
5 Fascinating facts about Jesus in the Eucharist
3
MASS
Philip Kosloski
5 Essential things used at Mass and their symbolism
4
PADRE PIO
Philip Kosloski
Padre Pio’s favorite prayer of petition
5
COUPLE
Cerith Gardiner
7 Joys to be had from a lengthy marriage
6
OSORNO
Brett Salkeld
How to vaccinate like a Catholic
7
PRINCE PHILIP
Cerith Gardiner
The lasting lesson from the late Prince Philip
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.