Rome is said to have been founded by the brothers Romulus and Remus in the year 753 BC, although archeological evidence suggests there was a Latin village here from at least the 9th century BC. The city is one of the oldest named cities in the world. It is located upon a series of hills–traditionally seven–that overlook the valley of the TIber river. Rome is regarded as having formed into a republic in 509 BC. A series of wars during its time as a republic (esp. the Samnite Wars and the Punic Wars) made Rome into a Mediterranean power. By 146 BC, the city controlled the Italian Peninsula, Greece, and Parts of North Africa and Spain.
The Roman Empire emerged under the leadership of Augustus Caesar in the aftermath of the assassination of the Roman general-turned-dictator Julius Caesar (44 BC). When Diocletian (emp. 284-305) split the administration of the empire in two, Rome lost its status as a political capital of the Mediterranean world, with Milan and then Ravenna serving as the capital of the Western Empire.
Rome continued to be regarded as the cultural mother of the Empire, and the prestige of the city was further continued through the seat of the bishop of Rome, the senior bishop of the ancient Christian Church.
When the government and population of Rome declined after the fall of the Western Empire, the popes became leaders of the city, a position confirmed by the “donation of Pepin” in the 8th century. Rome remained an independent papal country until the 1870 conquest of the city by the Risorgimento army. A small portion of the Papal States survives as the Vatican City State, while the majority of the city of Rome today serves as capital of the Republic of Italy.
Due to its importance as capital of the Roman Empire and seat of the Roman Catholic Church, the city of Rome has known virtually every artistic movement that has crossed the Italian Peninsula since antiquity. Some of the greatest masterpieces of the Renaissance are found here, including the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. Rome is also the birthplace of the Baroque movement and continues to thrive as a center for contemporary art.
The Vatican is an independent city-state, the world’s smallest country. The bishop of Rome, or pope, serves as absolute monarch, but delegates much of his authority to a Cardinal Secretary of State.
The Vatican hill was originally a necropolis. Due to the presence of St. Peter’s tomb within this burial ground, Emperor Constantine leveled a portion of the hill and constructed a great basilica directly on top of the tomb of St. Peter in the 4th century. Although the Vatican always contained a temporary residence for the pope adjacent to St. Peter’s Basilica, it was not the primary papal residence until after the end of the Avignon exile (1309-1378).
The Vatican Museums were founded in 1506 by Pope Julius II and are considered the second oldest public museums in the world. Today, the complex of the Vatican Museums includes over 20 museums, galleries, and chapels containing masterpieces from major periods of Italian art history.