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Rome (Italian: Roma), once the seat of a vast empire - how the mighty have fallen - is now the capital of a beautiful country, Italy, but no longer an empire. It is also the seat of the supreme pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church at Vatican City, a sovereign state within Rome. The city is also the capital of Italy's Rome province and Latium region. Rome is located in central Italy on both sides of the Tiber River between the Apennine Mountains and the Tyrrhenian Sea.


Everywhere you wander in the streets of Rome, you will come across these letters. Sometimes on manhole covers, other times on bronze signs affixed to walls. Ancient and modern, these omnipresent letters face you. And nowhere do you find their meaning. People have gone on the Internet asking for a definition. We will save you that trouble. Quite simply, yet equally emphatically: from the Latin Senatus Populusque Romanus, The Senate and the People of Rome.

Something to ponder here. Too many people seem to equate the United States with the ancient Republic of Rome, government-wise. It was in place from 218 to 49 B.C.E., and was then followed by a dictatorship. Our own Thomas Jefferson modeled his architecture after Roman designs (the Capitol of Virginia in Richmond, modeled after the Maison Carrée in Nîmes, mentioned in SESSION THREE above), drawing a kinship between the "Republic" of Rome, and our newly formed government (see Nîmes below). Unfortunately, subsequent governmental building designs actually followed Jefferson's lead across the United States. The Roman Senate was an independent authority, composed of an elite group of magistrates, in place for life. It was not the people addressed in the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, which begins with the passage: "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…." It is time we developed our own distinctly American governmental architecture, not one dictated to us by the past. We have but to look to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and the adjacent pavilions dedicated to Lincoln and Jefferson, to see Rome reborn. Do we really want this to be our legacy? No disrespect to either Lincoln or Jefferson intended – quite the contrary - just the architecture.


Back to history, or at least legend. The city of Rome was founded by the twins Romulus and Remus, who had been suckled by a wolf. Power! Better than the hind mentioned above in Herculaneum. The most popular legend has it that their uncle Amulius threw the twin boys into the Tiber River, to preserve his political power.

They washed ashore on land that became Rome, possibly deriving its name from Romulus. The legend continues. They had been found suckling a wolf. Shades of Moses cast off into the Nile, but with an added twist - the wolf! Nowadays, we call this fictionalized history. There might be some shreds of historical fact woven into all of this, highly flavored by imagination, of course.

In Rome, the City was conceived of as a work of art, designed to create an impressive, convenient, and beautiful way of living, a “civilizing” influence. This is a basic concept to be emulated, but not copied. It is an idea such as this that we should draw from history: the city as a work of art. Find the comment about Rudy Guiliani and the new Guggenheim in New York City (see “Acropolis” above in the preceding SESSION THREE).

There is an old, very popular expression: "All roads lead to Rome." In reality, the opposite might have been true: "All roads led from Rome." Think about it! Rome had to get its leaders, diplomats, engineers, and armies out to its conquered territories, so it would have been expeditious to direct traffic out of Rome.

© Architecture Past Present & Future - Edward D. Levinson, 2009

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