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Rome’s Many Faces

Rome’s Many Faces

 Rome’s Many Faces


“It seems to me that Romulus [a mythical founder of Rome in 753 B.C.E.] must at the very beginning have had a divine intimation that the city would one day be the seat and hearthstone of a mighty empire.”—CICERO, ROMAN ORATOR AND STATESMAN, FIRST CENTURY B.C.E.

LIKE other cities with millenniums of history, Rome has had many faces, and as centuries have rolled by, these have left their imprint. Would you like to see them? Now is as good a time as any, especially if you are invited to attend one of the conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses to be held August 10-12, 2001, in Rome, Bari, Turin, and Milan.

But which Rome do you want to see? There is ancient Rome, republican Rome, and imperial Rome. Closer to our time, there is medieval Rome, Renaissance Rome, baroque Rome, and finally modern Rome. To round out the picture, there is papal Rome, the Rome of the common people, and the Rome of the nobility. At every turn in this metropolis, there are surprises.

The Ancient City

The oldest settlements, Iron Age hut villages, appear to have risen long before the eighth century B.C.E., on the Roman hills around what was once a depression by an ancient ford of the river Tiber. Since in bygone days the heights that surrounded the area were easily recognizable, it was said that the city rose on seven hills—Quirinal, Viminal, Esquiline, Caelian, Aventine, Palatine, and Capitoline. To this day certain areas of the city bear some of these names.

If you decide to visit Rome, don’t forget to bring an accurate guidebook and a map. You might get an idea of what an ancient Roman possibly saw some 2,000 years ago.

Let Us Visit the Forum

“The Forum was the center of political, commercial and judicial life in ancient Rome,” says one guidebook. The main entrance to this area is on Via dei Fori Imperiali. The Metro and several bus routes will get you there.

Among the most famous monuments in this area is the Colosseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater, symbol of the imperial era. It is 157 feet [48 m] high, equivalent to a modern 16-story building. Its length is about 620 feet [190 m], and its width is about 510 feet [155 m]. With its 80 entrances, it had room for 55,000 spectators! It was commissioned by Emperor Vespasian in the year 72 C.E. Think of that when you stand next to it. If the walls could speak . . .

 Recent finds suggest that the amphitheater was completed thanks to the loot that the Roman legions brought back to the city after their victorious campaign in Judea, which culminated in Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 C.E. (Matthew 24:1, 2; Luke 21:5, 6) For centuries this amphitheater hosted brutal gladiatorial games. Contrary to popular belief, however, it seems that no Christians were martyred here. *

Near the Colosseum is the Arch of Titus, erected to celebrate the same campaign. Inside the arch you can see scenes of the triumphal procession, with Jewish captives and sacred furnishings from the temple on parade. The Jews likely passed this very spot!

Another well-known ancient monument, impressive and well preserved, is the Pantheon. It is a former pagan temple dedicated to all the gods; now it houses a Catholic church. Emperor Hadrian (76-138 C.E.), famous for his protective wall in northern England, designed this masterpiece of Roman engineering during 118-128 C.E. The height and the diameter of the rotunda are identical—142 feet. [43.4 m]

The Circus Maximus, the Palatine Hill, and various other sites and monuments beckon us to travel back in time. As further reminders of the pomp and grandeur of the sixth world power of Bible history, ancient obelisks and engraved columns, such as those of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius, still stand at various points in the city.

Rome of the Apostolic Period

Though apostolic Christianity was soon replaced by apostate Christendom, episodes in the lives of early Christians can still be  glimpsed in Rome. For example, when visiting the Appian Way, how could we fail to recall the account of the apostle Paul being escorted by his Christian brothers as far as the city? (Acts 28:14-16) But we need to be careful not to accept tradition blindly. As a case in point, near the Forum there is the so-called Mamertine Prison, allegedly a place where the apostle Peter was detained. But there is no Biblical evidence that Peter ever set foot in the city.

While in the area of the Appian Way, you might want to visit the famous catacombs—several hundred miles of underground tunnels that served as burial places. Finds related to the cults of the dead and the martyrs and ideas concerning the immortality of the soul indicate that the users of these ancient cemeteries were no longer true followers of Jesus’ original teachings. *

How the Renaissance Changed Rome

From the time of the Renaissance (14th to the 16th century), Rome underwent a profound transformation as a result of, among other things, growing papal power and prestige. Artists, architects, and craftsmen were called to the papal court. One of the most famous was Michelangelo. Some of his masterpieces are conserved in Vatican City. Famous are “The Last Judgment,” in the Sistine Chapel, and his frescoes on the chapel ceiling, which can be seen by entering through the Vatican Museum. It is worthy of note that “The Last Judgment” does not depict purgatory.

Another of Michelangelo’s works is his statue of Moses, found in Rome’s Church of St. Peter in Chains. His influence can also be seen in a number of details in St. Peter’s Basilica. This church holds several masterpieces, including Michelangelo’s sculpture the “Pietà.” It depicts the dead Christ in the arms of his mother.

A point of interest for Jehovah’s Witnesses is that the basilica contains a number of renderings of the Hebrew Tetragrammaton, representing the divine name, Jehovah. Look for it on Clement XIII’s funerary monument and in the Chapel of the Presentation.

The Spectacular Baroque Rome

The most spectacular face of Rome is probably that offered by the baroque city. The baroque style “is large in scale and filled with dramatic details,” notes one encyclopedia. It appeared in the late 16th century, and by the 18th century, it had become the more intimate rococo style. A famous piece of baroque is the monument by Bernini to Pope Alexander VII in St. Peter’s. Bernini was the favorite papal artist. He transformed churches, palaces,  statues, and fountains in Rome. Take a look in the piazza (square) before St. Peter’s Basilica, surrounded by Bernini’s spectacular colonnade, or in the Piazza del Popolo, which “forms a grand symmetrical antechamber to the heart of Rome.” Baroque and Bernini are everywhere! Be sure to see the scenic effects produced by the Trevi Fountain or the fountains of Piazza Navona, such as Bernini’s Fontana dei Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) and the Fontana del Moro (Fountain of the Moor).

The Modern City

Today innovations in city planning are rare. The last major project dates back to the 1930’s, with the construction of the Esposizione Universale di Roma (E.U.R.). It was intended to glorify Fascism during the rule of Mussolini.

City administrators are now intent on conserving and giving due importance to Rome’s invaluable artistic heritage, one that can be enjoyed not only in the streets and squares but also in the more than 100 city museums. Before setting out to visit museums, monuments, and archaeological sites, though, it may be wise to obtain information on opening times by checking appropriate sites on the Internet or a good travel guide.

Rome, although known for the Vatican, also has a diversity of religions. Jehovah’s Witnesses have their branch office and an Assembly Hall here. In the metropolitan area, there are almost 10,000 Witnesses, who gather in some 130 congregations and groups. They hold their meetings in 12 languages besides Italian. You will be welcome at any Sala del Regno (Kingdom Hall).

So whatever Rome you want to visit, among the many it offers, we invite you to come because, as the German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote, “only in Rome can one educate oneself for Rome.”


^ par. 12 See Awake!, April 8, 1991, pages 24-7.

^ par. 18 See Awake!, August 8, 1995, pages 16-20.

 [Box/Pictures on page 18, 19]

BARI—Apulia’s Lively Capital

APULIA is the region that forms the “heel” of Italy’s “boot.” (See map on page 14.) It is famous for its olive oil and wines. Bari is its capital city, with a population of about 350,000. The city dates back, it is believed, to pre-Roman times. At one point it came under Greek influence. The Romans, who penetrated the region in the fourth century B.C.E., called the city Barium and made it a municipium, that is, a settlement that was inhabited by Roman citizens and that retained its own administrative independence.

From the time of the first Crusade (1096 C.E.), Bari grew in importance for routes to the Orient. It also became the port of departure for many Crusader ships.

City of “Father Christmas”?

Bari’s most important monuments are closely tied to historical events. A building particularly related to Bari’s history is the Basilica di San Nicola. The Nicola in question is said to have been bishop of Myra, a city of Asia Minor, in the fourth century C.E. In antiquity, the details of his life became confused with those of another cleric of the same name, who lived in the sixth century. So legends of different origins surrounded this person. One, among the many, called this Nicola the protector of children because it was said that he resurrected three children who had been cut to pieces and pickled by a wicked innkeeper! It is not surprising, therefore, that during the Middle Ages, an unscriptural veneration of this personage spread and supposed relics of his were much sought after.

According to the book Puglia-Dal Gargano al Salento, Nicola, known in Latin as Sanctus Nicolaus, “became Santa Claus in lands north of the Alps and later in North America; his bishop’s cloak was transformed  into a fur-trimmed cassock, his miter into a hood, and the saint into a charitable, white-bearded old man with a bag full of presents.” Lo and behold, Father Christmas! *

There are other interesting monuments in the city, but for Jehovah’s Witnesses, a building of particular interest may be the Church of the Holy Trinity and Saints Cosma and Damiano, built in the 1960’s. Its apse contains a mosaic depicting the Tetragrammaton.

Have You Ever Seen a Trullo?

You do not need to travel too far from Bari to find plenty of interesting places to visit. In Alberobello, about 35 miles [55 km] southeast of Bari, there are the famous trulli. These are unusually shaped white buildings with a conical roof. They have been called petrified tents and bizarre kiosks built among the trees. They were built with stones placed on top of each other without mortar. The construction method might make the trulli seem rather unstable, even unsafe, yet they have endured. Many are centuries old. They are also well insulated, making them cool in summer and warm in winter.

If you are a camera buff, you may want to take pictures of the impressive Castel del Monte, some 25 miles [40 km] west of Bari. It was commissioned by Frederick II in the 13th century. As one guidebook states, it “outclasses every other castle associated with Frederick II. It is also one of the most sophisticated secular buildings of the Middle Ages.” The book describes it as “a harmonious geometrical study with two stories of eight rooms each.” Its octagonal design incorporates eight satellite towers. It is worth a visit.

In Bari some 1,600 of Jehovah’s Witnesses and numerous friends meet in 18 congregations. All are eagerly waiting to welcome the many visitors to the 2001 “Teachers of God’s Word” District Convention to be held in the city’s San Nicola Stadium.


^ par. 39 See The Watchtower of December 15, 1989, pages 26-8, and Awake! of December 8, 1989, page 14.


Tetragrammaton in the Church of the Holy Trinity and Saints Cosma and Damiano

The promenade

Castel del Monte

Trulli in Alberobello

[Map on page 14]

(For fully formatted text, see publication)



[Credit Line]

Mountain High Maps® Copyright © 1997 Digital Wisdom, Inc.

[Picture on page 14]

Arch of Titus, with frieze depicting the looting of Jerusalem’s temple

[Picture on page 14]

The Colosseum

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Column of Marcus Aurelius

[Picture on page 15]

The Appian Way

[Picture on page 15]

The Pantheon, a former pagan temple to all the gods, now houses a Catholic church

[Picture on page 16]

Detail from Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment,” in the Sistine Chapel

[Picture on page 16, 17]

Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers

[Picture on page 17]

Branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses

[Picture on page 17]

Trevi Fountain

[Picture on page 17]

Legend has it that Romulus and Remus, mythical founders of Rome, were suckled by a she-wolf