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Rome (Italian and Latin: Roma) is the capital city of Italy and of the Lazio region, as well as the country's largest and most populous comune, with about 2.5 million residents (3.8 million considering the whole urbanised area, as represented by the Province of Rome). It is located in the central-western portion of the Italian peninsula, where the river Aniene joins the Tiber. As one of the largest cities in the European Union, the Comune di Roma has a gross domestic product of €97 billion in the year 2005, equal to 6.7% of Italy's GDP — the highest proportion of GDP produced by any single Italian comune. The current Mayor of Rome is Walter Veltroni.
According to legend, the city of Rome was founded by the twins Romulus and Remus on April 21, 753 BC. Archeological evidence supports claims that Rome was inhabited since the 8th century BC and earlier. The city was the cradle of Roman civilization that produced the largest and longest-lasting empire of classical antiquity that reached its greatest extent in AD 117. The city was pivotal and responsible for the spread of Greco-Roman culture that endures to this day. Rome is also identified with Christianity and the Catholic Church and has been the episcopal seat of the Popes since the 1st century AD. The State of the Vatican City, the sovereign territory of the Holy See and smallest nation in the world, is an enclave of Rome.
Rome, Caput mundi ("capital of the world"), Limen Apostolorum ("threshold of the Apostles"), "la città dei sette colli" ("the city of the seven hills") or simply, l'Urbe ("the City") to the Romans, is thoroughly modern and cosmopolitan. As one of the few major European cities that escaped World War II relatively unscathed, central Rome remains essentially Renaissance in character. This treasure of the world is listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site by virtue of its three thousand years of accumulated history and art: a city of the divine and the sublime, of gods, kings, emperors and popes — Città Eterna — the "Eternal City".
The founding of Rome is shrouded in legend, but current archeological evidence support the theory that Rome grew from pastoral settlements on the Palatine Hill and in the area of the future Roman Forum, coalescing into a city in the 8th century BC. That city developed into the capital of the Roman Kingdom (ruled by a succession of seven kings, according to tradition), Roman Republic (from 510 BC, governed by the Senate), and finally the Roman Empire (from 31 BC, ruled by an Emperor); this success depended on military conquest, commercial predominance, as well as selective assimilation of neighbouring civilisations, most notably the Etruscans and Greeks. Roman dominance expanded over most of Europe and the shores of the Mediterranean sea, while its population surpassed one million inhabitants. For almost a thousand years, Rome was the most politically important, richest and largest city in the Western world, and remained so after the Empire started to decline and was split, even if it ultimately lost its capital status to Milan and then Ravenna, and was surpassed in prestige by the Eastern capital Constantinople.
After the sack of 410 by Alaric and the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476, Rome alternated between Byzantine rule and plundering by Germanic barbarians. Its population declined to a mere 20,000 during the Early Middle Ages, reducing the sprawling city to groups of inhabited buildings interspersed among large areas of ruins and vegetation. With the rise of early Christianity, the Bishop of Rome gained religious as well as political importance, eventually becoming known as the Pope and establishing Rome as the centre of the Catholic Church and capital of the Papal States; the city became a major pilgrimage site during the Middle Ages and the focus of struggles between the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire started by Charlemagne, who was crowned in Rome itself on Christmas of 800 by Pope Leo III.
Apart from brief periods as an independent city during the Middle Ages, Rome kept its status of Papal capital and "holy city" for centuries, even when the Pope briefly relocated to Avignon (1309-1337). While no longer politically powerful, as tragically shown by the brutal sack of 1527, the city flourished as a hub of cultural and artistic acitivity during the Renaissance, thanks to the maecenatism of the nepotist Papal court. Population rose again and reached 100,000 during the 17th century, but Rome ultimately lagged behind the rest of the European capitals over the subsequent centuries, being largely busy in the Counter-Reformation process.
The city of Rome surrounds the Vatican City, the enclave of the Holy See, which is a separate sovereign state. It hosts Saint Peter's Square with the Saint Peter's Basilica. The open space before the basilica was redesigned by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, from 1656 to 1667, under the direction of Pope Alexander VII, as an appropriate forecourt, designed "so that the greatest number of people could see the Pope give his blessing, either from the middle of the façade of the church or from a window in the Vatican Palace" (Norwich 1975 p 175). In Vatican City there are also the prestigious Vatican Museums with the Sistine Chapel, the Raphael Rooms and other important works of Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael, Giotto, Botticelli.
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