13 Things You Didn’t Know About Rome

May 13, 2013 by

Things To Do, Travel Tips

Rome's Mouth of Truth

Can you guess what Rome’s Mouth of Truth used to be?

Chances are good that you know some things about Rome. It’s a famous city, and it’s been written about by countless people over the years. But it’s also a good bet there are some things about the city that would surprise you.

For even more surprising factoids, check out this Vatican City trivia, too.

There were older civilizations on this spot before Ancient Rome.

It’s easy to forget that there’s something more ancient than Ancient Rome, but it’s true. Before the Romans arrived, this area was occupied by the Etruscan people, who dominated much of central Italy. The Etruscans didn’t leave the kinds of records of their lives that the Romans did, and the records they did leave were primarily in well-hidden tombs – so little is known about them.

Rome’s nickname is the “Eternal City.”

Today, it’s easy to think that the nickname “Eternal City” refers to Rome’s 3,000-year history – but even the Ancient Romans called their city “Eternal.” They did so believing that the Roman Empire would exist forever, no matter what else happened in the world.

Legend says Rome was founded by twins, who were nursed by a wolf.

According to the legend about Rome’s founding, the twin sons of the god Mars – Romulus and Remus – were kidnapped and left for dead. Instead, they were discovered and nursed by a she-wolf. When they grew up, they each began settlements in present-day Rome (on two of the city’s seven hills), and Romulus’ settlement prospered. This became the city of Rome. (The story gets even worse for Remus, who was killed by Romulus in an argument.) You’ll see statues of babies being suckled by a wolf in different parts of Rome.

Rome celebrates its birthday on April 21.

Romans honor the birth of their city – when Romulus is supposed to have built his settlement on the Palatine Hill – on April 21st, 753 BCE. This means Rome is already more than 2,760 years old.

Rome surrounds the smallest independent nation on earth.

Vatican City is the world’s smallest independent country, and it’s entirely surrounded by Rome. The land that’s technically the Vatican amounts to only 0.17 square miles. You won’t pass through border security going in and out of Vatican City from Rome, however, and don’t bother bringing your passport – there’s no Vatican passport stamp.

Rome is very hilly.

Rome is famously built on seven hills, but even if you’ve heard that fact it can be jarring to find yourself winded when you’re walking around the city sightseeing – especially when so many of the main things to do in Rome seem to be at the top of different hills. If you’re running out of steam, pick up a good Rome city map from a newsstand – one that includes the public transportation lines on it – and get acquainted with the Rome’s bus, tram, and Metro system. You’ll still end up hoofing up and down some of the hills, but your energy will last longer.

Instead of ROMA, you’ll see SPQR all over the place.

The acronym SPQR is for a Latin phrase that means “The Senate and People of Rome.” In Ancient Roman times, this represented the government of the whole Roman Empire. Today, it’s used as part of the official symbol of the city government. So rather than seeing ROMA stamped on things, you’ll see SPQR on everything from coins to buildings to manhole covers.

The entire historic center of Rome is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In 1980, UNESCO added the “Historic Centre of Rome” to its list of World Heritage Sites – and it extended the ring circling the center in 1990. Included in this designation are most of the top Rome attractions – the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Mausoleum of Augustus, the Mausoleum of Hadrian, the Pantheon, Trajan’s Column, the Column of Marcus Aurelius, Santa Maria Maggiore, St. John Lateran, St. Paul Outside the Walls, and even the entirety of Vatican City.

There are more than 900 churches in Rome.

Rome is a city of many famous churches, and plenty of not-so-famous ones besides. With more than 900 churches throughout the city – not even including the ones in Vatican City – that amounts to slightly less than two churches for every square mile.

The coins collected from the Trevi Fountain go to charity.

All those coins that get thrown into the Trevi Fountain by visitors wishing to ensure a return visit to Rome don’t go to waste. They’re collected daily by officials and the money is donated to an Italian charity called “Caritas.” Some reports say over €3,000 is collected each day.

The Spanish Steps are named for a nearby embassy.

The Spanish Steps are on many a must-see list in Rome, but just by looking at them you might be hard-pressed to figure out what exactly makes them “Spanish.” The name comes not from the church at the top (for which the staircase was built), but rather for the Spanish Embassy to the Vatican, which is situated nearby.

Rome is home to one of the world’s biggest film studios.

Italy’s version of Hollywood is in Rome, at the enormous Cinecittà film studio. Founded in 1937 by Mussolini, it’s one of the largest movie studios in the world. Fellini made many of his movies at Cinecittà, including “La Dolce Vita,” and other films made there include “Gangs of New York,” “The Life Aquatic,” “The Passion of the Christ,” and – appropriately – the HBO production “Rome.”

The famous “Mouth of Truth” was probably an ancient manhole cover.

The “Mouth of Truth,” which supposedly will chop off the hand of anyone who tells a lie, features prominently in the movie “Roman Holiday.” It’s a popular stop for many tourists, whether you believe the myth or not, but the origins of the disc-shaped stone face aren’t clear. According to some historians today, it was probably the equivalent of a manhole cover in Ancient Rome.

- Jessica Spiegel

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