Rome wasn't the first Italian city on my list of must-see places: not THAT far down the list, but certainly not at the very top.
And yet, when we arrived there, I felt strangely at home - not in the antique part (I had always had more attachment to the ancient Greek roots of European culture), but, rather surprisingly for me, although perhaps not unexpectedly, in the city that for last fifteen hundred years has been the capital of the Catholic universe, and thus fundamentally important on the mental world map for any Pole, a Catholic (as 95% of my countrymen profess to be, and as was the Pope at the time of my visit) or a non-believer (as your reporter happens to be).
Rome, known grandiosely but somehow not unjustifiably, as the Eternal City, has been a supremely important place in Europe for over two millennia.
Its beginnings go back to the legendary Romulus and Remus, two demi-god Latin heroes raised by a she-wolf. Traditionally, Rome is believed to have been established on the 21 April 753 BC (Romans measure time from the founding of Rome). Initially, it was an Etruscan city, but the Roman republic was established in 507 BC.
During the Republic, Rome's influence extended as far as Sicily and northern Africa (as a result of a victory over Carthage during the Punic wars). With the demise of Carthage, and with Greece already in decline well after the fall of Alexander's empire, Rome became a dominant power within the Mediterranean.
The Republic was torn but internal strife among the ruling classes and, after the civil war accompanying the later years of Julius Caesar's dictatorship and post his assassination, Octavian Augustus became Rome's first Emperor.
Imperial Rome saw unparalleled growth of Rome as a city (in AD100 it had 1.5 millions inhabitants) as well as territorial acquisitions that led to a creation of huge Empire, whose historical and cultural influence on Europe, and ultimately the world in the following two millennia is unparalleled. Diocletian divided the empire into Western and Eastern parts in AD285, and although Rome retained its status as the capital of the Western part, the balance of power shifted gradually and Rome's status and power decreased massively after Constantine, the first Christian emperors moved his base to Constantinople in 330.
Rome was sacked by Alaric's Goths in 410 and then repeatedly invaded by barbarian tribes in the and despite some revival under the popes ruling between the 6th and 8th century, the city suffered what seemed like a terminal decline in the medieval period, when the Papal court was based in Navigation. The popes returned to Rome in 1397, but the long-running conflict between the Papacy and the Empire shook the city for a long time afterwards (it was sacked again in 1527 by the troops of Emperor Charles V).
Still, and despite these struggles, Rome revived considerably during the Renaissance period, when the best artists from Florence and all over Italy were brought to Rome to work on its buildings and other projects, including St Peter's.
Rome always felt to me, somehow essentially, and despite multitude of monuments from the antique and Renaissance periods, very much a Baroque city: a city of triumphant counter-reformation, a city whose most ornate buildings and most unique monuments were created by the Popes determined to show off the supremacy of Catholic Church on both spiritual and temporal planes, when over the following centuries Rome became a capital of what was known as the Papal States.
Napoleon crowned himself a king of Italy in 1805 and annexed Rome. As we all know, his conquests were brief and after his fall Rome reverted to type, although nationalistic and revolutionary movements were growing in strength and Rome was even briefly declared a republic during the Spring of Nations in 1848. However, Garibaldi's and Mazzini's efforts to create a united Italy led to success and in 1861 Italy was unified under King Vittorio Emanuele II, and in 1870 the Italian troops stormed the Papal city and Rome became the capital of the new Italy.
During the WW2, Rome was declared an open city and thus spared most of the destruction. Italy proved true to its republican roots in 1946, when the monarchy was abolished in a national referendum.
Rome now is a busy, lively, prosperous city of almost 4 million people and chock-a-full of monuments from all periods of its rich and turbulent history.
It's also a city of good living, good eating, drinking, fashion and art. Life is not enough to get to know it fully - we only had 5 days, and baraely managed to scratch a surface!