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15 Interesting Facts About Rome You Probably Didn’t Know

When you think of Rome, you may picture the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, or even authentic Italian food. However, you may not know some of these interesting facts about the city! In this article, we’ll cover both facts about modern Rome and Ancient Rome facts that may come as a surprise. Whether you’ve been to the Eternal City before or not, we hope these fun facts help to inspire an Italy vacation. Keep reading to learn some exciting truths about Rome!

Interesting facts about Rome today

A view of the floor of the Colosseum in Rome, Italy.

The Colosseum in Rome is the largest ancient amphitheater ever built.

The Colosseum is the largest amphitheater in the world.

This structure reaches 157 feet (48 m) at its tallest point, with a base area of 6 acres (24,000 sq m). Furthermore, the Colosseum is 615 ft long (189 m) and 510 ft (156 m) wide, including eighty entrances at the ground level. Although the Colosseum was built in ancient times, it still holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest amphitheater. Due to its massive size, this amphitheater could seat up to 50,0000 spectators! Therefore, it may come as a shock that the Romans completed construction on the Colosseum in as little as seven to eight years. This World Heritage Site was also named one of the New 7 Wonders of the World in 2007, along with the Great Wall of China, Petra, Machu Picchu, Chichen Itza, the Taj Mahal, and Christ the Redeemer.

Rome has been around longer than Italy.

You read that right! The most commonly accepted date for Rome’s founding is 753 BC. According to legend, this is when twin brothers Romulus and Remus settled in this area. During ancient times, the Roman Empire would go on to occupy what is now modern-day Italy. However, this civilization eventually fell and divided into city-states. After centuries of political division and foreign involvement, Italian unification began on March 17, 1861, under the Kingdom of Italy. This process was completed in 1870, and Rome became the new capital. Therefore, the city of Rome is over 2,600 years older than the country it’s located in.

Rome is the most visited city in Italy.

On average, nine million international tourists visit Rome each year, making it the most visited city in Italy. Venice, Milan, and Florence then fall into the second, third, and fourth spots, respectively. Moreover, this statistic positions Rome as number 16 on the list of top 100 cities ranked by international visitors. The majority of these visitors are from the EU, the United States, the U.K., and China. Within the European Union, only Paris receives more visitors than Rome. Additionally, Rome is the most populated city in Italy. Some of its most popular sites include the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Vatican Museums, the Pantheon, and the Trevi Fountain.

Photo of St. Peter's Square at sunset, showing St. Peter's Basilica in the distance

A view of St. Peter’s Basilica at sunset in Vatican City

Vatican City is a city-state inside of Rome.

Surely, you’ve heard of the Vatican! However, did you know that Vatican City isn’t technically Italian? In fact, it broke off from Italy with the Lateran Treaty in 1929. Now, this may seem unclear. I mean, you do fly into Rome to visit the Vatican. So, if it’s not part of Italy, what is it? The Vatican, also called “Vaticano” in Italian, is a sovereign, independent city-state with its own national anthem and flag. It belongs to the Holy See (Sancta Sedes)–the governing body of the Catholic Church–and is the Pope’s main residence. With a total area of only 110 acres (0.44 sq km) and a population of approximately 1,000, the Vatican is the smallest independent state in the world by both area and population.

St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest church in the world by interior area.

According to the Catholic Church, St. Peter’s Basilica, located in Vatican City, is built on the burial site of Saint Peter. Construction on this massive church took over 120 years to complete! This basilica is considered the largest Christian church building in the world based on two statistics: its interior area and seating capacity. Firstly, its interior area covers 163,200 square ft (15,160 sq m), and secondly, it can accommodate up to 60,000 worshippers. One church outranks St. Peter’s based on exterior area: Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). Nonetheless, Our Lady of Peace can only accommodate 18,000 worshippers (7,000 seated and 11,000 standing). Therefore, St. Peter’s is still considered the biggest church in the world by many due to its internal volume.

There is a secret passage that connects Vatican City with Castel Sant’Angelo.

The Passetto di Borgo, also just called “Passetto,” is a small elevated passage that links the Vatican to Castel Sant’Angelo. Although it looks like an old fortification wall to anyone passing by, this passage has played an important role in history. In fact, the Passetto di Borgo served as a secret escape route for Popes in at least two instances. In 1494, Pope Alexander VI used it to flee during Charles VIII’s invasion. Then, in 1527, the Passetto’s existence proved useful once again, saving Pope Clement VII’s life during the Sack of Rome. Fun fact: you may also be familiar with the Passetto di Borgo from Dan Brown’s bestselling novel Angels & Demons. In this book, the antagonist takes advantage of this clandestine walkway to abduct four cardinals, and Robert Langdon later uses it as a shortcut to the Vatican.

Photo of the Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy early in the morning

The Trevi Fountain in Rome is one of the most famous fountains in the world.

People toss approximately 3,000 euros into the Trevi Fountain per day.

Legend says that anyone who tosses a coin into the Trevi Fountain is destined to return to Rome. As you can imagine, lots of people participate in this tradition each year! Recent estimates state that tourists toss approximately 3000 euros into the Trevi Fountain each day. So, what happens to all of these coins? The great news is that the city of Rome collects this money and then donates it to charity. Specifically, all donations go to Caritas, a Catholic charity that helps Rome’s poor and homeless. To properly toss your coin into the Trevi Fountain, you’ll need to face away from the water with the coin in your right hand. Then, you throw the coin over your left shoulder, crossing your heart as you go.

There are over 2,000 fountains in Rome. 

Due to this fact about Rome, people speculate that it has more fountains than any other city in the world. The majority of these fountains are nasoni, which literally translates to “large noses.” A nasone normally has a column shape, and sometimes it even features animal designs. While these fountains may look fancy, they’re really just your average water fountain! Nasoni are also a great way to provide free water to citizens and tourists throughout Rome. Apart from these drinking fountains, other notable fountains in Rome include Fontana di Trevi in the Trevi district, Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, Fontana del Moro, and Fontana del Nettuno in Piazza Navona, and Fontana della Barcaccia in Piazza di Spagna.

There is a cat sanctuary among ancient ruins in Rome.

For any cat lovers out there, you won’t want to miss the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary. Interestingly enough, you can find this cat sanctuary amongst the ruins of ancient Roman temples in Largo di Torre Argentina. Although this spot isn’t particularly a tourist attraction, many visitors love watching the cats roam the ancient ruins. The organization itself helps to spay/neuter, vaccinate, and put these once feral cats up for adoption. If you happen to pass by and want to support Torre Argentina, you can make a donation or even go as far as participating in a long-distance adoption.

Fun facts about Ancient Rome

View of the Roman Forum in Rome, Italy

The Roman Forum is a great place to see how the ancient Romans lived.

Ancient legend says that two brothers founded Rome.

As mentioned earlier in this article, Roman mythology considers the founders of Rome to be twin brothers Romulus and Remus. According to legend, these brothers were offspring of Mars, the god of war, and Rhea Silvia, a Vestal Virgin. Unfortunately, the king of Alba Longa at the time viewed Romulus and Remus as a threat to his rule, so he ordered them to be killed. After abandoning them on the River Tiber, the twins were eventually discovered by a she-wolf, who suckled and took care of them. Eventually, they grew up and decided to found their own settlement but argued whether to build the new city on Palatine Hill or Aventine Hill. Ultimately, Romulus committed fratricide and made Palatine Hill the center of Rome, where he reigned as the first king.

“All roads lead to Rome” wouldn’t have been an exaggeration in Ancient times.

During the height of the Roman empire, there were at least 29 great military highways that began in Rome. In total, historians estimate that the Romans built 50,000 miles (80,000 km) of paved highway. Road construction was essential to the Roman army so that it could continue to advance its conquest. Additionally, roads unified the empire and created quick trade routes between provinces. In particular, the phrase “all roads lead to Rome” refers to the Milliarium Aureum, a golden milestone that marked the starting point for all roads leading out of the capital. In fact, Romans measured all distances within the empire as relative to this monument. Therefore, from the Roman perspective, a more accurate saying would be that “all roads begin in Rome.”

Rome was likely home to the first shopping mall.

Trajan’s Market was constructed between 107 and 110 AD during Roman Emperor Trajan’s reign. It features three levels and over 150 “tabernae” or shops. For this reason, many scholars speculate that Trajan’s Market is the first covered shopping mall in history. However, we may never know for sure! As far as what the Romans purchased at this market, historians believe food from all over the empire would’ve been sold here. For example, the most likely market products are fruits and vegetables, fish, wine, oil, and maybe even spices. Travel tip: you can visit Trajan’s Market on your vacation to Rome at the Museo dei Fori Imperiali (Museum of the Imperial Fora), which opened in 2007.

Photo of the Temple of Venus and Roma, part of the Roman Forum in Rome, Italy.

The Temple of Venus and Roma in the Roman Forum was completed in 141 AD.

Rome is nicknamed “The Eternal City,” but why?

Roman poet Tibullus was the first person to nickname Rome “The Eternal City” in one of his elegies in the first century. Of course, the literal phrase was originally “Urbs Aeterna” in Latin and later “La Città Eterna” in Italian. This concept of Rome as everlasting became so popular that other famous Roman poets and historians also adopted it, including Ovid, Virgil, and Livy. During the Golden Age of the Roman Empire, people did view Rome as eternal, and the idea of it ever falling would’ve sounded impossible. Nonetheless, as we know today, the empire did eventually fall and break off into city-states. However, the nickname “The Eternal City” survived and is still a common way to refer to the Italian capital.

Ancient Romans had lots of interesting hygiene habits. 

Some of the most shocking facts about ancient Rome have to do with daily tasks. For example, Ancient Romans used urine as a mouthwash to whiten their teeth. They also used it to clean their clothes when doing laundry! This tactic may sound gross, but apparently, it got the job done. After all, urine does contain ammonia, a compound used in many of our cleaning products. Now, you may be wondering about other quirky Roman washroom habits. Well, although toilet paper didn’t exist yet, the Romans did have a tool called xylospongium or tersorium, which they would use to clean themselves. Essentially, this is a fancy word for “a sponge on a stick” mechanism that individuals shared in public latrines.

The promise of Roman citizenship allowed Rome to expand. 

One important question we have left to answer is: how was Rome able to grow so much? Well, we know from some of the other facts mentioned above that ancient Rome had roads that allowed them to conquer and expand their territory. However, they also had other resources at their disposal to broaden the empire. If you were a Roman citizen during this time, you were granted certain rights. So, foreigners would often trade years of military service in the Roman army in exchange for certain citizen rights under Roman law. Nonetheless, these “allies” only received a limited form of citizenship and could not vote or run for office.

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Learn 15 interesting facts about Rome, including surprising ancient Rome facts and fun facts about the city of Rome today!

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Felipe Adan Lerma

Saturday 10th of April 2021

So much fun stuff, Leah, I had to tweet! 😊 Especially liked the view of St. Peter’s Basilica at sunset, gorgeous! But the fun facts stuff really was fascinating; a few I knew, but not most of this, lol! 😊

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