The legacy of ancient Rome has fuelled imaginations for generations with the desire to reconstruct not only the events and spaces of the eternal city but also to recapture the essence of the city at its height.
Emperor August championed Rome as the symbolic representation of his power and that of the empire he ruled. He converted Rome into a place worthy of both the empire and the emperor, embellishing and improving the city by funding theatres, Odeons and other buildings for spectacles, temples, a new forum, aquaducts, sewing systems, roads, houses and many other works.
One major aspect of how individual emperors recreated Rome in their own image as through the appropriation of the past, to start with Romulus and Remus.
The disintegration of the Empire did not mark the end of the city. Rome soon acquired the new identity of capital of the Catholic Church.
Although Gibbon saw nothing but ruins when he entered Rome, writing ‘It was at Rome, on the 15th of October 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the city first started to my mind’.
Rome was sacked many times in the course of its history and only the prestige, funding and projects of the Papacy gave Rome earthly eternality.
In the nineteenth century, the unification of Italy restored the old Status of Rome as Capital of a united country. Beyond the city itself, the legacy of Rome has been pervasive in much of the western world for many centuries and the idea of Rome has fuelled revolutions and revivals in artistic, political, literary contexts.
Rome stood up as a Phoenix and the eternal city can be admired in its old glory and grandeur.
Gibbons’ idea to write ‘The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ was inspired by the ruins of ancient Rome. The virtual reality might deprive the world of new Gibbons however. (Source: J. Huskinson, Experiencing Rome (London 2000).