It’s enough to set foot in Rome to know why it’s called The Eternal City. Even if you knew nothing of Rome’s epic past, it would be enough to gaze upon it to know that something remarkable took place here and that its legacy of greatness is yet alive and well.
Besides the stupendous ruins (such as the Colosseum) and mind-boggling edifices (like the Pantheon) that punctuate any visit of The Eternal City with a constant reminder of Roman engineering genius, Rome pulsates with a particular energy you’d have to be a zombie not to notice.
Modern-day Rome is a vibrant vortex where chaos and beauty coexist in a fascinating embrace, and where a story spanning more than two millennia lives on.
The Eternal City: A Poetic Nickname Coined by a Roman Poet
The term “The Eternal City” was coined by Roman poet Tibullus, who called Rome “Urbs Aeterna” in his Second Book of Elegies, at no insignificant moment in Rome’s past. Tibullus lived at the time of Julius Caesar, the watershed period just over 2,000 years ago when Rome was in a state of great unrest and shifting from republican to imperial rule, an event that would change the course of world history.
The poet would have been a child when Julius Caesar seized power as dictator in 46 BCE, and for the next 27 years until his early death in 19 BCE, Tibullus would witness Rome embark on an incredible new era of world dominance. Although Rome would not see the height of its empire for another century and a half, Tibullus saw where things were headed. In giving Rome the moniker Urbs Aeterna, the poet captured the proud sentiments of the Roman population: the belief that no matter what powers came and went, no matter what empires rose and fell, Rome would carry on in perpetuity.
The Eternal City of Today
Rome as The Eternal City of today exists in both the physical and energetic realms. Its tangible enduring qualities are apparent everywhere, not only in the seemingly unshakeable solidity of its iconic monuments but also in the water that flows to its innumerable fountains, continuing the legacy that began with the construction of the aqueducts in Ancient Roman times. In fact, the Aqua Virgo Aqueduct, built in 19 BCE, still furnishes water to three of Rome’s most beautiful and famous fountains: the Barcaccia (little boat) in Piazza di Spagna, the Four Rivers Fountain in Piazza Navona, and, of course, the incomparable Trevi.
The energy and legacy of water in Rome are paralleled by an artistic heritage that has evolved over many, many centuries. Works from Ancient Roman times to the Renaissance and beyond are featured in Rome’s plentiful art galleries, not to mention the vast collections in the Vatican Museums, but the city itself is nothing short of a sprawling, breathtaking open-air art exhibit.
Perhaps it’s a perception unique to the writer of this blog, but there is something about the spirit of the Roman people today that makes one aware of the never-ending story of Rome; an echo of the souls of emperors and gladiators, of plebes and patricians, that still permeates Rome’s vibe and that of its sons and daughters in the present day.
For a more concrete affirmation of Rome’s eternal ethos, it’s enough to peer at the majestic Tiber meandering through the heart of the city in the fading light of day. In this context, the sensation of everlasting flow emanating from the river is perfected by forms of the ancient and the present united in silhouette, a visual testament to the timeless nature of The Eternal City.
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