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Rome Travel Guide

The eighteenth century to World War II


Painters, sculptors, connoisseurs, and intellectuals of many nations converted Rome their mecca in the 1700s. Papal patronage encouraged building, art commissions, and excavations of ancient landmarks. Art schools flourished, and the world's first public museums opened. But during the 1700s, virtually every European artist of note traveled to Rome, finding inspiration and work in the city. The cosmopolitan city became an indispensable stop on the European Grand Tour.

The eighteenth century saw the decline of the papacy as a political force, a phenomenon marked by the occupation of the city in 1798 by Napoleon; Pius VI (1775-1800) was unceremoniously sent off to France as a prisoner, and Napoleon declared another Roman republic, with himself at its head, which lasted until 1815, when papal rule was restored under Pius VII (1800-23).

As capital of a modern European country, Rome was (some would say still is) totally ill-equipped, and the Piemontese rulers of the new kingdom set about building a city fit to govern from, cutting new streets through Rome's central core (Via Nazionale, Via del Tritone) and constructing grandiose buildings like the Altar of the Nation. Mussolini took up residence in Rome in 1922, and in 1929 signed the Lateran Pact with Pope Pius XI (1922-39), a compromise which forced the Vatican to accept the new Italian state and in return recognized the Vatican City as sovereign territory, independent of Italy, together with the key basilicas and papal palaces in Rome, which remain technically independent of Italy to this day. Mussolini's motivations weren't dissimilar to the popes, however, when he bulldozed his way through the Roman Forum and began work on the futuristic, self-publicizing planned extension to the city known as EUR. Rome was declared an "open city" during World War II , and as such emerged from the war relatively unscathed. However, after Mussolini's death, and the end of the war, the Italian king, Vittorio Emanuele III, was forced to abdicate and Italy was declared a republic - still, however, with its capital in Rome.


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