By Kelsey Blodget
Excerpted from Oyster.com
Excerpted from Oyster.com
Rome is one of Europe's most popular tourist destinations for good reason -- and the Eternal City certainly has its fair share of secrets and surprises. There is so much to see and learn here that even tourists who have paid multiple visits may feel as though they've only scratched the surface. These lesser-known facts about Rome may be news to you, or maybe you're ahead of the curve -- either way, they'll be fun tidbits to whip out at your next dinner party. And they may just inspire you to plan a visit.
Photo by Cynthia Dial
1.Only About 10% of Rome Has Been Excavated
If you think all the mysteries of ancient Rome have been uncovered, think again. The ancient city is about 30 feet below modern street level, and some estimate that only around 10 percent of it has been excavated. Which makes sense, considering there are people living on top of the ruins -- even the ancient cities of Pompei and Herculaneum are only partially excavated (about 25 and 20 percent, respectively).
2.Julius Caesar Wasn’t Killed Where You Think He Was
Most of us are familiar with the dramatic assassination of Julius Caesar at the Senate House, but some mistake the Curia Julia in the Roman Forum as the scene where it took place. In fact, the Curia Julia was still under construction at the time, and Caesar was actually killed at the Curia of Pompey; its excavated foundations are in the Largo di Torre Argentina, and most of its ruins sit under a modern road.
3.Some of Rome’s Coolest Sites are Underground
If you are into the creepy, cool, and slightly morbid, don't miss out on touring Rome's underground sights, from the Mithraic cult temple underneath the Basilica of San Clemente to the Catacombs of Domitilla to the Catacombs of San Sebastiano.
4.You Won’t Find Spaghetti and Meatballs Here
While many Americans may think of spaghetti and meatballs as a quintessentially Italian dish, it is actually believed to have been invented by Italian immigrants already living in the U.S. in the early 1900s. No matter its origin, you won't easily find it in Rome. Instead, sample some delicious authentically Roman pasta dishes, such as spaghetti alla carbonara or bucatini all'amatriciana.
5.The Coins Found in Trevi Fountain are Donated to Charity
Tradition has it that throwing a coin over your left shoulder into Trevi Fountain will ensure a trip back to the Eternal City, but it also helps feed the needy. The Catholic charity Caritas collects the coins and uses the proceeds on a supermarket program that provides rechargeable grocery cards to Rome's low-income citizens. Over a million dollars worth of coins are tossed into the fountain each year, or over $3,000 a day.
6.The First Pizzas Weren’t Italian
The first pizzas were really more like flatbreads, and were made thousands of years ago. The ancient Greeks were making flatbreads topped with garlic and herbs long before the Romans, though the word "pizza" is believed to have developed from the Latin word "pinsa," used to refer to these flatbreads. The Italians were the first to start adding tomatoes in the 18th century (long believed by Europeans to be poisonous), and they certainly perfected the dish.
7.St. Peter’s Basilica is Not the World’s Largest Church
St. Peter's Basilica was the largest church in the world until Ivory Coast President Félix Houphouët-Boigny built the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro -- modeled after St. Peters -- between 1985 and 1989. Though it can accommodate 18,000 worshippers, the Ivory Coast doesn't have a large Christian population and most services are attended by only a few hundred people.
8.Rome Didn’t Become Part of Italy Until 1870
In September 1870, Rome found itself under siege by the Italian army, and was formally annexed into the Kingdom of Italy on October 2nd that year. The wars leading to the unification of Italy had already been going on for decades, and essentially ended when Rome was captured and made capital in 1871.
9.The Pantheon Has Been In Continuous Use Since It Was Built
The current structure was rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian in 126 A.D. The structure -- even the dome -- are original, though there were some modifications over the years. The dome is still the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world.
10.All Roads Led From Rome, Not to It
Almost everyone has heard the saying that "all roads lead to Rome." In fact, Romans would have flipped that saying on its head. In their view, all roads led from the Milliarium Aureum, or Golden Milestone, erected by Augustus in the Roman Forum. The Romans had an impressive network of highways and roads, necessary not just for trade but for military transport. Many still exist, including a section of the Appian Way.
11.You Can Drink from Rome’s Public Fountains
Many tourists don't realize that you can drink the water from Rome's 2,500 or so public fountains -- it's fresh, cold, and delicious. For many of them, if you cover the end of the spout, the water will shoot out of the hole in the top like a drinking fountain. The fountains are referred to as "nasoni" or "big noses" because of the shape of the spouts.
12.There Really is a Secret Passage Leading Out of the Vatican
Fans of Dan Brown's "Angels & Demons" read about the Passetto di Borgo leading from Vatican City to Castel Sant’Angelo. It really does exist, and has been used by popes when Vatican City has been under attack. The Castel Sant'Angelo is a museum and open to visitors, and it is also possible to tour part of the passageway, but note that it is only open during limited months and hours.
13.There Are More Than 900 Churches in Rome – More Than Any Other City
This one isn't a total shocker considering Vatican City is within the city limits (technically not part of Rome, because it is its own country). During an average year, Rome gets around 10 million visitors, but on a holy year, it can be significantly more (some estimates say double). As Pope Francis has announced a forthcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy, kicking off on December 8th, Rome’s 900-plus churches will be busy accommodating the city’s religious pilgrims.
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