My apologies to the B-52s but the [mis]use of their lyric was too tempting. Although I’ve been to the Eternal City twice before in the 70s and 90s, I don’t think I gave it the attention that it deserves. In doing my research for this trip I was stunned with the number of innovations that are due to Rome and it’s empire. So much so, that this jam packed, week-long trip could have easily been another three without retracing any steps. Here are but a few Roman innovations that have shaped the western world.
The Romans invented concrete which allowed them to make formed, permanent structures. The Pantheon is the premiere example of this technology. For more than a thousand years it was the largest unsupported dome in the world and it still stands after nearly two thousand years. The ingenious coffering of the inside of the dome helped keep the weight down as well as choosing lighter aggregate in the concrete mix as the dome approaches the oculus. Romans even invented concrete that would set underwater. Regretfully, the recipe for concrete was lost after the sack of Rome and very rarely used until the technology was re-invented in the mid-18th century. Concrete is the most widely used man-made building material in contemporary times.
The city was probably the first in antiquity with an ability to support a large dense population. They were able to do this by building extensive aqueducts to get water into and sewage out of the city. This is the primary reason that the Centro Storico is navigated by piazzas and at the heart of those piazzas are fountains. They are more than elaborate, decorative elements for tourists; they were the primary source of water and represent the ability of city to support their population, thereby becoming the first modern metropolis.
The thousands of miles of aqueducts, each precisely slanted to give a regular direction of flow, were an impressive engineering feat in themselves but were made possible with Roman widespread use of the arch. This building technique has the capability to distribute the structures weight through the side columns allowing for a much larger, unsupported opening. Although this is not their invention, the Romans made the most extensive use of this technique in antiquity and well after.
Beyond those and many more innovations, Rome is a vibrant, clean, colorful and even a very walk able city. The sheer volume of art and history is staggering but coupled with the aromas and tastes, Rome deserves a visit or three.