THE NOT SO ETERNAL CITY
Rome is an incredibly deceptive city: it always appears to be something it is not. It seems to be ancient, but is actually modern; it seems never to change, yet in fifty years wiped out vestiges of millennia and upset the geography of half the surrounding region. It appears to be a city that leans to the left, which ruled it for twenty-five of the past forty years, but has been a petri dish for experiments in neo-liberalism and Blairism with a Tyrrhenian sauce. But perhaps the most instructive lesson of the Italian capital is that it shows us how and why what was once considered the ‘strongest and most intelligent left in Europe’ has melted like snow in the sun. That Rome is deceptive is inscribed in its best-known sobriquet: ‘the eternal city’. In reality, though it was founded 2,770 years ago (according to the myth of Romulus and Remus), 92 per cent of the city is not just modern but contemporary, as much the product of massive recent immigration as Chicago or Manchester were in their day. If in the time of its empire in Antiquity Rome was the largest metropolis on earth, peaking at 1.5 million inhabitants in the second century ad, by the late medieval period it had shrunk to a town of no more than 30,000 inhabitants. By about 1600 the population had crept back up to some 110,000, settling at around 170,000 in the following centuries. When Piedmontese troops stormed the city in 1870, putting an end to the Vatican state—with by then 200,000 inhabitants—Rome was just the fourth largest city in Italy after Milan, Naples and Genoa.
Subscribe for just £45 and get free access to the archive
Please login on the left to read more or buy the article for £3
- Joe Trapido: Kinshasa’s Theatre of Power The DRC’s capital is set to become Africa’s largest city, but struggles to assert its authority over a profoundly fractured state as it expands in chaotic fashion. Dilapidated infrastructure and a disintegrating formal economy have not extinguished Kinshasa’s extraordinary cultural vitality, or its role as a centre of political opposition.
- Yonatan Mendel: New Jerusalem Dysfunctions and divisions of Israel’s largest city. Yonatan Mendel diagnoses the incoherent urbanism produced by its history of occupation and segregation, and by the vast, settlement-driven distension of its boundaries after 1967.
- Alèssi Dell’Umbria: The Sinking Of Marseille The recent fate of France’s second city—post-war decline followed by modish resurgence—seen in the longue durée by its radical historian. A social and political archaeology of Marseille, amid the steady dismantling of its urban worlds.