Why Is Rome Called The Eternal City?

There are many things Rome is famous for, and one of these is Her moniker of being eternal. But why is Rome called the Eternal City? Since when was She given this title? And especially, who gave Her?

Despite the fact that there are many ancient cities in the world, Rome has always held a special place in history and in the popular imagination.

As a matter of fact, there were also other cities, such as Jerusalem and Kyoto, Japan’s former capital, that have been briefly named eternal, but Roms is the only one that held onto it for thousands of years without giving any sign of losing it.

Here, we reveal to you everything about why Rome is called the eternal city, has been for thousands of years and still is.

Image: Landmarks that answer to the question: Why Is Rome Called The Eternal City?

Who called Rome the Eternal City?

First thing first, who’s the author of such a successful nickname?

For a long time, 2nd-century Emperor Hadrian has been credited with the lucky epithet. The reason for this has been a quotation from a manuscript he allegedly wrote a sibylline and somehow prophetic sentence that reads: “Rome shall live, Rome shall only perish with the last city of men”. This, however, is fake. That’s right, an academic fake, we might say.

The famous sentence, in fact, doesn’t belong to Hadrian but to modern Belgian-born French novelist Marguerite Yourcenar. It’s an excerpt from her famous novel Memoirs of Hadrian, a long epistolary monologue where the emperor meditates on his life and death.

As historical research suggests, the first who called Rome eternal was Albius Tibullus, a Latin poet and writer who lived in the 1st century BC. In the second book of his Elegies, he wrote: “Romulus Aeternae nondum formaverat Urbis moenia” which I roughly translate into: “Romulus hadn’t even raised the walls of the Eternal City yet”.

Image: Statue of Emperor Hadrian in Rome.

When was Rome called the Eternal City?

So this means that Rome has been called the Eternal City since the 1st century BC and apparently later poets like Virgil and Ovid appreciated the initiative to the extent that they even started to refer to Rome as an ever-lasting city.

Why is Rome called the Eternal City?

Today, after 2776 years of history from the widely agreed-upon birthday of Rome in 753 BC to now, it’s easy to understand why the Italian capital is known as the eternal city. But since we now know that this moniker wasn’t exactly appointed yesterday, this gives us an idea of the stature, prestige, and prominence Rome has enjoyed since its inception.

The epitome of glory throughout history, Rome has always been an important hub, even during the Middle Ages when its population dramatically decreased. From emperors to popes, from dictatorship to republic, we can safely say that Rome has seen it all.

As we know, the foundation of Rome is narrated through myths and divine origins. This contributed to making it an important hub from the beginning of its history and the strong will of its kings, senators, and emperors made it the capital of the empire we have all studied.

Image: Statue of Roma goddess in Rome.

We might not be fully certain as to why Tibullus coined the lucky term, but we can safely say that if this nickname survived for thousands of years, there must be a few good reasons. So, in my opinion, here is why Rome is still called the eternal city.

  • Long history. This is probably the first and foremost reason that keeps the moniker of the eternal city going and still in use.
  • It’s charming. Art and beauty around every corner, a dolce vita-inspired lifestyle easy to spot in the main piazzas in Rome, delicious restaurants, and decadent cafes are only some of the ingredients for a charming city and a lovely holiday.
  • It’s stunning. Beauty is not enough to describe Rome’s appearance. Rome is downright stunning, wherever you look, from wherever you stand.
  • It’s a huge masterpiece. The collaboration between world-famous artists from all periods, art movements, and specialties has been shaping Rome’s appearance for centuries making it look like a giant masterpiece work of a team of history’s best painters, sculptors, architects, and engineers. From imperial times to the Renaissance, from the Baroque to contemporary art, Rome is a huge piece of artwork.
  • It’s an open-air museum. Whether you are into history, archaeology, sculpture, or architecture, Rome offers a ticket to all of these for free every day. Piazza Navona is a Baroque gem where you can see the works of Bernini, Borromini, and Giacomo della Porta. The Colosseum, the Roman bridges, and the rests of the ancient aqueducts reveal how sophisticated the engineering skills of ancient Romans were.
  • It’s a mix of ancient and new. Boasting thousands of uninterrupted years of history, it’s only normal that ancient sites stand side by side with more modern masterpieces. This is what makes Rome eternal and so seductive.
Image: Ancient and new side by side in Rome.

Why is Rome so special?

What makes Rome so special that all over the world it has retained its thousand-year-old moniker and the charm of an undying travel destination? Even though appointed thousands of years ago, the allure of an eternal city doesn’t show any sign of cooling, and this is what makes Rome so special.

Rome is packed with sights and buildings that have been used throughout its past and are still part of Romans’ life. It’s possible to visit many landmarks in Rome that were built centuries ago and are still in use.

Apart from the several bridges I mentioned above, among which are still standing some extremely old ones such as Pons Fabricius, the same churches are old buildings that are still functioning and covering their original purpose. Some of the most famous Roman churches are very old, such as the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere or Santa Sabina in Aventine Hill.

Rome is so special because its history is strictly linked and intertwined with strong faith, evolution in religious and social mores, and rich culture. Kings, emperors, and popes shaped the history and the look of our city. This is why we have many “Romes”: Ancient Rome, Renaissance Rome, Baroque Rome, the Rome of the popes, and the capital of the Italian kingdom first and then Italy.

Image: Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome.

Knowing this is pivotal to understanding the grandeur of the city and its glory through history when visiting its attractions and historical sites.

Among the other important Roman buildings that have been used for centuries and attract thousands of visitors is the wonderful Castel Sant’Angelo. Built in the 2nd century as the funerary mausoleum of emperor Hadrian, it has been used continuously for millennia with different purposes such as a stronghold, residence, and even prison.

This unique trait of Rome is what makes the city special and imposing now and in the future. This is what makes Rome the eternal city and Caput Mundi, another of its famous nicknames, that means “the world’s capital”.

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About The Author: Angela Corrias

Hi, my name is Angela Corrias! I am an Italian journalist, photographer, and blogger living in Rome. After over ten years of living abroad, I finally came to the conclusion that in order to better organize my future adventures, I needed a base. Since I know and love Rome so much, I moved back to the Eternal City. This is how Rome Actually was born. Here, I cover everything about Rome, from the local food to the culture to Roman history.

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