Rome: The Eternal City from Its Mythical Foundation Until Today

Curious Minds Online Course

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For almost 3000 years, the city of Rome has captured hearts and minds with its rich cultural traditions, its stunning art and architecture, and its dramatic political history. In this new series from University of Toronto’s Dr. Kenneth Bartlett, we’ll follow the eternal city through its many crises and celebrations and explore the buildings and art that survive as monuments to its illustrious past. Using vivid slides of Rome as it was and is, we’ll examine the city’s shifting roles as the capital of a great ancient empire, a hotbed of innovation in the Renaissance and Baroque eras, and the cultural nexus of a modern European republic. As we explore its historic villas, its lush gardens and its lively streets, we’ll experience the wonders of one of the world’s most enchanting cities.

Kenneth Bartlett

Led by Dr. Kenneth Bartlett, Professor of History and Renaissance Studies at the University of Toronto. A celebrated Canadian academic, Prof. Bartlett has published numerous influential books and over 40 articles on the Renaissance, most recently “The Renaissance in Italy: A History,” and won world renown for his 5 video series for “The Great Courses.” A recipient of the prestigious 3M National Teaching fellowship among other such awards, he regularly leads tours to Italy for museums and cultural organizations. 

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Lecture One: The Ancient City
After its legendary founding in 753 BC, Rome grew into the capital of a great empire, a city of grand temples and public buildings as well as imperial monuments and cultural wonders. We’ll begin our journey by looking at the ancient city and its memory both through visual reconstructions and images of what survives throughout the city.
Lecture Two: The Christian Capital
The disintegration of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th Century AD led to the collapse of Rome’s imperial purpose and a decline in its population. But, after the Emperor Constantine’s recognition of Christianity in 313 AD, Rome acquired a new role as the centre of Christianity. Great new churches replaced temples, and emperors were transformed into popes, changing the character of the city, and inventing new principles of art and architecture.
Lecture Three: The Renaissance Comes to Rome
The Renaissance came late to Rome, but the patronage policy of the papacy restored the tarnished lustre of the city. As the celebration of the ancient world by Renaissance humanists turned Rome into an important cultural centre, a dynamic city of beautiful structures and art emerged, epitomized by the new basilica of St Peter and the Apostolic Vatican Palace.

Lecture Four: The Imperial Papacy and the Baroque
In response to the Protestant Reformation, the 1527 Sack of Rome and the many challenges to its authority, the Papacy used art, architecture and patronage to make Rome once again the caput mundi: the head of the world. The rebuilding and redecoration of the city’s churches and palaces and a new urban plan transformed the city between the 16th and the 18th centuries, producing a Baroque city that still inspires awe through its theatrical splendour.
Lecture Five: Villas and the Gardens of Rome
The ancient Roman principle of rus in urbe, the country in the city, gave rise to an explosion of villa and garden construction beginning in the Renaissance. Some occupied legendary sites within the city, while others, such as the Villa Lante at Bagnaia and Villa Farnese at Caprarola, allowed elite Romans to compete with the ancients in luxurious country living. In this lecture, we’ll explore how Romans saw these villas and gardens as extensions of their cultivated lives and communities.

Week Six: Rome and the Modern World
With the capture of Rome by the army of the recently united kingdom of Italy in 1870, a rather backward and clerically dominated city became the capital of the new secular Italian kingdom. Rome was transformed into a modern 19th Century European capital and later the pompous monuments of the fascists and the postwar reconstruction of the city resulted in the Rome we know today. We’ll close our series by surveying the modern city, with all its history, splendour and problems.

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