Is Rome a Medieval City?

By Robert Palmer

Is Rome a Medieval City?

When one thinks of Rome, images of ancient ruins, grand architecture, and the mighty Roman Empire often come to mind. However, Rome’s history extends far beyond its glorious past as the capital of an empire. In fact, Rome has also experienced a significant medieval period that has left its mark on the city’s landscape and culture.

The Fall of the Roman Empire

The decline and fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD marked a turning point in Rome’s history. With the empire’s collapse, the city entered a period known as Late Antiquity or the Early Middle Ages. During this time, Rome faced political instability and societal changes that would shape its medieval identity.

Medieval Rome: A City Transformed

As power shifted away from Rome and new kingdoms emerged across Europe, the city underwent significant changes. The once bustling metropolis saw a decline in population and urban life as people moved away from the city center to more fortified areas for safety.


The architectural landscape of medieval Rome was characterized by the construction of churches and fortifications. Notable examples include St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City and Castel Sant’Angelo. These structures served as symbols of religious devotion and sources of protection during turbulent times.


The artistic expressions during this period were heavily influenced by religious themes. Byzantine-style mosaics adorned many churches, such as Santa Maria in Trastevere, showcasing intricate designs depicting biblical scenes.

Papal Power: The Vatican Influence

Rome’s medieval history is closely intertwined with its relationship with the papacy. The Pope held considerable power and influence over the city and played a pivotal role in shaping its political and cultural landscape.

The Papal States:

During the Middle Ages, the Pope ruled over a territory known as the Papal States, which included various regions in central Italy. The administration of these territories shaped Rome’s governance and contributed to its medieval character.

Religious Pilgrimages:

Rome became a popular destination for religious pilgrimages during the medieval period. Pilgrims flocked to the city to visit important Christian sites such as St. Peter’s Basilica, which further enhanced Rome’s stature as a significant medieval city.


While Rome is undoubtedly renowned for its ancient history, it would be incorrect to overlook its medieval significance. The period following the fall of the Roman Empire saw Rome undergo significant transformations that shaped its architectural, artistic, and political landscape. The remnants of this period can still be seen today, making Rome not only a city of ancient wonders but also an important medieval destination.