A little history
The history of Lazio and Rome can be included from 1500 to 1870 (the breaching of the walls at Porta Pia) with the life of the Church. Already at the end of the sixth century the Church possessed many holdings in the Lazio region, even though the right of sovereignty was dictated by the Roman Duchy from the Eastern Empire; however in 727 the Exercitus rebelled against the Emperor and soon after the Pope obtained the Castle of Sutri which constituted the first step in the growing temporal power of the Church. This continued to develop with both the help and hindrance of various families from the Commune of Rome and abroad.
It was Pope Boniface VIII amongst the popes who, between the end of the XIII century and the beginning of the XIV, worked tirelessly to establish the state, excluding nothing in trying to beat the stronger adversaries such as the Colonna. The public disorder of these years which coincided with the popes’ time in Avignon (1305-1377) did nothing to hinder the Pontifical Monarchy.
The popes showed themselves to be stronger in managing to subjugate families and groups by hiring the best mercenary troops until the end of the XV century, when the Church became sole patron of the entire region; this, along with other territories, went to form the Church’s State. The Papal Court, for all of the Renaissance period and for the following centuries, lived in the height of luxury, completely deprived of moral scruple, displaying its power through the arts and the construction of monuments. The city, however, despite its strength during the papal era in the culinary arts, assimilated nothing of that complex and refined cuisine which surely passed along the banks of the river Tiber but probably never went beyond the confines of the papal palaces and the cardinals’ residences.
The French Revolution and the events of the Napoleonic era also assailed the papal State, lifting Rome out of its sleepy torpor.
In 1791 Joseph Bonaparte (following the killing of general Duphot by the Pontifical guard) marched on Rome from the Cisalpine Republic: under the protection of French bayonettes, a slim battalion of local Jacobins proclaimed the Roman Republic at the Capitol.
While the elderly Pope Pius VI took refuge in Florence, the remaining cardinals were made to sing the Te Deum for the end of the Church’s temporal power. However, the pillage and overbearing actions of these Patriots and of the liberating army created attempts both in the city and the countryside at rebellion which eventually led to the overthrow of this unstable Roman Republic. The new Pope Pius VII, however, was able to assure relative order in the city, distraught by the Jacobin horde, mainly due to the energy and ability of Cardinal Consalvi.
In 1809, however, the French were once again patrons of Rome and the Pope began his five year exile in France.
Although the French tried hard to improve the sad conditions in the city in all fields, administrative, economic and sanitary, the Romans never displayed much sympathy for the new regime: indeed, there was little absence, especially in the countryside, of open resistance and revolt.
After the fall of Napoleon, an attempt to take-over the city by Murat failed, and Pius VII returned and this was the beginning of the Restoration which became progressively more rigid and narrow-minded with the succession to the pontifical throne (1823) of the severe and austere Leo XII.
Beneath the artificial severity of social customs, Roman life continued as always with the parties and adventures of princes and artists, whilst among the people the first ideas of freedom were beginning to take hold and the Carboneria (the political secret society of the Carbonari) began initiating its activity.
In 1825, right in the middle of the Jubilee celebrations, the gallows took their first victims and the outrage that followed exploded in the early years of the pontifical reign of Gregory XVI (1831-46). He was, thus, forced to confront the revolution taking place in the northern provinces and for six years, in these same areas, was forced to submit to the occupation of French and Austrian forces.
The Carbonari and Mazzinian ideas that had heretofore spread among the bourgeois classes were now taking hold among the general population as well, just as the work of Gioberti “Primato morale e civile degli Italiani” (‘The Moral and Civil Supremacy of the Italians’) harnessed patriotic and liberal aspirations with that of Catholic sentiment, creating a renewed turmoil with which Pope Pius IX would have to contend.
The climate in Rome became ever more heated by passions that ran from the desire for freedom and state laicality to the turbid longing for social transformation. The figure of Ciceruacchio, the typical expression of the public soul, dominated the scene; the minister, Rossi, the last under Pius IX, was ruined by public outcry.
The Pope fled to Gaeta; the Roman republic was proclaimed (1848) and led by Mazzini but had, however, a very brief existence as the forces of Catholic Europe responded to the exiled Pope’s appeal, who subsequently re-entered Rome following the victory of the French troops.
The destiny of the Pontifical State was, however, sealed. The people of Rome were gradually orientated toward a unified solution under the protection of the House of Savoy. The belated reforms introduced by the Pontiff, the public spectacles offered, the construction of the first railways, were unable to halt the process of Italianisation that expressed itself in the mockery of the Pontifical army, in the satire of the French troops, and in the subscriptions in favour of the Piedmontese army engaged in Crimea and Lombardy.
In these turbulent years there was still a continuous and lively intellectual and social life, which was mainly confined to the opulent salons of the great patrician families, the Doria, the Borghese, the Torlonia, and the Caetani.
The taking of Rome opened a new chapter in the life of the city, which was, at this point, the capital of a modern state. In the years following the liberation of Rome, civic development assumed a character that resulted from the progressive blending of influences from the various regions, something the city henceforth conserved, and which was also a consequence of the strong appeal the capital exerted as a centre of business and power.
In the period running from 1870 to the first world war, Rome maintained the strong political traditions of ’49 which had their origins in Mazzini. At the side of this Rome, was also the Rome of the Pontiff, which after having closed itself off following the protest of Pius IX, began to open-up once more with ever more participation on the part of Catholics in the life of the new state; it also presented a modern version of itself as an important part of the administrative class. With the Concordat (1929) which brought to an end the dichotomy Church/State, this process found the right conditions to realise itself with the recognition of the Vatican and its traditional prestige.
After the fall of Fascism and the end of the second world war, with the return of freedom ,Rome could finally express its true nature: Catholic and moderate to a large extent with a communist and socialist presence, heir to the old republican traditions and nourished by the social extremism of the more vast population in the outlying suburbs.
Rome became a great metropolis with all its contradictions, having a life of its own, disconnected from the rest of the region, reaching out to Italy and the world, yet with strong traditions from the countryside, a popular culture (one has only to refer to the poetry of Belli and Trilussa, popular songs, and theatre) with deep roots in the capital, a culture that is still alive today in every walk of life, in the arts as well as in the cuisine.
The popular origins of Roman cuisine are undeniable, evinced in the recipes for simple foods, with advice on re-utilising ingredients, and the simplicity of the dishes and menus. It is worth mentioning, as a separate entity, the strong presence of Jewish cuisine in Rome, found not only in family environs, but also in restaurants, trattorias, but also in long-established, specialist shops. Such a large presence is due to the fact that Rome hosted the first Jews to arrive in Italy and still today has the largest Jewish community.