The Eternal City has had a profound impact on the history of Europe since antiquity, as the capital of one of the most powerful and influential empires the world has ever known, and as the spiritual centre of the Roman Catholic Church for almost two thousand years. Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, the city declined for many centuries, and in the fifteenth century it was significantly smaller than it had been in the fifth; medieval buildings were surrounded by the ruins of ancient Rome. From the fifteenth century onwards there was a revival of learning and interest in classical civilisation. The city became a centre of the new movement known as humanism. The humanists embraced new knowledge and interests in literature, art, music, philosophy, science and medicine, placing man at the centre of these pursuits and rejecting medieval ideas based solely upon the teachings of the Christian Church.
The Renaissance had a great impact on Rome's appearance. The religious character of the city remained, and many new churches were built, but many grand secular buildings were also constructed, and broad avenues and squares were laid out. The city attracted scholars and artists from throughout Italy. Although the first books printed in Rome were religious titles, produced with the backing of the papal court, scholars and merchants clamoured for books that reflected their interest in humanist ideas. The sack of Rome by the armies of Emperor Charles V in 1527 ended Rome's position as a leading Renaissance city.