The rebuilding of Rome was undertaken at great cost, especially to the memoirs of the past. Since the fall of Rome, popes and princes had treated Rome as a vast quarry from which to extract treasure and building materials. The Coliseum is the greatest monument to this destructive habit. For centuries, Romans hacked away at the colossal structure, harvesting material for foundations and marble inlay, and destroying one of the greatest architectural creations of human history. Even so, the Coliseum remains the largest structure in Rome. Many other buildings suffered a similar fate, and were severely damaged, if not completely destroyed, before the spirit of antiquarianism that was revived during Pope Leo X's reign saved many of the remains of ancient Rome. Among Romans the passion for antiquarianism was not an intellectual exercise as it was elsewhere, but rather a reaffirmation of their lost status of glory. Romans began to grasp the details of their real, rather than legendary, past.
Pope Leo X oversaw the Golden Age, the rise of humanism and antiquarianism to its Renaissance apex. He was perhaps the closest thing to the enlightened princes of the northern Italian states that the Papacy saw during the Renaissance, a fact not surprising in light of his Medici lineage. He proved a gifted administrator and a thoughtful and generous patron of the arts. He inherited the staunch project of rebuilding St. Peter's basilica, which he undertook determinedly in the name of the Church. Incidentally, this greatest of Renaissance Popes also made the decision that turned out to be one of the Chruch's greatest blunders. In an effort to finance the tremendous undertaking of St. Peter's Basilica, Leo X authorized the sale of indulgences to finance construction. Indulgences were basically pardons for sin. Their sale was the final act in a long string of offenses triggering the Protestant Reformation, a movement which created a schism in Christianity so large that it dominated history for centuries, and whose effects have played and still play varied, nuanced, and fundamental roles in the modern world.