In addition to its monuments, palaces and churches, a city is also made up of the memories it evokes and the life that passes through it. A daily life that, in Rome, has always been marked by rites, holidays, anniversaries, celebrations: a full program of fixed events which, with their load of traditions, represented a (religious or civil) occasion for reflecting, meeting, sharing and having fun, season after season.
If some of them have not resisted the oblivion of time or have lost part of that sense of perfect wonder that they used to give to the Romans and to the many visitors of the city, others are still alive and kicking, even richer today than in the past. And some others, even if born in more recent years, are already part of the modern and contemporary “traditions” of the city.
To fully experience Rome and immerse yourself in its history, month by month we will present you some of the special days and moments of the city, the past and present one – the most heartfelt or awaited events, or even simply the most curious ones.
The Ottobrata Romana
The Roman summer does not end with the autumnal equinox, and on one of those magically bright and warm days with postcard-perfect climate someone will end up exclaiming, “What a beautiful Ottobrata!”, to mean something along the lines of Indian summer. In the Rome of the Popes, however, the real Ottobrata was a “serious thing”, a tradition to be respected at the cost of resorting to Monte dei Pegni pawnbroking. Because giving up the festivals and outings that closed the harvest season was simply out of the question. Throughout the month, on Sunday or Thursday mornings, carriages and carts rushed to the countryside, vineyards and orchards outside the walls of Rome or inside the city, such as the “meadows of the Roman people” at the foot of Monte Testaccio, whose famous “wine catacombs” exerted a strong, constant attraction. Food and wine acted as the social glue, and after a full day of playing, dancing and singing, the return home was much more boisterous and eventful than the departure. The custom ended in the early 20th century but its spirit, after all, remained alive. To celebrate Roman October we can treat ourselves to a trip to the Castelli Romani, for example on the first Sunday of the month when the ancient Sagra dell’Uva (Grape Festival) is held in Marino. Or simply admire the foliage in the city’s villas, made enchanting by art and nature. One above all is Villa Borghese, which has been opening its gates to the public on October Sundays since the late 18th century, courtesy of the princes.
St. Francis of Assisi, 4 October
Patron saint of Italy along with Catherine of Siena, founder of the Franciscans, and one of the most venerated figures in Christianity, St. Francis needs no introduction. He had been declared a saint just two years after his death in Assisi on 4 October 1226. A revolutionary in doctrine and in his choice of poverty but devoted and obedient to the Church and the pontiff, until 1223 Francis traveled to Rome several times and many are the city places mentioned in Franciscan sources, for example St. Peter’s, St. John Lateran and St. Sabina, the basilica where he allegedly met St. Dominic. It was during one of these stays in Rome that Francis met a Roman noblewoman who was to become one of the most representative figures of early Roman Franciscanism. From Giacoma or Jacopa de’ Settesoli – “Brother Jacopa”, as Francis had named her – also derives the special relationship that Rome’s Rione Trastevere has with the saint: after Francis’ death, she obtained from the Benedictines of San Cosimato in Trastevere the cession of the hospice of San Biagio, where Francis had stayed and which then became the first Roman site of the Friars Minor. The church, later called San Francesco a Ripa, holds some of the saint’s relics and the stone where he is said to have laid his head, as well as a full-length portrait made by Margaritone d'Arezzo in the late 13th century. Every year, in memory of Francis, the Rione and church organize liturgical celebrations and festivities. It is also possible to taste Jacopa de’ Settesoli’s “Mostaccioli” made with honey, sugar and almonds: a small sin of gluttony that Francis did not want to give up even at the end of his days, to the point that he wrote to the woman to hurry to join him at the Portiuncula, taking those good and fragrant cookies with him.
Fall flowering at the Rome’s Roseto, 9-23 October (tentative dates)
True beauty does not fade; in fact, sometimes it flourishes again. For proof of this, just visit Rome’s Municipal Rose Garden, a corner of peace and harmony nestled on the slopes of the Aventine Hill, opposite the remains of the Palatine Hill and a short walk from the Circus Maximus – a place dedicated to flowers since antiquity because it was here, as the Roman historian Tacitus recounts, that a temple dedicated to the goddess Flora stood. Although small in size, the garden is home to more than a thousand varieties of botanical roses, both ancient and modern, an extraordinary heritage that allows visitors to trace the history and evolution of one of the world’s most beloved and celebrated flowers. Their peak bloom time is between April and May but there are some varieties that return to bloom in the fall. Thus, respecting a well-established tradition, the Rose Garden opens its doors to the public in October as well, allowing visitors, tourists and rose lovers to admire the renewed spectacle of scents and colors for two weeks.
The raid of the Ghetto of Rome, 16 October
On 16 October 1943 Rome had been in the hands of Italy’s former German allies for just over a month. At 5.15 am, SS soldiers combed the houses and streets of the Portico d’Ottavia, but all the city’s neighborhoods were not spared either. They went door to door in search of the Roman Jews whom the 1938 racial laws had helped to card. The date was not chosen at random; it was Saturday, the day of rest for the Jewish community, and it was also the holiday of Sukkot. Men, women, children, the elderly, the sick, often caught in their sleep – rounded up, forced into trucks and taken to the Military College in Palazzo Salviati, only a few blocks from the Vatican and the pontiff, who didn’t express any public condemn. Two days later, eighteen sealed wagons left from Tiburtina station: of the 1,022 Roman Jews deported to Auschwitz, only 16 survived and returned home. The raid of the Ghetto opened a wound in the fabric of the city that is still painful today, and its scale and horror make it one of the emblems of the Shoah in Italy. Every year since 1994, the Community of Sant’Egidio and the Jewish Community of Rome have been committed to keeping its memory alive with a silent march from Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere to the Great Synagogue, at the place of remembrance now named “Largo 16 ottobre 1943”.
The Battle of the Milvian Bridge, 28 October
In 312 A.D. the Western world was about to change its skin completely. Following a complicated civil war caused by rivalries inherent in Diocletian’s Tetrarchy, Constantine and Maxentius were engaged in open hostility with one another. In Rome, Maxentius had seized the title of Augustus with the support of the Senate. Unwilling to recognize him, Constantine crossed the Alps, seized a good number of cities and quickly arrived at the gates of Rome. On the morning of 28 October, Maxentius met him in the open field. On the exact dynamics of the battle that raged near the Milvian Bridge, the sources are confused and scanty, but the ending is history: the disastrous rout of Maxentius’ troops, who died by drowning in the Tiber. Guiding Constantine to victory, as Christian chroniclers later recounted, would have been a celestial sign: the night before the battle, while encamped near Malborghetto, Constantine would have had a vision of a cross in the starry sky, with an inscription in Greek rendered in Latin in the famous “in hoc signo vinces”, an event that would have marked the beginning of his conversion to Christianity. No Christian symbols indeed appear on the friezes of the great arch promptly erected next to the Colosseum to celebrate the triumph of the new Western emperor, but the battle would from then on be considered the emblem of paganism defeated by the advance of the new Christian empire. And with good reason: the following year the Edict of Milan would definitively sanction freedom of worship, the first step in the process that would lead the Christian religion to be no longer just permissible but the only one allowed.
A walk in the green nature of Rome
According to legend, the history of Rome begins right here