memories from the past

The Colosseum is known for the spectacular and bloody fights of gladiators and wild animals, but when the ancient times ended, silence fell upon the forgotten ruins and a new life for the monument started. Actually many different lives.

The building, symbol of a pagan authority that persecuted the Christians, was looted for centuries and cursed with dark legends. Only in 1750 the pope ruling Rome decided to rededicate the monument and free it from the bad presences that haunted it. This pope was Benedict XIV who raised a cross in the center of the Arena field and 14 altars to commemorate the passion of Christ in preparation for Easter.

The pagan monument became a center of pilgrimage and the stage where every Holy Friday the “Walk of Christ” (Via Crucis) was performed. With the archeological excavations these traces of a Catholic use have been canceled, but the procession still takes place. For 2017 the superintendence of Rome has decided to restore and rebuild one of the 14 altars that will be unveiled for the procession of April, 14.

A great occasion to see something old and new, pagan and Christian at the same time, that truly symbolises the spirit of this city and its never-ending, beautiful contradictions.


the magic of a candle

Candelora (feast of candles) is among the most ancient Roman feasts coming  from the transformation of a pagan tradition and is celebrated the 2nd of February. This month was dedicated by the Romans  to Fauno, god of fertility involved in the pagan festival of Lupercalia. During this period there were processions with lights and torches for the purification from bad influences.

When Christianism finally conquered the Roman institutions this festival was still going on, since especially the senatorial class was attached to the ancient traditions and some believed that wars, epidemies and ruin were a consequence of the abandon of these practices. It was then that pope Gelasio was able to convince the Senate that the disgraces Rome was going through were on the contrary due to the misbehaving, superstition and traces of paganism.

The festival of Lupercalia was in the end abolished and replaced by other celebrations: among them St.Valentin and the feast of the Purification of Mary, which is 40 days after Christmas as for the Jewish law women stayed impure that long after the delivery. It was called the Festival of Candles, Candelora. The ritual consisted in a procession through the Roman Forum to Santa Maria Maggiore, with the blessing of the candles.

In a later period it was the brotherhood of Santa Maria dell’Orto in Trastevere which took care of the celebration. Other than candles the brotherhood also blessed the waters of the Tiber river, in the morning when everybody showed on their boats for the solemn blessing and delivery of the candles, that could be switched as a sign of devotion to Mary or only as a request for help in case of danger, disease, storms.

The church of Santa Maria dell’Orto is one of the highlights in Trastevere district, in via Anicia 10.

the cleanest wash

In the past times women didn’t have so much spare time since they had no help from technology and the home works were all hand made. Before the washing machine was invented they had to go to the public lavatory to wash their “dirty clothes” in public (even because neither water supply reached the residential buildings as nowadays).

One of these places in Rome was decorated with an inscription inciting women to do their job at the best and in any way possible. The plate has the following text:


(mind to keep your conscience as pure white as the clothes you’re washing here)

This lavatory doesn’t exist anymore but its plate has been walled up in the courtyard of one of the brightest churches in Rome, Santa Maria in Campomarzio, where you can find the inscription in the inner courtyard.

the donkey ears

Gian Lorenzo Bernini was the undiscussed master of Roman baroque: with his talent and his charming personality he was sought after by popes, cardinals and princes. He worked for all the powerful men of his times achieving spectacular works like the canopy for St. Peter’s, the Ecstasy of St. Theresa, the Apollo and Daphne.

The trust that his committents had in him was absolute and he was praised even in his failures. He was commissioned by pope Urban VIII to embellish the church of Santa Maria ad Martyres that is the name given to the pagan temple Pantheon after it was cansecrated to the Christian cult.

Bernini made two horrible bell towers that were named by the “uneducated” people the donkey ears referring to the poor ability of Bernini as an architect and underlining how awkwardly they paired with the ancient beautiful building. The bell towers were not removed until 1883 when it was decided for the demolition giving back to the Pantheon its original harmony.

as silent as a stone… that’s not always true!

We sat as silent as a stone / We knew, though she’d not said a word / That even the best of love must die

These gloomy words come from “A Memory of Youth” by W. B. Yeats who evidently didn’t know the strange peculiarity of the Roman stones.

Until 150 years ago the Romans lived in a city controlled by the Papacy and the Church, in times when freedom of expression was not considered a fundamental right. The sharp tongue of the people was not appreciated neither later, when Rome became the capital city of the Kingdom of Italy and finally of the Italian Republic. But the Romans have always known their territory and the primary goods it could offer such as, for example, abandoned sculptures reduced to ruins and used to decorate crossroads or junctions.

These sculptures became the voice of the people: when they wanted to protest against abuses, taxes, the hypocrisy of the power (i.e. the Pope and his court) invectives and sarcastic poems written by anonymous were attached during the night to the statues, which could in this way “talk”. They were a number of elements which formed the so-called “Congresso degli Arguti” (the congress of the witty ones): there was Pasquino close to Piazza Navona, Madama Lucrezia near Piazza Venezia, Abbot Luigi in Piazza Vidoni and Marforio that was formerly in the Roman Forum.

Actually the poems were not written by the people, who were in large part analphabet, but by intellectuals who collected the rumours on the streets. This tradition went on until few years ago when it was prohibited for “decency” reasons. As you can see, fantasy can overcome any barrier so it’s time to invent something new!

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