Rome, with its beautiful architecture and rich history enclosed in every street, draws nearly 10 million tourists each year. The Eternal City, as it is also known, celebrated its 2,773rd birthday this year. Rome was not built in a day, as the saying goes, but its origins can be traced back to 21 April 753 BC.
This article takes you through the story of how Rome was started, what events take place in present times to honor its founding, and also what food is found at those events.
Origin of Natale di Roma
It all started with a pair of twin brothers, Romulus and Remus. They are said to be born to Mars, the god of war, and Rhea, who was forced to be a vestal. As the legend goes, vestals had to undertake a vow of chastity. The punishment for breaking this rule was death.
The king, not wanting to incur the wrath of Mars, did not directly kill Romulus and Remus. Instead, he sentenced them to death by live burial. However, the servant in charge of carrying out this order decided to take pity and laid them in a basket, after which it was let go in the Tiber River. Tibernus, the river god, helped them reach safety by controlling the course of the river to get the basket trapped in some tree roots. The twins were then found by a female wolf, who nurtured them with milk, and later on, a woodpecker, who brought them food.
After years had passed, they were adopted by a shepherd and his wife. Romulus and Remus were helping to herd the sheep one day when they chanced upon shepherds of the king who had passed their death sentence. Both parties got into a scuffle, upon which Remus was captured and taken to the king. Romulus gathered fellow shepherds before he set off on his rescue mission. In the process of freeing Remus, Romulus murdered the king. When asked by the citizens of the city to take over the now-vacant position of king, they refused. Instead, they set out to found their own cities.
Romulus decided to set up his city on the Palantine Hill, which became known in history as Rome. Italians commemorate this event each year as Natale di Roma (The Birth of Rome).
Natale di Roma is a day of much joy for Italians, with an exciting line up of events. The following are some of them:
Central to the celebrations is a parade where people dress up as they used to in Ancient Rome. At the front, you would find the Dea Roma wearing her magnificent crown. Following behind her are armies from various times in ancient Rome holding makeshift spears. Do not be alarmed if you hear war cries! It is all part of the show. There are also priests with prayer books marching along. You would find intimidating gladiators wearing (fake) skinned foxes as helmets, Roman emperors, and vestals in flowing dresses and flower crowns. The vestals also give a mesmerizing dance performance to the beat of drums and tambourines.
This colorful procession of people marched along the Via dei Fori Imperiali, a road leading to the Colosseum. It is common for the costumed people to re-enact historical events as well, such as dramatic battle sequences, with thousands of spectators watching them. This usually takes place at Circo Massimo, which in ancient Rome’s largest stadium.
2011, Image from Gianni Dedom, flickr.com
In honor of Pales, the goddess of shepherds, flocks, and herds, various rituals are performed such as the purification of sheep pens. In ancient Rome, shepherds used to burn sulfur, rosemary, and incense to use the smoke in sheep pens and stables as a purification ritual. They also made offerings of food such as millets, milk, and cakes to Pales.
The modern version of this ceremony that takes place at Natale di Roma involves women dressed as vestals. They make a bonfire out of straw and dance around it. At the end of the ceremony, the vestals jump thrice over the bonfire, unlike in ancient times where shepherds and their sheep ran through the fire. This ceremony is done to give thanks to Pales’ protection of the flock as well as to pray for future protection.
Dea Roma competition
The event involves women between the ages of 18 and 30 compete to be crowned goddess of Rome and Harpastum, which is an ancient ball game played by the Romans. Many other activities occur during Natale di Roma, making it an event spanning over three days.
Food In Natale di Roma
Of course, celebrations are incomplete without food and Natale di Roma has plenty of that!
One dish is the Bucatini all’ Amatriciana, a pasta dish that is known for its distinct shape and tangy tomato sauce. It is said that during long journeys, shepherds used to have this dish. Due to the importance, they hold in the story of Romulus and Remus, this dish is eaten during Natale di Roma.
Another is the simple but delicious cacio e pepe, whose main stars are flavourful black pepper and Pecorino Romano cheese. Traditionally, it is made with a squarish spaghetti, called tonnarelli. This dish was also popular among shepherds as it kept well for a long time.
Carciofi Alla giudìa features the amalgamation of Jewish and Roman cuisine that results in delectable, deep-fried artichokes. They are fried in olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper.
These are only three dishes among a myriad of scrumptious food that can cater to a wide variety of diets. It would be amazing, though not advisable, to gorge on all of them.
If ever given the chance, it would be well worth it to witness the festivities of Natale di Roma in person.