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The birthday of the Eternal City

8 unmissable things to experience Natale di Roma like a true local

As the capital prepares to blow out its candles, there are plenty of events planned. Here's what to do for the birthday of Rome.

4 minutes

It's called Natale di Roma, but it has nothing to do with the Christian nativity. Instead, it is anancient secular holiday that celebrates the foundation of the capital, identified with the legendary date of 21 April. It is the birthday of the Eternal City, which in 2023 will blow out 2776 candles.

The celebrations are grand, with a packed programme of parades, historical re-enactments and special events. How to celebrate the birthday of Rome? Here are 8 unmissable things to do to experience the festival like a true local.

The foundation of Rome between history and legend

The Forum Romanum on Palatine Hill

21 April is a highly significant date for the Romans, because it is on this day, in the year 753 BC, that the foundation of the Eternal City began. . It is therefore the birthday of Rome.

According to the legend narrated by the writer Varrone, Romulus became the first of the Seven Kings of Rome, founding the city on the Palatine Hill, using the complex astrological calculations of the physicist Lucius Tarutius Firmanus.

There are several stories about the origins of Romulus, but the most popular one is that he was the son of Rea Silvia and the god Mars: they had twins, Romulus and Remus, who were abandoned because they were illegitimate, in a basket on the banks of the Tiber, then found by a she-wolf who raised them as her own.

The story overlaps with the legend: April 21 coincided with the Palilie festivals, the day on which shepherds celebrated the beginning of the year with rituals of flock purification. The archaeological excavations, meanwhile, date the earliest settlements to the same phase in which the story takes place: in those remote times, huts and the perimeter of a wall already stood on the Palatine. The narrative and reality shake hands, although the Romans show a tenacious attachment to myth, fascinating and immortal, rather than to historical evidence.

The events of Natale di Roma 2023

The Rome's Birthday Masquerade Parade

Rome celebrates its birthday on 21 April 2023. On this festive occasion too, the city is alive and the museums are open.

The celebrations begin on the 20th and end on Sunday 23 April. The programme of events is very full.
Here are 8 things to do to experience the event at its best and to mingle with the Romans during this unique time of the year:

  1. Spend a whole day at the Circus Maximus, where performances follow one another closely and where a village reproducing Roman and Berber encampments
    will set up.
  2. Visit the educational area of the Circus Maximus, with themed exhibitions and lectures: cuisine, religion and more in ancient Roman times.
  3. Watching a real gladiator fight up close, at the Circus Maximus, from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. each day, from 20 to 23 April.
  4. Attend the impressive parade on Sunday 23 April, which goes from the Circus Maximus to Piazza Venezia, crossing the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. The opening ceremony is scheduled for 10 a.m., the departure of the historical procession at 11 a.m., with 2,500 costumed figures, including centurions and vestals. If you are looking for the best vantage point from which to watch, we recommend the more hidden areas around the Colosseum, as the Imperial Forum is usually crowded.
  5. Participate in the atmospheric celebration of The Renewal of the Sacred Fire which sees the lighting of the sacred flame and the blessing of Emperor Hadrian. The event is planned for Thursday 20th in Piazza Campo Marzio at 7:30 p.m.
  6. Admire the beam of light that floods the Pantheon. In fact, at noon on the dot every 21 April, an authentic, unmissable magical event takes place. From the dome's oculus, on that day only, a beam of light penetrates inside following a perfect geometry and illuminating the bronze entrance door: the effect is spectacular. The "miracle" was desired and specially designed by Agrippa, upon the wishes of Augustus. Making his entrance on his city's birthday, the emperor aspired to be bathed in the beam and thereby to shine with his own light. Access to the Pantheon is always free.
  7. Explore the narrow streets of Trastevere which, even more so in these days, have a special scent. In Rome, the food is always excellent and the traditional culinary offerings are unique, all the more so on the city's birthday. Sit at a table in a trattoria and enjoy traditional dishes, from amatriciana to carbonara to cacio e pepe, from gnocchi alla romana to saltimbocca. And as on any self-respecting birthday, there is no shortage of sweets. Choose the maritozzo with cream or ice cream, try the ricotta and sour cherry flavour of the castelli romani.

Walk along the Tiber. The river is strongly associated with the history of Rome and its foundation. Every 21 April, the people of Rome stroll along its banks: imitate them, walking along the most picturesque spots and going as far as Isola Tiberina. Do it in the golden hours of sunset and treat yourself to an apéritif on a barge, allowing yourself to be lulled by the water. The weather is mild, the days are long and a Roman spring is lovely.

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