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Rome Local Customs: 380 reviews and 452 photos
Virgin Mary, On the Streets of Rome, May 2007
More of images of the Virgin Mary that can be seen on almost every street in the Eternal City.
I am always astonished at the variety of styles and conditions of these works of art.
Photo #5, shows a corner devotional plaque, from 1860, depicting Pentecost. The Virgin is at the center and she is flanked by the 12 Apostles, as the dove of the Holy Spirit hovers above the group.
A kiss at Santi Giovanni e Paolo, 05/07
“A husband and wife ought to continue united so long as they love each other. Any law which should bind them to cohabitation for one moment after the decay of their affection would be a most intolerable tyranny, and the most unworthy of toleration.”
— Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)
Shelley saw the world through a poet’s eyes that included love and marriage. His views were radical for the early 19th century, but they gained popularity in the 20th. Shelley is buried in Rome, in Cimitero acattolico, the Non-Catholic Cemetery, also known as the Protestant Cemetery (see von.otter’s Rome Travelogues #3 “The Protestant Cemetery: So Sweet a Place” for a photo of Shelley’s grave)
It is said to be good luck to see a bride on her wedding day.
When in Rome in the spring it seems that every day is a day for a wedding, and with so may churches every area of the Eternal City plays host to a ceremony on any one day of the week.
We saw brides at the Basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo on the Caelian Hill (photo #1); at Santa Maria in Dominica (photos #2 & #3), also on the Caelian Hill; and at Santa Cecilia in Trastevere (photo #4).
My favorite bride photo is that of the woman ascending la Cordonata of the Campidoglio (photo #5). It appears as if the 1877 bronze of the Mediaeval Roman politician Cola di Rienzo (1313-1354) is either blessing or warning the woman on the brink of her marriage ceremony at Santa Maria in Aracoeli. This spot, between the steps leading to Santa Maria in Aracoeli and the Campidoglio’s Cordonata, is where Rienzo was hanged.
Pasquino, Piazza di Pasquino, Roma, May 2007
“Quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini (“What barbarians did not do, the Barberini did.”)
— One of the more well-known pasquinades
This pasquinade was leveled against Pope Urban VIII, a member of the Barberini family, who, in 1633, allowed Gianlorenzo Bernini to remove the bronze from the Pantheon to cast the baldaquino that now stands over the main altar in St. Peter’s.
Toward the beginning of the 15th century, once they assumed control over Rome’s government, the popes took on two roles: spiritual and civil leader. As king, the pope opened himself to criticism; Romans expressed their dissatisfaction with the pontiff, other officials and with government policy through ridiculing verses.
In 1501 Oliviero Cardinal Carafa placed an ancient torso of a statue in a small square near Piazza Navona. Annually on the 25th of April His Eminence presided over a poetry competition; the poems for consideration were placed on the torso. Sometimes poems were put up at other times of the year. Named for a nearby barber, the statue was given the name Pasquino, and he became the first Talking Statue of Rome. Even today messages are posted here commenting on local and world events. The square, Piazza di Pasquino, is named for him; and a pasquinata (pasquinade) is the word used for a short satire displayed in a public place.
The authorities considered tossing Pasquino into the River Tiber. They thought better of it, fearing public ridicule for punishing a statue! Once the practice of posting pasquinades on Pasquino became popular the statue and the square were put under close surveillance. Resourceful Romans turned to other statues to express their point of view.
One of these was Marforio (see photo #3), who reclines in a fountain in the courtyard of Palazzo Nuovo di Campidoglio on the Capitoline Hill. He and Pasquino would have conversations about Rome’s leaders. This very large marble sculpture represents a river god or Neptune, god of the sea. Marforio got his name from where he was discovered, in the Forum of Mars.
Il Facchino (see photo #4), the Porter, is the only Talking Statue that is not ancient. It ought to be called L’Acquaiolo, the Water Seller, because it is a Renaissance water seller with his little water cask. This trade declined toward the end of the 1500s when Pope Sixtus V reactivated Ancient Rome’s aqueducts. Located in Via del Corso near Palazzo Decarolis, Il Facchino may be the only Talking Statue based a real person, Abbondio Rizio, who sold water from casks as Il Facchino does. It’s said that Michelangelo carved the cask; and the his face is that of Martin Luther, who lodged nearby during his 1511 visit to Rome.
Just as Pasquino gave his name to the piazza where he stands, so Il Babbuino (see photo #5) gave the street where he reclines its name. Via del Babbuino is named after an old blackened statue of Silenus, which, because of its condition, was referred to as il Babbuino, the Baboon. Il Babbuino is the least famous Talking Statue; he’s not a baboon, though. Once a ﬁgure of the wine-drinker Silenus, (a Greek woodland deity, similar to a satyr), Pope Pius V used him, in the 16th century, to decorate a fountain. Located in the Strangers’ Quarter of Rome, posting pasquinades here did not carry a high degree of being caught. Foreigners, too, posted pasquinades, using Il Babbuino to ridicule other foreigners and locals alike!
Another Talking Statue of Rome, located near S. Andrea della Valle, is that of an unidentified emperor. The statue is commonly known as l’Abate Luigi, Abbott Louis. And the fifth Talking Statue is known as Madama Lucrezia, Madam Lucretia; she stands in a corner of Palazzetto Venezia, in piazza San Marco, a small square adjoining piazza Venezia.,
In the Vatican Garden, May 2007
“In Rome’s failures, people turned from Caesar preaching war to Christ preaching peace, from incredible brutality to unprecedented charity, from life without hope or dignity to a faith that consoled their poverty and honored their humanity.”
— from “The Story of Civilization: Caesar and Christ” by Will Durant (1889-1981) American historian and author
Throughout Rome, images of the Blessed Virgin Mary, often cradling the Christ Child, can be found on the sides of, and at the corners of buildings. Sometimes these images are painted, other times they are in sculpted form, and then there is that rare instance of a mosaic image (see photo #3). Sometimes a small, electrical votive light stands before the image, or a lamp lights it from above.
The Byzantine-styled version beside me (see photo #1) was seen in the far reaches of Giardini Vaticani (see my VT Travelogue: “The Vatican Gardens” for more information and photos on the Vatican Gardens.)
Each day we had the pleasure of looking from our hotel window at the Albergo del Senato (see my VT Rome hotel travel tip) across Piazza della Rotonda to see a charming fresco of Mary trampling a snake (see photo #2).
The widespread occurrence of these images of Christ’s Mother shows how strong devotion to Her is.
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, May 2007
The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to The Unknown Soldier of Italy World War I
By virtue of a joint resolution of Congress, approved 12.October.1921, the Medal of Honor, emblem of highest ideals and virtues, is bestowed in the name of Congress of the United States of America upon the unknown, unidentified Italian soldier to be buried in the National Monument to Victor Emanuel II, in Rome …
The opening from U.S. War Department General Orders, No. 52, 1.December.1922
HOW THE UNKNOWN IS KNOWN That portion of the Victor Emanual Monument where the unidentified soldier rests is known as Altare della Patria. The solider’s remains were selected by the mother of an Italian soldier who never returned home, and was counted among the thousands missing. Her own son was most likely interred somewhere in an unmarked grave, perhaps even in a mass grave.
Members of different branches of the armed forces rotate the Honor Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We saw this change around Noon on a Saturday in late May. It lacks the pomp of a Buckingham Palace guard change; with good reason this occasion is much more solemn.
In Piazza Navona with La Befana, December 2000
La Befana, one of Italy's oldest and most beloved traditions takes the form of a kindly, elderly woman.
Legend tells us that the Three Wise Men were searching for the Christ child when they stopped at a small house to ask directions. When they knocked, an old woman with a broom opened the door. She did not know who these gaily dressed men were looking for and could not point the way. They asked her to join them. She declined because she was busy with her housework. After they left she reconsidered and tried to catch up with the men; but she could not find them. To make up for her error, the old woman stopped all the children along the way to give them each a small treat, hoping that one was the Christ child.
Each year on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany, the 6th of January, Italian children are visited by La Befana. If they had been good the previous year, she leaves candy; if they had been naughty she leaves a lump of coal. The name Befana is a corruption of the Italian word epifania, which means epiphany.
It is believed that the tradition of La Befana got its start in Rome, and then spread throughout Italy. In Rome's glorious Piazza Navona an outdoor market is set up each year in December through the Epiphany. Toys, sugar coal, and candy are sold for the Roman children.
The Epiphany, the day that the Three Wise Men arrived at the manger of the Christ child, marks the end of the Christmas season, and has traditionally been the day when gifts are given, rather than on the more solemn Christmas Day as in America. Sadly, the lovely, quaint tradition of La Befana is losing ground to American consumerism and Santa Claus bringing presents on Christmas Day is gaining popularity.
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