The annual “Natale di Roma” celebration – known in ancient times as Dies Romana or Romaia – is based on the legendary founding of Rome by Romulus in 753 BC.
The most commonly accepted date given for the foundation of Rome, 753 BC, comes from the Roman antiquarian Titus Pomponius Atticus, and was adopted by Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro. While there has always been some uncertainty over the year, the ancient Romans were certain of the date Rome was founded: 21 April. This was the day that Romans dedicated a festival to Pales, goddess of flocks and herds, who was celebrated with the traditional Par ilia (or Palilia). Dating back to before the founding of Rome, the Palilia ceremony involved vestal virgins distributing straw and the ashes and blood of sacrificed animals before jumping over a bonfire three times.
Traditionally the Eternal City marks its birthday with historical re-enactments of ancient Roman rituals, costumed parades and gladiator fights.
The “tracciato del solco”, is a trench-digging ritual which recalls the founding of ancient Roman towns when a trench or mundus was dug and offerings thrown into it to encourage the gods to watch over the inhabitants. Another spectacular event that occurs in Rome on 21 April is the “Dies Natalis” which happens at the Pantheon. Each year on this date the midday sun enters the oculus of Rome’s Pantheon and creates a disk of light that is perfectly directed the doorway. At that exact time, the emperor would enter the temple and his body bathed in golden sunlight would give him the appearance of a God.
This year, the different events will take place between April 19 and April 22. In the Circus Maximus visitors can watch a match of “Harpastum”, an ancient ball game imported to Rome from Greece, described by organizers as the “ancestor of rugby”. Kids can play too as young Romans used to do! The spectators can also enjoy a concert of ancient Roman music as performed by the Histriones and learn about Roman everyday life by taking part in workshops focused on various aspects including school, clothes, medicine and religion.
The highlight of the Natale di Roma celebrations, the grand parade, takes place on the Sunday at 10.30. This impressive spectacle has in the past seen around 1,500 costumed participants march from and to the Circus Maximus, via the Colosseum. It is really a stunning event! The festivities come to a close in the afternoon with an extravaganza of dance, ceremonies and fights, ending with a re-enactment of the Battle of Bedriacum.