For those who love greenery and flowers but don’t want to miss the ruins of Rome, we recommend visiting the urban rose garden, a corner of peace and beauty, a stone’s throw from Circus Maximus and the Mouth of Truth, the “Bocca della verità”.
Famous “must see” attractions: the Circus Maximus and the Bocca della verità
Many American films have made us familiar with certain places and shown them in their heyday or in romantic and funny situations. I’m talking about places like Circus Maximus, a large open space 600 meters long and 140 meters wide at the foot of the Palatine Hill. It was once equipped with steps all around and the middle part was decorated with an obelisk, statues and small temples from which water bubbled. This large circus dedicated to games, mainly horse racing with the Quadrigas, no longer exists. Only the shape of the area in which it was located is visible. It is now made of dust and grass, and it takes a lot of imagination to imagine the scenes reconstructed in the cinema.
Instead, the Bocca della Verità is presented to us in the portico of the nearby Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, just as we appreciated it in the film vacanze romane – Roman Holiday – in the funny scene by Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. Queuing to challenge the legend of hand cutting when the truth is not being told is a must for every tourist.
However, there is much more to see in the same area.
A short trip into the green, just around the corner: the urban rose garden
If we go back to the middle of the Circus Maximus on the mountain slope, we can visit the urban rose garden across the street. It is not a very large garden for which we do not need much time. It is planted with more than 1100 varieties of roses in all colors and even with some original species.
The rose garden consists of two sections, one up the slope and one down the slope. It has two entrances, on which a stele in the form of law boards is attached. The numerous flower beds are crossed by several paths. At the base of the garden it is impossible to notice, but if you look at the rose garden from above, you can see that the paths are shaped like a menorah, the typical seven-armed Jewish chandelier.
The ancient Jewish cemetery under the rose garden
Why are there so many elements of the Jewish religion? The answer is simple. From 1645 to 1895 this land was used as a Jewish cemetery and was in the immediate vicinity of the Jewish ghetto in which their community lived. It was very sought after in the middle of the archaeological area and on the banks of the Tiber, but the community resisted attempts to expropriate it for years. And the cemetery remained there until 1934, when part of the remains were brought to the Verano cemetery, which has been accessible to non-Catholics since 1870.
As I tell in the book “Luoghi inquietanti a Roma” – disturbing places in Rome – published by MMC Edizioni, “…the cemetery was called” Ortaccio degli Ebrei “as a sign of religious contempt by the papal authority. – dilapidated Hebrew vegetable garden – ..“. If you are not aware of the past of this area, you can hardly imagine a dreary burial place under your feet while watching flower beds and flowers of infinite beauty.
The history of the Roman rose garden
Originally, from 1931 onwards, the Rose gardeb was located on the Oppio Hill, which was bombed during the Second World War. Under pressure from the fascist regime, the Jewish community decided in 1934 to sell the area to the city government, which intended to build a large street (the current Via del Circo Massimo) to show athletes for propaganda purposes. Instead, the area was used as a war orchard during the conflict.
“… The creation of the rose garden is thanks to Countess Mary Gailey Senni, a passionate rose grower …” and in love with the rose gardens of other European cities with which she wanted to equate Rome. She also started a “… competition for new varieties of this flower and participated until 1954 as a member of the jury. The competition still exists today …”
You have to wait until 1950 for an unexpected decision, “…to move the urban rose garden to the war gardens area…”, and the city of Rome is placing the two steles as a tribute to the old cemetery.
The urban rose garden is not open all year round, but only in a few months: from April to June and in October, 8:30 – 18:00. More details about the opening periods you find in our monthly overview.
A little curiosity
A small curiosity, always from the book “Luoghi inquietanti a Roma”: “…in very distant times, in the third century BC, there was a temple in the area of today’s rose garden, which was dedicated to Flora, the Roman and Italic divinity of flowering and spring. When you say ‘a name, a destination’…”.
Text: Maria Cristina Martini