Rome Diaries - Week 31

From 2006 to 2011 Paulist Father Tom Holahan served as vice rector of the Paulist church in Rome. During that time he had the opportunity to spend time exploring the historic sites of Rome as well as the hidden ones. The blog features excerpts from this travel diary. A new selection appears each week.

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August 15th, 2007

It is ferragosto, the “Feast of August.” On this day in ancient Rome Diana, goddess of nature and the hunt, was celebrated in woods surrounding Lake Nemi. Everyone went, ribbons and garlands decorated the shore and everyone came, including slaves. The day was so popular it could not be stamped out in the Christian era, so it was supplanted in the 6th century with the Feast of the Assumption of Mary into heaven. Italians join in the celebration by making a concerted effort to take the entire month of August off. Usually full-time workers can only manage two weeks, but in the minds of all, it is clear that women and children need a full month at the sea or in the mountains every August for their physical, spiritual and psychological health. I make inquires about supermarkets that will still be open for the next two weeks; both of my regular ones will be closed.


August 16th, 2007

Having recently toured the church of San Onofrio, which is on the north end of the Janiculum hill, I thought I would walk from it to San Pietro Monteorio at the south end. The Janiculum was the scene of the bloodiest battle for Italian unification. Though, for the moment, victory restored the pope to power, the battle of June 29th 1849 is now seen as a glorious sacrifice in the complex chain of events that led to Garibaldi’s capture of Rome on the 20th of September 1870. This battle is celebrated throughout the JaniculumPark, which offers panoramic views of the city below. Nearby lie the entombed ashes of Goffredo Mameli, the poet and patriot who, at the age of 20, wrote the lyrics to Italy’s national anthem. He also died in the battle for Janiculum Hill:


We were for centuries

Downtrodden and derided,

because we are not one people,

because we are divided

Let one flag, one hope

gather us all.

The hour has struck

for us to join together!


A Fascist era memorial to the fallen presents an ornate classical-style sarcophagus surrounded by spare Roman arches as if merging the two periods. It also marks the spot of the worst carnage. Across the street, a French cannonball is still lodged in the cracked wall of San Pietro Montorio. I spy stenciled red hearts on this same wall, someone still remembers. Paul V’s glorious fountain (1614-1690) celebrating the restoration of Trajan’s aqueduct and the gift of water for this parched district would have been the perfect place to contemplate the battle, but two men in hip boots are draining and cleaning the basin. I trudge past it to the top of the hill. Here the 17th century walls of Urban VIII served well in defending Rome during the battle for Janiculum hill, but it was to be their last use as a serious means of protection. Today the San Pancratio gate sits as a glorious traffic island marking the summit of this now sacred battlefield.


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