Il Roseto, Rome’s secret garden is smelling like a thousand roses
The gates to one of Rome’s most romantic gardens opened yesterday on April, 21. Each year more than 1,100 rose varieties flower in innumerable colours and scents in Rome’s secret garden “Il Roseto” adding magic to the slopes of the Aventine hill, one of those beautiful, not well-known, quiet corners, where you just forget that you are a stone’s throw away from the hustle and bustle of Rome. The beauty of the Il Roseto is enhanced by its background; its panoramic view onto Circus Maximus, the bell tower of the Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin, the top of the dome of the synagogue and the Palatine Hill creates a fairytale-like scene.
The opening of the Municipal Rose Garden, in Italian “Il Roseto Comunale” also popularly known as “Il Roseto”, heralds the arrival of spring on Rome’s calendar with a kaleidoscope of colours and smells, as it did in ancient times. The area located to the right of Via di Valle Murcia, on the lower slope of the Aventine Hill, was once the location for the temple of the ancient Roman goddess Flora.
Flora, the goddess of flowers, vegetation, and fertility, was venerated to protect the flowering of crops and flowers and depicted by Ovid in his ‘Book 5 of the Fasti’ as the goddess “crowned with garlands of a thousand flowers”. Flora was considered a minor goddess, but nevertheless wielded enough power to be honoured by the Floralia or Ludi Florales festival. This ancient holiday (as officially determined by Julius Caesar when he fixed the Roman calendar) ran 6 days from April 28 to May 3.
During the Middle Ages till the 17th century the Aventine Hill was covered with orchards and vineyards until it was purchased in 1645 to become the Jewish cemetery. The Jewish Cemetery of the Aventine hill closed down in 1895 on the occasion of a new development project, but it was only demolished between 1930 and 1935 to open the current path to the Circus Maximus. Today all that remains of the old Jewish Cemetery are the cypress trees.
Rome probably would never have had its own municipal rose garden, if it was not for an enterprising American lady from Pennsylvania, the Countess Mary Gayley Senni, who resided in Rome. As the wife of an Italian count she had not only a strong will, but also an extensive knowledge of botany. She chose the park on the Oppio Hill (“Colle Oppio”) for a new rose garden, because of the profusion of wild roses that had already bloomed there. The first municipal rose garden opened in 1932, but was destroyed during the World War II. The authorities of Rome were forced to look for a new location.
The Jewish community of Rome gave the land on the Aventine Hill to the Municipality of Rome in 1950 to establish a new rose garden. To keep the memory of the ancient cemetery alive, the avenues of the largest section were designed in the form of a Menorah (seven-branched candelabrum). The street “Via di Valle Murcia” divides the rose garden into two sections and at each entrance of you can find pillars bearing a plaque in the shape of Moses’ Tablets of the Law.
In the upper area is the collection of botanical roses, ancient and modern, while in the lower, smaller, areas roses are planted from the participants in the Prize of Rome competition or “Premio Roma” as well as a collection of roses – the winners of awards of previous editions- starting from 1933, the year of the first edition of the “Premio Roma” at the Oppio Hill garden. The Premio Roma is the second oldest rose competition in the world, modelled after the French one known as the “Bagatelle”.
The Rose Garden is home to about 1100 species of roses from all over the world. Like any collection also Il Roseto also boasts a number of rare varieties, some really special ones like the Rose Phoetida (literally “stinking rose”, beautiful but with a not easy to define smell), the Rosa Chinensis Virdiflora (a tiny one from China, whose petals are green), Rosa Chinensis Mutabilis (which changes colour with each passing day), the Rose Omeiensis Pteracantha (with a semi-transparent back-light) and a rose with four petals instead of five. A small section of the garden is reserved for the roses of the Ancient World. The Romans found that the fragrance of roses had inebriating properties. At the end of a lavish banquet, when the guests were already excited by the effects of food and wine, the perfect host arranged for cascades of rose petals to fall from the ceiling. A custom still practised today in the Pantheon and the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.
From April 21 to June, 16 2013 only, everyday from 8.00 AM-7.00 PM
Closed: May 18, concurrently with the “Premio Roma”
Via di Valle Murcia, 6 (Aventino)
Bus: linee 81, 628, 715
Metro B “Circo Massimo”