This post was originally shared for the 29 of June in Rome 2015 but has now been updated with relevant info and link for 2016.
And then, we arrived in Rome! We left Dublin yesterday and after many days spent preparing the house for our home exchange, finalise work and prepping the kids about the plane journey ahead, we are finally on our first day of holiday. Joy!
We arrived on a pretty peculiar day. The 29 of June in Rome is special: it’s a public holiday called ‘Festa di San Pietro e Paolo’ (the festival of St Peter and St Paul) or even just ‘San Pietro e Paolo’ as the Romans call it and it’s a special day because it’s when the city remembers its two patrons saints.
The festivity is very much loved by the Romans, but the reasons for this love has little to do with religion: the 29 of June is Rome is usually a hot, sunny day so the public holidays means a day off for everyone and a trip to the sea!
We just got here and we are not in the mood to move again so soon, so unlike many other locals, we will make the most of the empty (maybe I should say ’emptier’) streets and have a stroll around the city centre. If you like to walk, you can follow my favourite Rome city centre itinerary, but be warned: you need good shoes and a good bit of resistance as it is pretty long!
Rome is funny on a public holiday: everything slows down, most shops are closed, the buses follow the limited week end schedule, and the overall atmosphere is sleepy and quiet.
This means that every movement requires a bit of planning, but it also means that you can see the sleepier side of Rome, the side you can hardly imagine exists on a busy working day. Personally, I think we are going to spend the day in Villa Torlonia and nearby gorgeous quartiere Coppede’ (quartiere means ‘area’), sipping coffee under the shade of the obelisk, but if you only have a few days in the city you probably prefer to check out some of the main attractions. You can find here a good list of 15 Rome attractions you can see for free, including tips if you are visiting Rome with kids
Plan ahead should there be anything special you want to do on this day: make sure the attraction is open or, if following the beach-goers, that you don’t get stuck on an overcrowded train.
Despite the importance of the festivity, not many special events are usually planned during the day, with two noticeable exceptions: the flower display in Piazza San Pietro and, in the evening, the pretty impressive firework display. Definitely worth seeing!
The flower display in Piazza San Pietro, just in front of the basilica, is an important event for the city: flower artists come together to reconstruct sacred images that end up covering the pavement of the piazza with a flowery, colourful carpet. The tradition is said to date back to the XVII century when flowers were offered to patron saints of the city, and nowadays is encouraged by the Rome authorities who want to keep this tradition alive. The ‘infiorata’ takes place on the 29th June and the official information can be found here
The firework display is known as ‘La girandola di san Pietro e Paolo‘ and has a peculiar history.
The firework was originally designed by Michelangelo in 1481, to celebrate the Pontificate of Pope Sisto IV and was lately modified and retouched by Bernini. For many centuries, it would be fired from Castel Gandolfo on special religious occasions, such as Easter or the 29 of June, and documents from that time tell us that many travellers would cross Europe to see it. The tradition seemed to be forgotten in 1861 and was only ‘rediscovered’ in 2008, when the city decided it should be revived and revamped: the display was moved to the more central Castel Sant’Angelo (in the photos), the impressive castle overlooking the river Tiber, the fireworks happen every 29 of June in Rome, accompanied by beautiful music (In 2015 it was Bach and Handel and Vivaldi).
In 2016 the tradition has moved again and now has a new home: this year the fireworks will be fired from the Pincio Terrace, overlooking Piazza del Popolo and will start at 9.45 pm, accompanied by musical performances playing extracts from the long catalogue of Italian classical music.