Showing posts with label Circus Maximus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Circus Maximus. Show all posts

21 April 2017

The birth of Rome

City said to have been founded on April 21, 753BC

Nicolas Mignard's 1654 painting shows Faustulus  bringing home Romulus and Remus to his wife
Nicolas Mignard's 1654 painting shows Faustulus
bringing home Romulus and Remus to his wife
Three days of celebrations begin in Rome today to mark the annual Natale di Roma Festival, which commemorates the founding of the city 2,770 years ago.

The traditional celebrations take place largely in the large open public space of Circus Maximus, which hosts many historical re-enactments, and where Sunday’s main event – a costumed parade around the city, featuring more than 2,000 gladiators, senators, vestal virgins and priestesses – begins and ends, departing at 11.15am.

City museums offer free entry today and many of the city’s restaurants have special Natale di Roma menus.  After dark, many public places will be lit up, torches will illuminate the Aventine Hill, and firework displays will take place by the Tiber river.

According to legend, Romulus and his twin brother, Remus, founded Rome on the site where they were suckled by a she-wolf as orphaned infants.

They were said to be the sons of Rhea Silvia, the daughter of King Numitor of Alba Longa, a city located in the nearby Alban Hills southeast of what would become Rome.

Before they were born, Numitor was deposed by his younger brother Amulius, who murdered his existing son and forced Rhea to become a vestal virgin so that she would not give birth to rival claimants to his title.

The 2016 Festival: Actors dressed as gladiators
gather at Circus Maximus ready to march on Rome
The legend has it that Rhea was nonetheless impregnated by the war god Mars and gave birth to Romulus and Remus, whom Amulius immediately ordered to be put to death by drowning in the Tiber.

Yet they did not die.  There are different explanations as to what happened next, but somehow the baby boys ended up on the shore of the river at the foot of the Palatine Hill – either because they were washed up there or because Amulius’s men took pity on them and left them at the side of the river instead of throwing them into the water.

It was there, according to the legend, that they were discovered by the she-wolf, who suckled them until they were found by a shepherd called Faustulus.

Brought up by Faustulus and his wife, the twins later became leaders of a band of shepherd warriors. When they learned who they really were they went to Alba Longa, where they killed Amulius and restored their grandfather, Numitor, to power.

They decided to found a city on the site where they had been saved as infants, only for the story to take a bizarre twist when an argument between them turned into a fight and Remus was killed. 

Women dressed as Vestal Virgins are part of the day's fun
Again there are different explanations for the argument. One is that it stemmed simply from their failure to agree on the exact location of their new city. Another says that a site was agreed, but that when Romulus ploughed a furrow around the Palatine Hill to mark where the walls of the city would be, Remus mocked his ‘wall’ by jumping over it, at which point Romulus struck him with such ferocity he fell to the ground, dead.

When work commenced on building the city, named Rome in his honour, Romulus divided the early population into three tribes, giving each an area of the city – a tribune – in which to live.  He chose 100 men from leading families to form a senate.  He called these men the patres – or city fathers – and their descendants became known as patricians, forming one half of the Roman class system.  The other class – which comprised servants, freedmen, the fugitives to whom Romulus offered asylum, and others – became known as plebians, or plebs for short.

The lack of women compared with men among the early population caused a problem for Romulus, which he tried to solve in a way that was always likely to end badly.  He invited the people of cities near Rome to attend a festival, promising games and entertainment, but had secretly instructed his soldiers at a given signal to kidnap women of marriageable age.

Most of those seized happened to be from the Sabine tribe. Naturally, the Sabine men were not pleased and war ensued, a settlement reached only when Romulus agreed to share Rome with the Sabine king, Titus Tatius, an arrangement that lasted until Tatius was killed in a riot.

The city then returned to the sole rule of Romulus, who went on to reign for 37 years until his death in 717BC, apparently during a violent storm.  Witnesses claimed to have seen him picked up by a whirlwind, which led to the idea that he had been plucked from the earth and changed into Quirinus, the god of the Roman state.

Circus Maximus is the largest public open space in Rome
Travel tip:

The Circus Maximus – or Circo Massimo in Italian - is an open space south of the Forum and south-west of the Colosseum, in the valley between the Aventine Hill and the Palatine Hill, that was the site of an ancient Roman chariot racing stadium. It was the first and largest stadium in ancient Rome and its later Empire, measuring 621 m (2,037 ft) in length and 118 m (387 ft) in width, and capable of holding more than 150,000 spectators. Nowadays it is a public park often used for open-air music events and mass gatherings, such as took place after Italy won the 2006 World Cup in Germany, when thousands of Romans turned out to see the players show off their trophy on a stage in the park.

Rome hotels from

The papal residence opens on to a normal square in Castel Gandolfo
The papal residence opens on to a normal
square in Castel Gandolfo
Travel tip:

The Alban Hills – or Colli Albani – is an area of volcanic terrain just 20km (12 miles) south-east of Rome, which comprises the Albano and Nemi lakes and the towns of the Castelli Romani, so-called because each originally had a castle. They include Frascati, Albano Laziale, Rocca di Papa and Castel Gandolfo, the traditional summer residence of the pope.

More reading:

How emperor Trajan balanced military expansion with progressive social policies

Emperor Titus and the relief effort for victims of 79AD Vesuvius eruption

Moment that inspired Gibbon's epic history of the Roman Empire

Also on this day:

1574: The death of Cosimo I de' Medici

20 October 2016

Claudio Ranieri - football manager

Title-winning Leicester City boss is 65 today

Claudio Ranieri
Claudio Ranieri
Football manager Claudio Ranieri was born on this day in 1951 in Rome.

Ranieri, who won the English Premier League last season with rank outsiders Leicester City, has managed 14 clubs in four countries in a 30-year career in coaching.  He also had a stint in charge of the Greece national team.

Among the teams he has coached are a host of big names - Internazionale, Juventus, Roma, Napoli and Fiorentina in Italy, Atletico Madrid and Valencia in Spain, Monaco in France and Chelsea in England.

He has won titles in lower divisions as well as Italy's Coppa Italia and the Copa del Rey in Spain but until Leicester defied pre-season odds of 5,000-1 to win the Premier League, a major league championship had eluded him.  He had finished second three times, with Chelsea, Roma and Monaco.

Before turning to coaching, Ranieri was a player for 14 seasons. He began in Serie A with home-town club Roma, but enjoyed more success in the lower divisions, enjoying promotion twice with the Calabrian club Catanzaro, where he spent the biggest part of his career, and once each with the Sicilian teams Catania and Palermo.

Ranieri was born in the San Saba district of Rome, not far from the ancient Baths of Caracalla and Circus Maximus in an area teeming with Roman ruins.  His father, Mario, was a butcher in neighbouring Testaccio, one of Rome's traditional working class neighbourhoods. His mother, Renata, now 96, still lives in Rome and Claudio regularly flies home to see her.

Where Testaccio, now increasingly popular with Rome's young professionals, was designed and built with blue collar workers in mind, San Saba is more middle-class historically, an area of houses rather than apartment buildings, with more urban green spaces such as the Piazza Gian Lorenzo Bernini, where Claudio and his friends would play football.

Claudio Ranieri celebrates with Leicester City's prolific striker Jamie Vardy
Claudio Ranieri celebrates with Leicester City's
prolific striker Jamie Vardy
Ranieri's early life was spent largely confined to these two neighbourhoods and nearby Aventine Hill, which affords panoramic views of the city.

A Roma fan for as long as he can remember, Ranieri dreamed of playing for the giallorossi and after being spotted by a scout he realised his ambition. He was taken on for a trial, given a contract and made his debut in November 1973 as a defender.  He was unfazed by playing in front of 80,000 fans and continuing to help out in the family business on his day off kept him grounded.

Sadly, the dream did not turn into a place in Roma folklore, as the young Ranieri might have hoped.  By the following summer, having made just six appearances, it was clear he was not going to be in the team on a regular basis and he moved to the deep south of Italy to Catanzaro, in the part of Calabria that sits in the arch of the boot on the map of Italy, to play in Serie B.

It was a world away from the frenzied pace of Roman life and Ranieri felt a little like an alien but the eight years he spent there shaped his life in many ways.

Catanzaro's team included many outsiders and they formed a bond of friendship that remains strong to this day. Indeed, until recently, the team's goalkeeper, Giorgio Pellizzaro, was Ranieri's specialist goalkeeping coach.

They became a good team on the field, too, winning promotion to Serie A twice in his time there, the second time staying for five years.

Off the field, it was while playing for Catanzaro that Ranieri met his wife, Rosanna, the daughter of a football journalist.  The couple had a daughter, Claudia and bought a villa at nearby Copanello, overlooking the Ionian Sea, where they still spend their summers. Ranieri also has a house at Formello, a town about 30km north of Rome in the Monti Sabatini area of Lazio.

Ranieri's son-in-law, the actor Alessandro Roja
Ranieri's son-in-law, the actor
Alessandro Roja
Claudia is now married to the Roman actor, Alessandro Roja, who starred in the drama series Romanzo Criminale, set in the Rome underworld in the 1970s.  Rosanna runs two antiques shops in Rome.

Ranieri's character, well-mannered, good humoured, calm under pressure, is said by some to be more typically Calabrian than Roman but, as the Italian writer Gabriele Marcotti explains in an excellent biography - Hail, Claudio! - to be published next month, there is a steel behind the charm.

An example came when he had left Catanzaro for Catania, where he was made captain.  When the manager, the former Catanzaro player Gianni di Marzio, was sacked after Catania, newly promoted, had made a poor start in Serie A, Ranieri was so furious he stormed into the office of the club president to make his feelings known, and repeated them in a television interview soon afterwards.

He was sure he would be sacked as well for speaking his mind and effectively humiliating the president, an autocratic millionaire not known for his patience. Instead, after recovering from the shock, the president decided that if Ranieri was man enough to stand up to him in that way he was too good an asset to lose.

UPDATE: Since leaving Leicester City in 2017, Ranieri has increased the number of coaching positions he has held to 21. As of his 72nd birthday on October 20, 2023, he was in charge of Serie A club Cagliari for the second time in his career.

The original structure of the Basilica of Santa Sabina dates back to the fifth century
The original structure of the Basilica of Santa
Sabina dates back to the fifth century
Travel tip:

The Aventine Hill, which Ranieri knew well as a boy, has many attractions, apart from the ruins of the Roman chariot racing stadium, Circus Maximus, and the Baths of Caracalla.  The historic Basilica of Santa Sabina, which dates back to the fifth century, is just one of several notable churches, while the area's elevated position offers outstanding views of the Rome, particularly from the Giardino degli Aranci (Garden of Oranges), overlooking the Tiber. A more unusual view is to be had from the Villa del Priorato di Malta, on Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta, where crowds gather to peer through the keyhole in the wooden doors at the main gate, which provides a perfectly framed view of the dome of St Peter's Basilica.

The waterfront at Catanzaro Lido, which can be  found 15km (9 miles) from the city of Catanzaro
The waterfront at Catanzaro Lido, which can be 
found 15km (9 miles) from the city of Catanzaro
Travel tip:

Occupying a position 300mt (980ft) above the Gulf of Squillace, Catanzaro is known as the City of the Two Seas because, from some vantage points, it is possible to see the Tyrrhenian Sea to the north of the long peninsula occupied by Calabria as well as the Ionian Sea to the south.  The historic centre, which sits at the highest point of the city, includes a 16th century cathedral built on the site of a 12th century Norman cathedral which, despite being virtually destroyed by bombing in 1943, has been impressively restored.  The city is about 15km (9 miles) from Catanzaro Lido, which has a long white beach typical of the Gulf of Squillace.

More reading:


Hail, Claudio! The Man, The Manager, The Miracle, by Gabriele Marcotti (Yellow Jersey)

(Photo of Alessandro Roja by Laura Penna CC BY 2.0)
(Photo of the view from the Giardino degli Aranci by Marten253 CC BY-SA 3.0)