From you have I been absent in the spring, When proud pied April, dressed in all his trim, Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing.
- William Shakespeare
Is there anything more joyous than the sights and sounds of the onrushing Spring banishing the dead world ofwinter in blazing strokes of colour? Whilst we obviously think Rome is a great city to visit at any time of the year, if we were forced to pick a favourite season it would have to be Springtime. The weather is mild and the evenings are getting longer, Rome’s sites still aren’t too crowded, and there are plenty of things to do as denizens of the Eternal City emerge blinking into the sunlight after their winter slumber.
With a dizzying array of wild flowers and blooming trees bursting into life all across the Italian capital, Rome is also looking at its magnificent, postcard-best at this time of year. Great heaving tresses of fragrant wisteria transform walls, fences and facades all across the city into stunning purple showcases of nature’s bounty, whilst Rome’s parks stand as oases of Eden-like tranquillity amidst the bustle of the metropolis.
The Spring period in Rome is of course centred on the Easter holiday, celebrated in the Eternal City with a liveliness like nowhere else. And little wonder! As the Catholic world’s most important city and ultimate pilgrimage destination - not to mention home to the pope himself - Rome and the Vatican takes Easter very seriously indeed. From dazzling religious processions to solemn ceremonies and seasonal delicacies, from world-class museums to beautiful parks, here are the best things to do in Rome this Easter.
Get to grips with the Easter Story with Michelangelo
Easter is one of the two most important feasts in the Christian calendar, and the story of Christ’s crucifixion, death and resurrection is vividly told in artworks all across the Eternal City. The key moments are portrayed with earth-shattering dynamism by Renaissance great Michelangelo in two Roman sculptures: the tragic Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica in which the Virgin Mary cradles the beautiful but lifeless body of her murdered son, and the Risen Christ in the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva where the newly alive Son of God looks towards eternal life as he clutches the cross upon which he was crucified. Although nowadays considered one of the master’s more minor works, contemporaries were far more enthusiastic: the painter Sebastiano del Piombo reportedly gushed that Christ’s knees were worth more than the rest of Rome put together.
Attend a Papal Mass in St. Peter’s Square
Easter celebrations in Rome centre around the all-important Papal mass celebrated in St. Peter’s Square on Easter Sunday at 10AM. Each year thousands of faithful worshippers pack into the vast space of Bernini’s amazing piazza to watch the Pope himself celebrate mass, followed by the famous ‘Urbi et Orbi’ blessing, which is delivered by the Pope from the central loggia of St. Peter’s basilica at 12 noon. Literally meaning "To the city (of Rome) and to the world,” the Urbi et Orbi blessing is reserved for the most solemn of occasions - Easter, Christmas and the proclamation of a new pope. If you want to attend the mass or the blessing you’ll usually need to reserve your space months in advance; to do so, contact the Prefecture of the Papal Household following the instructions laid out here. If you fail to secure tickets or the idea of attending mass doesn’t thrill you, then you can still get a great sense of the millennial history and tradition of Easter in Rome by exploring St. Peter’s basilica and admiring its extraordinary artistic masterpieces.
Stake out a good view for the Via Crucis procession
Second in importance only to the events at the Vatican on Easter Sunday is the Via Crucis procession that takes place on Good Friday in Rome. According to Christian tradition Good Friday is the day on which Christ was crucified on Jerusalem's hill of Golgotha, and to mark the occasion each year the Pope leads a symbolic reenactment of Christ’s route to martyrdom that in Rome weaves its way from the Colosseum to the temple of Venus in the Roman Forum. Known as the Via Crucis, the candlelit procession dates back to the 18th century and stops at strategic points along the way to allow for meditations on different aspects of Christ’s passion. Over 20,000 spectators witness the Via Crucis each year, so be sure to arrive early to stake out a good viewing spot on the hill overlooking the Colosseum.
Get an Eyeful of Azaleas at the Spanish Steps
Each April and May the Spanish Steps are festooned with white and lilac azaleas, and nothing is more redolent of the changing seasons in Rome than the gaudy floral display spilling down the city’s most iconic staircase - a sign that winter is over and Spring is ready to bathe us in its cheery glow. The tradition of the Spanish Steps ‘infiorata’ dates back to 1951, and the link between the blooms and onrushing Spring recalls the ancient myth of Pluto and Proserpina: according to the legend, the beautiful Proserpina was abducted by the lecherous king of the Underworld to be his unwilling bride. Proserpina’s mother, the fertility goddess Ceres, took exception, and refused to allow Spring to break whilst her daughter languished in Hades. A deal was struck, and Proserpina was allowed to return to earth for six months each year. Her joyous arrival in Spring was marked by an explosion of wild flowers, and that ancient connection is renewed each year with the magnificent azaleas on the Spanish steps.
Take a stroll through the Villa Borghese
Spring is the perfect time to take a lazy evening stroll through the landscaped gardens and wildernesses of the Villa Borghese, Rome’s premier urban park. The 80 hectare estate began life as the private suburban retreat of the all-powerful cardinal Scipione Borghese, but these days the Villa is a haven for Romans and tourists alike looking to escape the bustle of downtown. The magnificent park is transformed into a riot of colour each April, when the blossoms and wild flowers carpet the park’s leafy boulevards and balmy sunlight glints off the waters of countless gurgling fountains. Do yourself a favour and book a slot at the Borghese Gallery, the Villa’s incredible showcase of Baroque art, before wandering through the delightful grounds. Look out for the lovely boating lake, where you’ll always find a family of ducks happily quacking in the shadow of the Temple of Aesculapius, an 18th-century imitation of an ancient temple featuring a sculpture of the ancient Roman god of medicine.
Explore the Roman Forum
If you’ve ever visited Rome in the summer then you’ll know that rummaging through the ancient ruins of the Roman Forum is hot, thirsty and dusty work; shade is at a premium, and the bright sunlight refracting off all that marble is pretty blinding. If you’re visiting the Eternal City at Easter time, by contrast, then you’re in luck. Wandering through the Forum in the Springtime is an absolute pleasure - with smaller crowds and Italy’s enviably mild April weather, a day amongst the ancient remains really is a walk in the park. As you don’t have to worry about seeking shade at every available opportunity you’ll be able to devote your full attention to uncovering the fascinating stories of the men and women who once walked these streets and made their mark here.
Have a picnic in the Villa Doria Pamphilj
Perched atop the Janiculum hill in the leafy neighbourhood of Monteverde to the west of the river Tiber, sprawling Villa Doria Pamphilj is Rome’s largest park. The series of formal gardens, water-features, forests, fountains and follies were created in the 1640s for the rest and relaxation of the Pamphilj family, whose pater familias Giovanni Battista had recently risen to the pontiff’s chair as Pope Innocent X. Opened to the public in the 1970s, today the Villa Doria Pamphilj is arguably the Eternal City’s best picnic spot. Grab some provisions from one of Monteverde’s numerous excellent delis and spread your blanket in the shadow of the elegant palace known as the Casino di Bel Respiro - designed by Alessandro Algardi and Giovanni Francesco Grimaldi - in the centre of the park, which is spectacularly framed by the blossom-laden boughs of cherry trees each Easter.
Take a Day Trip to Ostia Antica
The remains of Rome’s ancient sea port at Ostia Antica are worth a visit at any time of the year, but this vast archaeological park looks especially spectacular in the springtime, when wild flowers and blooming trees burst into life, providing a stunning natural backdrop for the ruins. Ostia still flies strangely under the mass tourism radar, but that’s all the better for travellers who choose to make the easy 30 minute journey from Rome. Wandering along the flagstoned ancient streets and past the brilliantly preserved buildings of this city lost to time is an unforgettable experience: stroll through Ostia’s theatre and forum, take a peek into bathhouses, warehouses and temples, and get a sense of what daily life was like in antiquity by exploring the apartment blocks, butcher shops, taverns and even public latrines that were all part and parcel of a thriving city 2,000 years ago.
Tuck into some Easter delicacies
If you have ever visited Italy, then you’ll know that we take our food very seriously indeed. And at Easter time, just as important as the religious celebrations are the season-specific foodstuffs that are traditionally eaten during the holiday period. The self-denial and alimentary sacrifices of Lent are over, and Roman tables all across the city are heaving with Spring specialties.
Lamb, of course, plays a starring role. Flame-grilled cutlets known as abbacchio allo scottaditto are obligatory on Easter Monday, when Romans head to the countryside for barbecues with friends, while stout stomachs and adventurous palates will appreciate the traditional Roman dish of Coratella con i Carciofi - lamb offal stewed with artichokes. Vegetarians should look out for Torta Pasqualina, a savoury tart made with Spring greens, a ricotta-like cheese and eggs.
In the world of sweets meanwhile, the iconic dove-shaped Colomba di Pasqua cake reigns supreme: a rich and eggy dough studded with candied fruits and topped with almonds and powdered sugar. Look out too for pastiera, an easter tart invented by Neapolitan nuns according to a recipe rich with religious symbolism.
For over 20 years, Through Eternity have been organising itineraries showcasing the best of Rome led by our resident expert guides. If you’re planning a visit to the Eternal City this Spring, be sure to get in touch for help planning your perfect trip!