Rome's Birthday - Natale di Roma
Find out everything you need to know about Rome's birthday, the anniversary of the Eternal City’s foundation - the history and importance of this day, and what happens during the celebrations!
Do you know the story of Romulus and Remus, the twin brothers raised by a she-wolf (according to legend!) who are celebrated as the official founders of Rome? Read on for all of the details!
When is Rome's birthday celebrated?
Did you know that the city of Rome has an official birthday?
Known in Italian typically as ‘Natale di Roma’ or (occasionally) ‘Compleanno di Roma’, the city’s founding is marked on April 21 every year.
There are an array of events that take place across Rome to celebrate its birthday.
On this page, discover everything you need to know about Romes birthday, including:
Rome's birthday is officially April 21 every year (more on WHY this is the official date below!) but typically the main events take place on the Sunday after April 21, to make the most of Romes birthday celebrations!
Actors in full legionary armor reenact an ancient Roman defensive formation on the Circus Maximus on Romes birthday. Photo credit Jamie Heath
Why does Rome have a birthday?
Rome's birthday celebrates the foundation of the city, which was a major event in history - this marked the start of what would go on to become one of the greatest empires ever, with the legacy of the Roman Empire still impacting many aspects of our lives today.
According to legend (and then later affirmed by ancient Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro), it was on April 21 753 BCE that the famous brothers Romulus and Remus founded the settlement that would later become known as Rome.
They chose the area near the Tiber river because it was in this part of the country that they had been raised from babies by a she-wolf (again, according to the legend) after being abandoned by their mother at the banks of the river.
This is why you will see representations of Romulus and Remus with the she-wolf all around Rome.
On this basis, that would make Rome 2700+ years young! However it should be noted that there is evidence of human settlement in the Rome area as far back as 12,0000 BCE.
According to the legend, Romulus and Remus could not agree where to found the city specifically - Romulus wanted it on the Palatine Hill, whereas Remus argued for the Aventine hill.
They faced off in what is now the Circus Maximus, where Romulus or one of his followers (depending on the version of the legend you read) killed Remus, settling the debate forever and named the city after himself.
Romulus as a result became Rome’s first king, ruling until 716 BCE.
How is Rome's birthday celebrated officially?
Romes birthday is marked officially in Rome with a series of events around the city - typically most of these take place on the Sunday following April 21 to minimize disruption in the city, and to allow people to enjoy them to their fullest!
- Along the via dei Fori Imperiali (the main street that runs from the Vittoriano Monument on Piazza Venezia to the Colosseum) you will see a parade featuring actors (such as the Gruppo Storico Romano) and history enthusiasts dressed in ancient Roman clothing. You’ll see soldiers, gladiators, politicians and even Vestal Virgins all celebrating Romes birthday!
Traveling in style along the Via dei Fori Imperiali! Photo credit Jamie Heath
- At the Circus Maximus you’ll find more reenactments - this time of ancient games and competitions, including mock gladiatorial fights and sometimes even a recreation of the duel between Romulus and Remus that took place here over 2700 years ago! Viewing these events from the Belvedere Romolo e Remo overlooking the Circus Maximus is particularly fun, as you also have a fantastic view of the Palatine Hill which is where Romulus ultimately founded Rome.
Want to learn more about the Circus Maximus and its long history?
Take this in-depth tour to really understand what it was like in the time of the ancient Romans!
Quite the crowd gathers on the Circus Maximus for the various reenactments! Photo credit Jamie Heath
- At the Pantheon, at 12:00pm midday and providing the weather is good, the sunlight shines directly through the oculus opening in the dome and perfectly illuminating the entrance door. This is a truly spectacular sight, with the ancient builders having constructed the building to allow this to take place precisely on this date to honor Romes birthday. Consider that the Pantheon was built nearly 2000 years ago, the ancient builders really did an incredible job!
You’ll also find many more events around the city to celebrate Rome’s birthday - for complete details of all the events taking place this year, check out my April events page.
April 21 2022 Update
In 2022, some of Rome's civic museums will once again be open with free
entry on April 21, including the archeological area of the Circus Maximus, the Capitoline Museums, the Ara Pacis, the museum of Trajan's Market and Imperial Forums and many more.
There will also be various events, walks and talks that you can attend to celebrate the day and learn more about the importance of Romes birthday - take a look at the Musei in Comune's website here for the full listings of all of the free entry locations and events.
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How was Rome's birthday celebrated in ancient times?
Rome's birthday was one of the biggest dates in the ancient Roman calendar - akin to Christmas in the modern western world.
The date the city was founded on was so significant to ancient Romans that their calendar was based off of it, with year one being what we now register as 753 BCE.
In Latin, this is referred to as ab urbe condita (which translates as ‘since the founding [of the city]’), and is now abbreviated to AUC.
Based on this, if you were to still follow the ancient Roman calendar today, we are living in the 2700s AUC.
During Rome’s early history, April 21 saw the festival of Parilia celebrated, where shepherds would pay their respects to the god Pales.
As Rome grew from a small village to the capital of a vast empire, new celebrations were added in honor of the city’s founding.
While the Parilia festival was still marked, the date became the dies natalis Romae - which in Latin means ‘Birth date of Rome’.
It is from the word natalis that the modern Italian word ‘natale’ comes from, hence the term widely used today for April 21 in Rome - Natale di Roma.
An actor carries a replica standard in front of the crowds gathered to celebrate Romes birthday. Photo credit Jamie Heath
During the time of the emperors, the dies natalis Romae was expanded to include celebratory games at the Colosseum, Circus Maximus and most other entertainment venues.
Parades and processions were also held throughout the city, giving the emperor and other notable members of society an opportunity to show themselves to the people of Rome on the occasion of Romes birthday.
Explore other sites from Ancient Rome
How can I celebrate Rome's birthday when in Rome?
If you find yourself in the Eternal City the week of Romes birthday, try to check out one of the official events talked about above (for specific details of this year’s events, click here).
For the parades on the via dei Fori Imperiali and at the Circus Maximus I’d recommend arriving in plenty of time, well ahead of the advertised start time - the timings can be flexible, and being a little early means you can get a great spot!
If you are in Rome at a different time of the year but still want to celebrate Rome's birthday and pay respects to the founding of the city, here are my top three recommendations on how to do this:
- Visit the Capitoline Museums which house the city’s greatest collection of ancient Roman artwork and artifacts - including the iconic representation of the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus.
The Capitoline She-wolf, certainly the most famous of the Lupa with Romulus and Remus. Here you can see it on special placement in the Capitoline Museum's atrium during 2020 alongside the original equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius.
Look for this sign at the Belvedere Romolo e Remo - the view from here down in to the Circus Maximus and across to Palatine Hill is one of the best in the city!
- Take a trip to the Pantheon - this is by far the best preserved Ancient Roman monument in Rome (maybe the world!) and one of the spots where you can truly appreciate the majesty of ancient Rome. If by chance you are visiting on September 4 around 13:00pm and the sun is out, you’ll be treated to a similar phenomenon as on April 21 - the sunlight coming through the oculus aligns directly above the entrance to the Pantheon.
Visiting the Pantheon by yourself?
This audio guide is the perfect accompaniment!
I was 10 minutes too late to see the perfect alignment on this visit to the Pantheon - next time I'll make sure to be on time!
Is Rome's birthday an official holiday?
While widely celebrated in ancient times with much of the population taking a day off, Romes birthday is not an official holiday now.
There will not be any official closures or unexpected travel restrictions therefore.
Rome's birthday is widely celebrated in the city however so you can expect to see a lot more happening than just the events outlined on this page!
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