One of Rome's Best Kept Secrets: the Municipal Rose Garden

Among the myriad tourist attractions in Rome, the Municipal Rose Garden is easy to forget yet in May it reaches unparalleled splendor. Established in 1950, an international rose competition has been organized here every year (now at its 71st session) and new, extraordinary roses compete for the attention of connoisseurs. Winners are left in place and populate what is probably a unique rose garden in Europe, sitting in an area that has been a Jewish cemetery for 250 years (it was expropriated by the Governorship of Rome in 1934). Part of the city agreement with the Jewish community was to set up at the entrance a couple of stelae as a reminder (see photo).

And here's an American rose that won the competition back in 1971. Appropriately called  Super Star Climbing Rose, it's exceedingly tall:


Foreigners who live in Rome know and blog about it (see below) but I wanted to share with you what I found out.

First the layout. There is a lower garden, coasting the Circo Massimo (Circus Maximus where the chariot races were held) and the ancient ruins of Cesar's palace that overlook it:


And, separated by a road now closed to traffic, there's an upper garden climbing towards the Aventino hill:


Here is where you find the classified roses with name and provenance - there's a predominance of French, Dutch and Danish roses, plus a few from far flung countries, as far as New Zealand. And there are posters explaining the history of roses. Did you know that the oldest fossilized rose predates man, it is 40 million years old and was found in Oregon? 

The varieties are so numerous you get lost. Here's a bizarre purple one:


 And here's a classic yellow one:


And a splendid pink one, just about to fade away with some hidden insect in its heart, I have a very Bruegel-like love for insects crawling among flowers - also the last stage of bloom, just before collapse is so touching...:


Roses were important from the start of human history as numerous posters scattered in the garden remind you (in both Italian and English). Here's one that introduces you to the section where the more ancient roses are kept:


It may be hard to read for you, here is what it says: in ancient Rome, roses had a cosmetic and medicinal value, they cured anything from insomnia to dog bites (hence the name rosa canina, the Dog Rose). And they were much sought after by rich Romans to grace their banquets and show off their wealth, for cut roses were imported from Egypt at great cost - no one knows today how they stayed fresh after a 15-day trip across the Mediterranean, that secret is lost. Apparently the custom was to store thousands of rose petals inside double ceilings above the guests and half-way through the meal, the ceilings were opened and roses gracefully poured down. One such party given by Emperor Marco Aurelio Antonino (294-222 AD) ended in tragedy: so many roses piled up on one man that he was suffocated... as suggested above, he was probably very drunk.

Tired? There's plenty of places to sit down:


A few days ago, on 22 May, the French rose Eveparo won first prize in the hybrid tea category, here it is:


Beautiful! Other winners in different categories were German and Belgian.If you ever visit Rome, try to come in May and take a break here, it's well worth it...

The "Roseto Comunale", located along Circo Massimo (Circus Maximus), is open every day from 8:30 am to 7:30 pm. Entrance is free.
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