In the center of Rome, one enchanting and colorful garden shows nature at its finest with the blooming of a thousand roses. The Roseto Comunale of Rome or Rome’s Rose Garden covers an area of approximately two and a half acres and is located by the Circus Maximus, on the eastern side of the Aventine hill.
The rose garden is open to the public from May to June when the roses are in full bloom. Sometimes, in late summer, if enough roses have bloomed for a second time – which is very likely to happen due to the climate in Rome – the rose garden once more opens to visitors.
A curious coincidence is that in ancient times, a temple stood on the Aventine hill, facing Circus Maximus, dedicated to the Roman goddess of flowers and spring, Flora. In fact, it was the first temple ever dedicated to the goddess, dating back to the 3rd century BC. It is the same place where the rose garden is situated now. It is also the location of the ancient Roman festival Floralia, then called Ludi Florales, a celebration that lasted from April 28 to May 3, to honor the goddess, Flora. Unfortunately, there are no surviving remains of the temple.
In 1645, the Jews were given permission to use the location of today’s rose garden as a cemetery. Because of the strong religious discrimination that the Pope imposed, the site became commonly known as Ortaccio degli Ebrei, roughly translated as the infamous yard of the Jews. For the next two and a half centuries, the site served as a cemetery for the Jewish community. In 1836, the main Verano cemetery opened in Rome, but only for Roman Catholics. It wasn’t until the fall of the Papal State, in 1870, that the Jews were allowed to use the main cemetery.
The Rose Garden wouldn’t be there today if it wasn’t for Countess Mary Gayley Senni, a lady from Pennsylvania who lived in Rome. She was very passionate about roses and cultivated her own collection on her estate in Grottaferrata, south of the city. Her wish was to found a garden. In 1924, her own roses were planted in a simple flower bed on the Pincio Hill, by the municipality of Rome, but as she was not too pleased with the arrangements, she took them back. After eight years, the new governor welcomed her project and the first rose garden was opened in 1932 on Esquiline Hill, next to the Colosseum.
In 1934, with the new plan of the city, it was decided the old graves should be relocated to the Jewish section of the Verano cemeteries, and the site to become a public green area. In 1950, with the permission of the Jewish community, the Rome City Council transformed the location into the rose garden. The only condition the president of the Jewish community had was that a single star be placed at the entrance; that star is still present today. Also, the pathways are in the shape of a Menorah, a seven-branched candelabrum, a symbol of Hebrewism. The tall cypress trees in the garden are the same that once grew in the Jewish cemetery.
The rose garden features over 1,100 rose species from all over the world. Besides from Italy, large numbers of the specimens come from Germany, England, France, Belgium, and Denmark. But also from Spain, Netherlands, Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Hungary, Switzerland, Poland, Czech Republic and Romania. Some roses come from the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Middle East, India, South Africa, Japan, and China. With the varieties of classic, modern and hybrid roses, some of them are mistaken for different flowers, as they don’t look like roses.
Among the rare, unusual and curious varieties are the Rosa Foetida- a beautiful but bad smelling rose, the Rosa Chinensis Viridiflora, a Chinese green rose, the Rosa Omeiensis pteracantha, whose flower has only four petals instead of five, and the Rosa Chinensis Mutabilis, which changes color.
Interestingly, the Rosa Sea Foam, a hybrid rose that was believed to be extinct, is growing in the rose garden in Rome. It is probably the only surviving one on Earth. Rome’s Rose Garden is one of the most precious gardens in the world and the most pleasant-smelling corner of the city.