It’s Rome’s birthday: 17 facts about the Eternal City

On April 21st in 753 BC, the legend goes, Rome was first founded. On its 2771st birthday, we look at some of the most weird and wonderful facts about what is often called the Eternal City.

It's Rome's birthday: 17 facts about the Eternal City
The she-wolf is the symbol of Rome. Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

1. The story of how it was founded is embroiled in myths and legends. Archaeologists have found settlements dating back to the 750s BC – but how did they get there? Legend states that two brothers, Romulus and Remus, were arguing over what to name their newly-found city. To settle the argument, Romulus killed his brother, and named the settlement after himself.

2. The city is home to 2,874,605 people, making it the most populous in Italy and fourth most populous in the EU.

3. But for centuries, it was Europe’s largest city, reaching one million residents first and not overtaken until the 19th century, when London took its crown.

4. Rome is the most photographed city in Europe and the second most photographed in the world, after New York.

5. It only became Italy’s capital in 1870, snatching the title from Florence. Before that, Turin had been the capital.

6. Wondering why you see the letters SPQR all over Rome’s monuments and buildings? They stand for the Latin phrase “Senatus Populusque Romanus.” meaning “The senate and people of Rome”

Photo: Marco Zak / Flickr

7. Its total area is 1,285 km², including more parks, gardens and green spaces than almost any other European city.

8. Rome was home to the world’s first shopping mall, built by Emperor Trajan. That's if you believe the original theory about Trajan's Market – the remains of which you can still see today – that it was home to arcades of shops. Another, less exciting theory goes that they were simply administrative offices.

9. Today in Italy you can be fined thousands of euros for peeing on a street but in Rome, during the Vespasiano age, you would have been taxed on your urine. Clay pots were put out in public to collect the liquid, which could be used for washing clothes, tanning leather, and even brushing teeth.

10. Rome's most-visited tourist sites are the Colosseum and the Vatican Museums, which each let more than 4 million tourists through their doors each year.

11. Gladiators' blood was a hot commodity: ancient writings reveal it was used as a 'health drink' in ancient Rome and thought to cure epilepsy and aid fertility.

12. Rome's main university, La Sapienza, is the largest in Europe in terms of enrollment numbers. Founded in 1303, it's also one of Europe's oldest.

13. Remember Romulus and Remus, the city's founders? Some people believe they were raised by a she-wolf, an animal which is still the symbol of the city.

14. Each year, around 3000 coins are thrown into the Trevi Fountain, one of the city's most iconic landmarks. The money is all given to charity.

15. Speaking of fountains, Rome has more than any other city worldwide: over 2000, in fact. Fifty of these are classed as 'monumental fountains'.

16. A special law allows any cat in Rome to live undisturbed in its birthplace. This means you'll see plenty of wild cats roaming the ancient ruins, as well as the dozens that live in the Torre Argentina cat sanctuary among the ruins in the city centre.

17. Through history, Rome has had plenty of 'twin cities' but for over 60 years, it has been exclusively twinned with Paris, France alone, with the slogan of the partnership saying: Only Paris is worthy of Rome; only Rome is worthy of Paris.

Photo: Headzsquare / Flickr

This article was first published in April 2017 and updated in April 2018.



Why Friday the 13th isn’t an unlucky date in Italy

Unlucky for some, but not for Italians. Here's why today's date isn't a cause for concern in Italy - but Friday the 17th is.

Why Friday the 13th isn't an unlucky date in Italy

When Friday the 13th rolls around, many of us from English-speaking countries might reconsider any risky plans. And it’s not exactly a popular date for weddings in much of the western world.

But if you’re in Italy, you don’t need to worry about it.

There’s no shortage of strongly-held superstitions in Italian culture, particularly in the south. But the idea of Friday the 13th being an inauspicious date is not among them.

Though the ‘unlucky 13’ concept is not unknown in Italy – likely thanks to the influence of American film and TV – here the number is in fact usually seen as good luck, if anything.

The number 17, however, is viewed with suspicion and Friday the 17th instead is seen as the unlucky date to beware of.

Just as some Western airlines avoid including the 13th row on planes, you might find number 17 omitted on Italian planes, street numbering, hotel floors, and so on – so even if you’re not the superstitious type, it’s handy to be aware of.

The reason for this is thought to be because in Roman numerals the number 17 (XVII) is an anagram of the Latin word VIXI, meaning ‘I have lived’: the use of the past tense apparently suggests death, and therefore bad luck. It’s less clear what’s so inauspicious about Friday.

So don’t be surprised if, next time Friday 17th rolls around, you notice some Italian shops and offices closed per scaramanzia’.

But why then does 13 often have a positive connotation in Italy instead?

You may not be too surprised to learn that it’s because of football.

Ever heard of Totocalcio? It’s a football pools betting system in which players long tried to predict the results of 13 different matches.

There were triumphant calls of ho fatto tredici! – ‘I’ve done thirteen’ – among those who got them all right. The popular expression soon became used in other contexts to mean ‘I hit the jackpot’ or ‘that was a stroke of luck!’

From 2004, the number of games included in Totocalcio rose to 14, but you may still hear winners shout ‘ho fatto tredici’ regardless.

Other common Italian superstitions include touching iron (not wood) for good luck, not toasting with water, and never pouring wine with your left hand.