The Rome Rose Garden, on the Aventine Hill near the Circus Maximus, is a lovely place.
Only open in spring, there are over 1,000 varieties of roses, and the place is beautiful to both see and smell!
But there is more here than meets the eye … Like everything else in Rome, the Rose Garden was built on something much older. There are subtle hints as to what once stood here … First, when you enter the garden you’ll see a column with a Hebrew inscription of the 10 Commandments on it. And, you’ll notice people have left pebbles here, as they do on Jewish graves:
Yes, this was once a Jewish cemetery, dating from the 1600’s. But in the 1930’s, Mussolini was rising to power. During this time, he was not specifically anti-Semitic, but he was definitely not respectful of anything that was not part of Imperial Rome (he bulldozed entire areas of Medieval ruins) and he wanted grand, straight boulevards for his pomp-filled parades. The old Jewish Cemetery fell victim to Mussolini’s ego, destroyed to make way for a new street, via di Valle Murcia.
The graveyard was supposed to be fully excavated, but a rush to meet a deadline meant that the excavation was performed poorly. Many bodies were not moved, tombstones were destroyed … Then, the outbreak of WWII meant that the plans to develop the area into a garden were put on hold. In the 1950’s, with the input of the Jewish community, the Rose Garden was made. The shape of the upper garden, as seen from the air, pays tribute to what once stood here:
So, as you stop to smell the roses at this lovely garden, take a moment to remember those who lie here still.