While Paris is the default setting for romantic escapes on Valentine’s Day – and it can easily live up to all expectations – there’s one city we think you should consider if you’re planning whisking the one you love away for a weekend to celebrate your love. But first let us tell you a story. Are you sitting comfortably?
Roma today. By Giuseppe Moscato.
It is two hundred years after the death of Christ and a man named Valentine lives in the most important city in the world; Rome. He is a priest and aside from his faith, he is a passionate believer in one special thing; love.
Valentine is also quite fond of his beautiful city, which is the centre of a fast growing Roman Empire. It’s a bustling hub of innovation, culture and sport with stunning new buildings popping up on virtually every street corner. He loves to explore this new and vibrant city.
Valentine fills his days under the warm Italian sun by firstly walking to the Forum in the centre of town to find out the latest news and meet with his friends. As he walks past the nearby impressively grand Colosseum, loud and boisterous cheers from the crowds watching those bloodthirsty gladiators fight one another interrupt his thoughts; he wonders if a time will come when blood sport isn’t the spectacle it is in his lifetime. Before heading north to Trajan’s Market to buy groceries, he heads to the Pantheon, a newly built temple dedicated to the Roman Gods, to meet an associate in secret. He hopes to find out if there is any change on the Empire’s current persecution of Christians; he fears not.
Trajan’s Market. By robertpaulyoung.
It is for this reason that Valentine acts out on what he believes he is called to do, celebrating his religion with fellow believers. One of the duties that he carries out with special care and attention in secret churches across Rome’s already sprawling urban landscape is marrying lovers in their faith. One day as he walks around the city he loves he is arrested for this crime and is thrown in prison.
Whilst imprisoned our hero Valentine continues to pray and practice his beloved faith, including saying prayers for those who have jailed him. In the process Valentine’s love for his captors heals a Roman General’s blind daughter and the whole family convert to Christianity. However, it is too late to undo his fate and in the minutes before Valentine is executed, he writes a note to all those he loves and leaves behind simply saying “From your Valentine”. Many years after his death Valentine is made a saint and the day on which his name is to be celebrated is officiated as the 14th February.
Roman Angel. By lennox_mcdough.
Or at least this is how one myth behind the story of Valentine’s Day goes. There are other theories as to why this time of year is a celebration of love, the ancient Pagan festival of Lupercalia being the most entertaining of these thanks to its rituals including beating up one’s lover and indulging in S&M style “fertility” acts.
However, what is true about this story and can still be experienced today is the romance and history of Rome. All of those buildings, meeting places and markets that Valentine explored still exist today in Italy’s capital city and should all be seen to fully appreciate how Valentine’s city looked, particularly the Pantheon, which is considered the best-preserved Roman building in the world.
The Pantheon. By Sean Molin Photography.
Aside from the Roman relics and ruins, there are the buildings and landmarks that were built since, and these hold the same romantic potential: throw a penny and make a wish at the Fontana di Trevi, climb the Spanish Steps hand-in-hand, take a romantic turn in the gardens of Villa Borghese and if you’re feeling really generous share a gelato with the one you love – though we fully understand if you’d rather have your own. Finally walk over the Tiber to Trastevere for dinner, where the smell of freshly baked pizza dough and sun-ripened vegetables will show you better than any guidebook where you can find one of Rome’s best loved restaurants. To complete your evening, brave the winter night (or jump in a taxi) and head over to the Roof Terrace bar on Via Tor de’ Conti close to the Colosseum where Valentine’s Rome is waiting for his lovers to toast his beloved city goodnight.
The skull of St. Valentine. By CapnOats.
Featured image by jonrawlinson.