Nine surprising facts about Rome in honour of the capital’s birthday

As Rome marks 150 years as the capital of Italy, we've rounded up a few lesser-known facts about the Eternal City.

Nine surprising facts about Rome in honour of the capital's birthday
Rome's Colosseum. All photos: AFP

You may already know that the city of Rome was declared Italy's capital by Garibaldi after the unification of Italy in 1870, taking the title from Florence. (And before that, the northern city of Turin had been the capital.)

But in honour of Rome's 150-year anniversary as capital of italy, with celebrations beginning on February 4th, we've rounded up a few more curious facts that not everyone will know about the city.

READ ALSO: Five Italian Unesco sites you won't have heard of

1. Each year, the thousands of coins thrown into the Trevi Fountain are estimated to be worth around 700,000 euros, one of the city's most iconic landmarks. The money is all given to charity.

2. Speaking of fountains, Rome has some 280 of them, of which 50 are classed as “monumental fountains” – or around 2,000 if you count the city's famous drinking fountains, which are constantly running due to underground pressure.

3. Rome gets 15.2 million visitors every single year, according to figures from 2018, and the number keeps growing. 4.2 million of these visit the Vatican Museums and four million visit the Colosseum annually.

READ ALSO: Italy's 'art cities' are attracting more visitors than ever. But can they cope?

4. Rome’s first university, La Sapienza, established in 1303 AD, is the largest in Europe and the second largest in the world.

5. Rome has more parks, gardens and green spaces than almost any other European city. While many think the Villa Borghese park is the biggest, it's actually only the third-largest – Villa Doria Pamphili takes the top spot.

6. Have you seen 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”

7. Rome is full of fascist architecture. Reminders of Benito Mussolini's 1922-1944 reign still stand all around the city, most notably the Palazzo della Civilta Italiana – a cube-like building also known as the “Square Colosseum” – which is one of the first buildings many visitors see on arrival into the city by car from Rome's Fiumicino airport. Other landmarks include the Palazzo della Farnesina, now home to Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and pretty much the entire Eur district.

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. 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.


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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.