In Rome, Easter is never just a single day; it’s an eight-day week. From Palm Sunday to Pasquetta (the Monday immediately following Easter), the city is busy with religious ceremonies, local festivities and amazing lunches. This year, Rome is definitively taking it up a notch and turning the weeklong celebration into a nearly three-week blockbuster.
With Palm Sunday kicking off the Holy Week events on April 13, Easter celebrations overlap with Rome’s April 21 birthday and practically collide into the April 25 national holiday, Liberation Day. Add in April 27’s double canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII, and Labor Day, and we’ve got a 19-day piazza party that will spread through the entire city of Rome. Here’s the breakdown on who, what and where to be for Easter in Rome.
Holy Week and Easter
Palm Sunday, April 13
At 9:30 a.m., head to papal Mass in St. Peter’s Square, which will be almost as crowded as Easter Sunday. If you find yourself walking near Campo de’ Fiori on Palm Sunday midday, meander to Piazza della Quercia to see the neighborhood butchers celebrate an early Easter.
Holy Thursday, April 17
The papal Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica (at 9:30 a.m.) is perhaps one of the best ways to see the pope at a far less crowded service. In the evening, the Vatican commemorates the washing of the feet in a pope-led ceremony. Last year, Pope Francis broke with tradition and made his way out of the Vatican to wash the feet of 12 juvenile offenders, including two women, so keep your eye on Vatican news a few days in advance to see where Pope Francis will be headed.
Good Friday, April 18
By midday, most shops will be closed as residents venture out of the city and religious observers get ready for the pope’s evening visit to the Colosseum. At 9:15 p.m., huge crowds surround the Colosseum, as Pope Francis commemorates the Stations of the Cross ceremony inside the ancient arena.
Saturday, Easter Vigil, April 19
There’s an evening Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica at 8:30 p.m.
Easter Sunday, April 20
The papal mass in St. Peter’s Square (10:15 a.m.) is the longest Mass in the Catholic calendar and usually brings in the largest audience. By noon, the piazza will fill with hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and tourists as they look up to the basilica’s balcony for the pope’s Urbi et Orbi (“to the City [of Rome] and to the World”) blessing.
All Vatican events can be found on the Vatican’s website. Tickets are required to attend Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday Masses. Free tickets can be obtained through the Prefecture of the Papal Household.
Pasquetta, Rome’s Birthday and Liberation Day
Monday, April 21
Traditionally, Pasquetta means everyone in Rome heads to city parks or the countryside for picnics, and during this time, many shops are closed. Since April 21 is also the 2767th anniversary of the founding of Rome, the Eternal City will have parades and events, often a Roman March around the Circus Maximus. That evening, the city launches “Forum of Augustus. 2,000 years later,” a video extravaganza held in the ancient Forum of Augustus archaeological site. “Forum of Augustus” will include videos, 3-D reconstructions, music and other events all set to an audio guide, and visitors will be able to walk around the usually off-limits area. The event, which is part of the celebration of the 2,000th anniversary of the death of Augustus, will be repeated nightly through October 21.
Friday, April 25
Liberation Day is a national holiday, marking the country’s liberation from Nazi occupation and Fascist rule at the end of World War II. Schools, businesses and public offices are closed. Rome hosts concerts and events throughout the day and evening in piazzas across the city. Traditionally, Italy’s president makes an early morning visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Victor Emmanuel II monument in Piazza Venezia.
Papal Canonization and Labor Day
Sunday, April 27
Rome expects the city to swell to double its population as the Vatican canonizes two of the most important popes of modern times, Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. At 11 a.m. on April 27, Pope Francis will hold Mass and celebrate the canonization of the popes in St. Peter’s Square. Record numbers of pilgrims are expected to attend, so entrance to Holy Mass will be open to all who want to come. No tickets are required.
Thursday, May 1
Just when Rome feels like it is getting back to normal, the country celebrates Labor Day, a day off from school and work. Many will take off on Friday as well, so expect less locals and more tourists in the Eternal City. Concerts and events will be held in piazzas throughout the day.
Photos Courtesy of Erica Firpo