Why the Spanish Steps bloom in April and May

Spring is a good time to visit Rome, not only because the weather is often nice and warm, but some of the more ancient traditions can be seen and provide special photo opportunities.

Not only is the tea shop Babingtons full of Easter eggs in April, which traditionally is around 17 April in Rome – and has been since ancient Roman times – but the Spanish Steps are decorated from head to toe in bright pink and white azaleas between April and May, making a wonderful display for tourists to enjoy.

Spanish Steps in bloom

The azaleas are grown in a nursery at S. Cristo and are transported to the Spanish Steps every year to mark the beginning of spring. They reman there in a dazzling display until the plants lose their flowers, when they are removed and taken back to the nursery until next spring.

The tradition was started in 1951 and is known as the “infiorata”. Rome’s nursery breeds special types of azaleas for the event – and the special white varieties are known as “white from the Spanish Steps” for their special variety of the colour white bred into the plant.

Ceres, Piazza del Popolo

It is thought that the blooms represent the return of the goddess Proserpina, who was abducted by the god of the Underworld, Pluto – who forced her to marry him. However, Proserpina’s mother Ceres begged Pluto to allow her daughter to return from the Underworld – known as Hades – but he only allowed her to do so once a year during spring and summer. In order to mark her return, Ceres caused the plants and flowers to bloom again after winter – hence what we now know as spring and summer. When Prosperpina had to return to Hades, Ceres allowed the plants to stop blooming – which represents her sorrow at losing her daughter, but which gives us the months of autumn and winter, when nothing blooms until spring arrives again.

Whatever time of year you visit the Eternal City, you will find it is a surprisingly green space – orange trees grow on streets around the Quirinal Palace and Borghese Gardens are a must to visit – they are a lovely retreat on a hot day. Rome is a surprisingly leafy city, so enjoy!

Buon viaggio!

Borghese Gardens

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