Holy Week, the seven days leading up to Easter Sunday, can often times be a logistical gran casino for the unsuspecting traveler to Rome. Traditionally, the Eternal City explodes with international pilgrims criss-crossing the city for the celebrations, along with tourists looking for a little southern Mediterranean sun during Spring Break. Navigating through the city, the celebrations and the chaos require a little insider knowledge, and thanks to Rome Insider’s Guide Flaminia Chapman*, navigating Holy Week is now a little bit easier.
If you’re in Rome next week, April 20-25, and want to get involved in the Easter celebrations — even seeing the Pope — you’re in luck! On Holy Thursday, April 21st, head over to Rome’s Cathedral, Saint John Lateran for the 5:30 PM Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Good Friday, April 22, the Pope holds mass in celebration of the Lord’s Passion in Saint Peter’s Basilica, and later that day, he performs the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum, 9:15 PM. It’s a much anticipated and televised evening.
The weekend brings the Holy Saturday Easter Vigil mass, 9 pm in Saint Peter’s Basilica and the highly anticipated Easter Sunday mass, 10:30am, in St. Peter’s Square, followed by the Pope’s noon-time Easter blessing from the top of Saint Peter’s Steps. This mass will be the biggest, and the easiest to visit — you don’t have to get tickets. Just walk into Saint Peter’s Square after clearing security at any point between 10 AM and noon. You can see the Pope, get a picture or two, and then go out for a nice Easter lunch.
If you’re like me and want to avoid the hoards of pilgrims, then stay away from Saint Peter’s during all the masses. A good strategy for visiting the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel is to go there while the Pope is giving a mass, because the galleries aren’t usually as packed with people. In fact, it’s a good tip to head to places where the Pope isn’t. Also, remember that monument hours are limited during certain days of Holy Week: the Colosseum closes at 2 PM on Good Friday, April 22, as they need to prepare the monument for that evening’s papal visit — they will be weed-whacking, picking up trash and hanging a few tapestries. The Vatican Museums will be closed on Easter Monday, April 25.
Don’t worry about long queues; Rome has many off-the-beaten-path sites to visit. Two of my favorite secret sites will be open for Easter. Just a few steps from the overcrowded Trevi Fountain is La Cittá dell’Acqua, the 1st-century remains of an apartment complex and a water cistern (capacity 40,000 gallons) thirty feet underground. During the Middle Ages, the entire complex was buried and houses were built on top of it. This small archaeological site is rarely visited and will be open Easter Sunday after lunch, and on Easter Monday from 4:00 to 7:30 pm. Vicolo del Puttarello, 25. Info at: +39- 339-778-6192.
And then head to Santa Prassede, across the street from the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. With an unassuming exterior that keeps most visitors away, this medieval church has splendid golden mosaics. Step into the tiny Saint Zeno chapel off the right nave of the church, and don’t forget to bring some change for coin-operated lights. The brightness will make the gold in the mosaics twinkle. The church is open daily from 7:30 am to 12 pm and 4:00– 6:30 pm. Via di Santa Prassede, 9A.
*Flaminia (Flah-mee-nya) Chapaman is Italian-American (ahem, Texan), who now lives and works in Rome and Vatican City as tour guide and travel consultant. She’s traveled throughout Africa, China, India, the U.S. and Europe. An explorer, she’s always on the hunt for unique, beautiful things- whether cities, objects, food or wine. She recently researched, compiled and wrote Rome Insider’s Guide, one of the latest and most indepth Rome travel apps.