I love Halloween. I’ve never been one to spend a lot of time on my costume (I’m more of a last minute find-something-weird-in-my-wardrobe sort of girl), but I love Halloween celebrations, horror movies, admiring other people’s outfits and decorating my house with spooky gore. Most of all, I love remembering the joy of transformation it gave me as a child, as I became a pirate, a football player or a Jedi (and, of course, ate way too much candy).
Halloween has its roots in a celtic harvest festival called Samhain, which was later transformed into All Hallows Eve under Christianity. Trick-or-treating is a uniquely American affair, one which has met with criticism after its export to other parts of the world. For us Americans, trick-or-treating is a fond childhood memory and a timeless tradition. In other places it is often seen as just another way in which consumerist American society has seeped its way into everyone’s lives.
Though some children do trick-or-treat these days, Halloween in Rome doesn’t include some of my favorite fall-time activities. There are no pumpkin patches, haunted houses, hay rides or creepy corn maizes (yes, ok, I’m from the mid-west). The weather isn’t even quite right most of the time, without that crisp Michigan air just threatening to freeze while rich red and yellow leaves float down to the ground.
It may not be the same as home, but there are still plenty of fun activities you can take part in to celebrate Halloween. Almost every pub and club hosts a Halloween-themed night, though most people reserve their coolest costumes for Carnival in February.
Here are five of my recommendations for ways to spend your Halloween in Rome:
Interiora Festival Horror Indipendente
I’ve been going to Interiora HorrorFest since I arrived in Rome in 2009. This year it will be held at CSOA Forte Prenestino, an ex-military fort occupied for social and cultural use since 1986 – making it one of the oldest social centers in Europe.
Even without Halloween decorations, Forte can be pretty spooky. A dimly lit graffitied hallway leads through the entire space, reminiscent, somehow of the spaceship from Alien. Last year, in honor of the horror fest, the space was filled with creepy artwork and strange sound effects.
Throughout the three days of the festival, there will be cinema, literature, music, exhibitions, a horror make-up station and of course some cool horror knick-knacks for sale.
Check out one of Rome’s creepiest museums
Along the banks of the Tiber river sits the Chiesa del Sacro Cuore del Suffragio, site of Rome’s smallest museum, and one of it’s strangest – a glass case filled with items imprinted by the hands of souls trapped in purgatory. Each of the items have a story along with them, which speaks less of holy relics and more of ghost stories. Plus, the church’s neo-gothic style is delightfully creepy. With a bit of imagination you’ll find that this is an excellent Halloween activity.
Learn to cook with pumpkin
Before I lived in Italy, I firmly believed that the only thing pumpkins were good for was carving. In my mind, they were edible only when processed and stuffed into a can. In reality, pumpkin is delicious and really healthy for you, and making anything out of some delicious pumpkin-y goodness will make it feel like Halloween. My favorite dish is pumpkin risotto. If playing with your food is more your style, ask at your supermarket or local fruttarolo for pumpkins that have started going bad. Pumpkin here is usually sold by the piece, meaning purchasing them whole will cost way too much for jack-o-lanterns.
Explore an abandoned city
Check out the lost city of Antica Monterano, about an hour’s drive from Rome inside a nature reserve. Nearly swallowed up by the lush greenery, its crumbling walls have been preserved by the efforts of the Riserva Naturale Regionale Monterano (Monterano Regional Nature Reserve). While the maintenance means this won’t be the eeriest ruins you creep through, the attention paid to the site is heartening in a country where some of the most important archaeological ruins are being left to crumble slowly. A bit farther from Rome, and much creepier, is the town of Gioa Vecchia in Abruzzo, where it is said that the locals moved away due to repeated sightings of a vengeful minotaur. Today you can still see the windows boarded up on the east side of the village, where it was repeatedly sighted.
Rome is full of crypts and catacombs just waiting to be explored. The Catacombs of San Callisto are the largest, and are located on the picturesque Appia Antica. However, you’ll have to take a guided tour (or risk being lost within the labyrinth forever). Plus, those seeking their own personal memento mori might be disappointed by the lack of bones – they’ve removed them due to tourists stealing bits and pieces as souvenirs. If you’re looking for something a bit more macabre, check out the gruesome display of artistry which is the Capuchin Crypt. Some 4,000 friars‘ bones decorate the space, nailed to the walls, posing in their habits, and composing lamps, arches, and other patterns.
Does anyone else have any other spooky recommendations for Halloween in Rome? I’d love to hear them!