On October 5, 2002 Bertrand Delanoe, Mayor of Paris, launched the first Nuit Blanche (Sleepless Night), a night event dedicated to various forms of art.
The success was such that in 2003 Walter Veltroni, Mayor of Rome, organised a similar event, the Notte Bianca; since then
many other cities and towns have followed suit, so that in Europe there is now a calendar of such events.
In 2006 the Roman Notte Bianca took place on the night between September 9 and 10, preceded by a sort of appetizer the night before. This page covers some of these events and more in general what one can see by wandering through the streets of Rome on a sleepless night. Unfortunately Gianni Alemanno who was elected Mayor of Rome in 2008 discontinued the event.
The name of the event is a reference to White Nights, a short story by Fyodor Dostoevsky, but its objective could not be more different from the night obsessions of the story's main character.
Piazza del Campidoglio hosts the starting event of "La Notte Bianca"
Piazza del Campidoglio is a relatively small square, but it means so much to the Romans, that the opening of La Notte Bianca took place here and during the whole night dancers, singers and entertainers performed on a temporary stage.
So-called Casina di Raffaello near Piazza di Siena at Villa Borghese and inside it Chiesa della Immacolata
Pop singers and bands are an inevitable component of these events which target the largest possible audience. Piazza di Siena was designed by the Borghese as a place where they would entertain not only their guests, but the people of Rome, so its use as a venue for a concert attracting a large crowd is not outside the original scope of the site. For the occasion the so-called Casina di Raffaello, a Neoclassic building which stands above Piazza di Siena, had a special illumination and it was possible to see the small church the Borghese built for their farmers and servants.
A small concert near the fountain of Piazza di S. Maria in Campitelli
Many other musical performances took place throughout the city. Small historical squares provided an evocative background for small ensembles playing chamber music.
The main monuments of Rome are routinely lit, but for this event a special illumination was arranged. The public could access sites, such as the upper terraces of Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II, which are usually closed at night.
(left) Piramide di Caio Cestio used as a screen to project the image of Gina Lollobrigida, an icon of Italian beauty; (right) the vilified gasometer near Garbatella became for one night a landmark of Rome's skyline
Many of the 400 or so events which took place in the 2006 La Notte Bianca were staged in the city centre; others were set in the background of monuments located in more peripheral areas; when a modern borough did not have a historical monument where to stage the event, modern industrial structures came in useful and served the purpose.
Many events which were aimed at small audiences, such as conferences, the reading of poems or soloist performances took place in the churches and palaces of Rome. Donna Vittoria Altieri Parabiacchi (the lady on the right side of Cappella Altieri) was surprised by seeing people inside S. Maria in Campitelli at such a late hour.
"The (event) is not really a festival given for the people, but one the people give themselves... The difference between the social orders
seems to be abolished for the time being; everyone accosts everyone else, all good-naturedly accept whatever happens to them, and the insolence and licence of the feast is balanced only by the universal good humour."
Goethe: The 1788 Roman Carnival in Italian Journey.
"But whether (the event).. be a remnant of the ancient Saturnalia, ... or have its origin in anything else, I shall always remember it, and the frolic, as a brilliant and most captivating sight: no less remarkable for the unbroken good-humour of all concerned, down to the very lowest .., than for its innocent vivacity ... and there seems to prevail, during its progress, a feeling of general, almost childish, simplicity and confidence, which one thinks of with a pang ... for a whole year."
Charles Dickens: The 1845 Roman Carnival in Pictures from Italy.
Eventually, today as yesterday, one is more impressed by the people who attend the event (and by their mood), than by the event itself. More than 2,000,000 people are estimated to have been at La Notte Bianca 2006.
Rome became renowned for its nightlife during a short period around 1960. Of those days the word paparazzi (after a character of Fellini's La Dolce Vita) is almost the only memento. Those who do not fancy nightclubs and discos or the abominable crawling tour of the pubs of Campo di Fiori, may choose to design a cultural Notte Bianca of their own.
A good way to recover from a tiring day is to spend at least a couple of hours in a restaurant located in an evocative surrounding. Eating out is very popular in Rome and there are busy restaurants all over the city and not only in the touristic spots. Romans tend to go the restaurants at around 8:30.
"I had seen the Colosseum by moonlight before, but its tremendous solitude that night is past all telling."
Charles Dickens; Pictures from Italy.
Unless you go there early in the morning, during the rest of the day you always find the area surrounding the Colosseo teeming with people. At night (or at around 8 pm when everybody breaks for dinner - that's when the photo shown above was taken) even the most seen and known Roman monuments reveal a hidden aspect and elicit new thoughts.
Few Roman monuments face north; among them the remaining side of Tempio di Nettuno and the Pantheon: sunlight often impairs taking a fine picture of them. At night one can more easily take a photo which shows how well they fit into Renaissance and Baroque Rome.
Small fountains often gain from being seen at night: lighting reveals features that daylight hides, such as the elaborate curved shape of Fontana di Aracoeli or enhances the silhouettes of the statues which decorate them.
The many angels who watch over the City of Rome acquire a more heavenly appearance by being seen against a dark background. Also the much criticized Via della Conciliazione at night seems a more appropriate introduction to S. Pietro than in daylight. You may wish to see a page on visiting Rome in the Moonlight. The image used as background for this page is based on an advertisement for La Notte Bianca.
Other Days of Peace pages:
A Sunny Day in Villa Borghese
At the Flea Market
At the Beach
Voicing Your Views ..... and feeling better
Christmas in Rome
Celebrating the Foundation of Rome
A visit to Roseto di Roma
The procession of La Madonna de Noantri
Running the Marathon
Watching the Parade
Finding Solace at the Protestant Cemetery
Attending Winter Ceremonies
Attending 2007 July Events
Jogging at Valle delle Camene
Sailing on the River to see the Bridges of Roma
An October Outing to Marino
A Special Spring Weekend
Embassy-hunting in Parioli
Attending a Funeral ...and enjoying it!
Celebrating Eritrean Michaelmas in Rome
Visiting Rome at Dawn
Visiting Rome in the Moonlight
Visiting Rome on a Hop-on-Hop-off Bus
Visiting Multi-ethnic Rome
Playing in the Snow at the Janiculum
Watching the Pride Parade
Reading Memoirs of Hadrian at Villa Adriana
Visiting the Movie Sets at Cinecittą
Looking up at the Ceilings of the Vatican Palaces
Spending the Last Roman Day at St. John Lateran's Cloister
Reading Seneca at the Baths
Reading Ovid at St. Peter's
Walking the Dog at Valle della Caffarella