Nemi celebrates the Ides of Diana

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NEMI, Italy – The hilltop town of Nemi, Italy is once again celebrating the Ides of Diana and her feast day, August 13th. The celebration in honor of the Diana Nemorensis culminated this evening with a procession along the sacred path that leads from the town to the Sanctuary of Diana near the shores the eponymous lake also called “the mirror of Diana.”

The town of Nemi, located in the Alban Hills outside of Rome, began commemorating “Nemoralia – The Ides of Diana” five years ago. This year, the event was scaled back in terms of the number of participants because of COVID-19 but many still participated in the newly re-introduced ancient festival.

The current festival is partly academic, partly archeological and an historical reconstruction of the original Nemoralia; without, of course, the murder-succession of priest-kings made famous in Frazer’s The Golden Bough. The festival honors the relationship of the goddess Diana with the town of Nemi and the sacred woods surrounding it.

The festival project is the result of a collaboration of the Cultural Association “Il Vaso di Pandora” [Pandora’s Box] and the Cultural Association “Crasform.” The festival promotes the history and culture of Nemi through “the re-enactment of the festival in honor of the goddess Diana which took place every 13th of August and called together women from all over the Peninsula.”

Originally a 3-day festival from August 13 -15, it was an important civic and religious holiday during the Roman Republic and Empire. The origins of the celebration are at least ancient as six centuries before the Common Era with some suggestions as old as  10,000 years B.C.E.

Statue of Diana at Nemi Ships Museum. [Photo Credit: S. Ciotti]

The festival was celebrated in the Arician woods outside of Nemi as well as on Rome’s Aventine hill at the Temple of Diana. The Aventine Hill is the southernmost of the famous Seven Hills of Rome located off the river Tiber. Diana’s worship was separate from the formal Roman religious rites, evocatio.

The Temple of Diana was constructed when Roman king Servius Tullius got wind of a magnificent temple built at Ephesus. He convinced the Latin people that a temple of similar grandeur should be dedicated to Diana, an act attested to by Roman historian Titus Livius, known in English as Livy. The Temple of Diana was in use as late as the 4th Century C.E. until the persecution of Pagans in the late Roman Empire.

The Sanctuary of Diana at Nemi pre-dates the Temple in Rome where the worship of Diana was, according to foundation stories, instigated by Orestes, son of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon. The temple site in the Sanctuary was built around 300 B.C.E.

The Town of Nemi, Italy [Photo Credit: S. Ciotti]

The mayor of the Nemi, Alberto Bertucci, opened Nemorialia thanking the organizers and the participants, noting the unusual circumstances given the pandemic. “I thank all of you present. It is a pleasure to be here today, on this sunny afternoon, promoting
Nemi and the new discoveries,” he said.

The mayor and colleagues Dr. Simona Carosi from the Superintendency of Archeology, Fine Arts, and Landscape for the Metropolitan City of Rome and one of the archaeological officials for the area, Sara Scarsalletta, Nemoralia organizer and director of historic and artistic patrimony, and Dr. Francesca Diosono from the University of Monaco, announced updates about the temple site and Sanctuary beginning with the return of a male statue wearing a toga suggestive of a high-ranking official in ancient Rome. The subject is unknown, but the statue had become part of a private garden nearby. For many reasons that range from theft to ignorance, antiquities enter private collections.

The statue was recovered by a branch of the Italian police force specializing in stolen art and antiquities. Carosi said, “this is another success of the Guardia di Finanza led locally by Lieutenant Colonel Pietro Sorbello, a team which recently recovered a sculpture of Caligula.”

Dr. Rossella Zaccagnini, another archeological official for the area added, “The statue, dated around the 1st century AD, was found near the Temple of Diana. Its discovery is of enormous importance, as it reveals how enduring [the location of the sanctuary] has been over the centuries and the value of this place.” The statue is currently on display in Ruspoli Palace in Nemi.

At the temple site itself, archeological investigations have also continued. Students from various countries have participated in the digs that have been sponsored by Universities of Padua and Pisa.

In addition to the archeological updates, there have been events and processions in honor of Diana. This afternoon “The lake valley between rites, history, and traditions” was presented by theatrical group Terra Nemorense and “The steps of tradition,” by the cultural association Il Flauto Magico [the Magic Flute].

Two academic presentations have also been part of the event. The archaeological Superintendency of Nemi and the University of Perugia also presented an academic seminar titled “The women of Artemis and Diana.” The Museum of Religions and the Calliope Association presented “Artemis and Diana: A comparison of divinities.”

In later years, Diana was not the only goddess adulated at Nemi. The Roman goddess of the hearth, home, and family, Vesta, was also venerated at Nemi as was the Egyptian goddess Isis.

The Feast of Diana events included a visit to the Sanctuary of Diana this afternoon. The Sanctuary, which is usually closed to the public, was organized by Dr. Carosi and Dr. Francesca Diosono from the University of Munich. Students participated in a ritual re-enactment in honor of Diana.

Scarsalletta closed Nemoralia thanking everyone for their participation, all the organizations, the work of the police, and the Lazio Region for its financial support.  She said that Nemoralia is a chance to rediscover “our past and our roots, without which we would not be who we are now.”