By Brianna Williams
There’s no doubt that there is a difference between learning history and truly experiencing it, and there’s no better way to immerse yourself in history than by travel.
This time of year, many are celebrating Valentine’s Day with loved ones—a day that originated from and shares its name with the Christian Saint Valentine. Yet, if you’ve traveled to Valentine’s former home in Rome, Italy, perhaps you will have heard of the lesser-known tale of Lupercalia, one that some historians believe is the true origin of our widely-celebrated day of love.
Read: While Lupercalia’s exact origins aren’t known, it has been traced back to the 6th Century B.C., when twins and founders of Rome Romulus and Remus were ordered by King Amulius to be thrown into the Tiber River. The twins were eventually rescued and later cared for by a she-wolf at the base of Palatine Hill, where Rome was founded. This hill where this she-wolf resided? It was later named Lupercal by the twin brothers—after killing the uncle who ordered them to be killed, of course.
Experience: After spending time amidst Florence’s historic churches and palaces of the city, passing over Lake Trasimeno, and shopping the streets of Perugia on BikeTours.com’s Florence to Rome tour, you’ll cross the Tiber River where Romulus and Remus were thrown before stopping in the birthplace of Saint Francis of Assisi.
Read: Before 494 C.E., when the Christian Church under Pope Gelasius I forbade participation in these celebrations, Lupercalia was an ancient Roman festival that took place each year on February 15. And as much as we hate putting a stop to a great party, this one was certainly…chaotic. Each festival began with the sacrifice of at least one male goat and a dog. Performed by Luperci—a group of Roman priests—the sacrifice was followed by two of the Luperci (sometimes reported to be naked) getting their foreheads smeared with blood from the knife used for sacrifice. As the blood was wiped off with wool dipped in milk, the ritual required that the Luperci laugh.
Experience: Gain your own true medieval experience (without the sacrifices and blood) as you visit the entirely preserved town of Spello, Italy, on your bike journey from Assisi to Spoleto. The beautiful town features Roman Late Antique gates, the remains of an amphitheater, small medieval churches, and even an ancient terrace on which the Roman forum was built.
Read: The ritual sacrifice was followed by a feast, but it wasn’t your average Valentine’s Day chocolate-covered strawberries and wine. Every feast ended with the Luperci running naked (or nearly naked) around Palatine Hill waving strips of goat hide, and using these strips to hit any women who came near them. And while it’s certainly not the romantic day we celebrate now, Lupercalia also included a coupling up of men and women (whose names were chosen from a jar to be coupled with the man who had picked it) for the duration of the festival.
Experience: Along your biking journey, keep the celebration of Lupercalia alive with a feast of your own in the city of Terni. Known for having the most creative cuisine in the region and incredible pastries, this will be one to give Lupercalia a run (around Palatine Hill, naked) for its money.
Read: Now, some historians believe that when Pope Gelasius halted Lupercalia, he declared that February 14 would thenceforth be a day to instead commemorate the martyrdom of Saint Valentine.
Experience: Finish your ride in Rome—the city where Lupercalia was once celebrated many years ago—and revel in its vibrancy, beauty, and history. Spend the day wandering ancient ruins, grand cathedrals, and perhaps even Palatine Hill, where history says that Romulus and Remus were raised by a she-wolf that they later honored with the festival of Lupercalia.