Rome, Italy

The History of the Coat of Arms

of Trastevere

The city of Rome is really very large and, in order to better manage such a vast territory, over time it was decided to divide it into several levels.
To be precise, Rome is divided into three “territorial” typologies: administrative, urban and historical or toponymy (or Rioni).

As fascinating as it is, it would really be a very long topic to talk about this subdivision, but this is not the right place to do it. For the moment, we limit ourselves to saying Trastevere belongs to the toponymic subdivision and is, therefore, a Rione of Rome.

Starting from the aforementioned assumption, we can address the topic of the heraldic coats of arms of the Rioni (districts) of Rome.
Perhaps not all those who live in Rome know every district of the Italian Capital has a coat of arms that distinguishes it. This symbol gives a unique identity to each Rione and is a symbol of pride for it and its inhabitants.
Each coat of arms has a different symbol and it has its roots in the history of the district it represents.

Of course, Trastevere also has its coat of arms and it too has its history.

The emblem representing Trastevere, as you can see in this post, it represents a lion’s head, a decidedly original symbol if we think that the lion is not an animal typically found in Rome or Italy.

So why, if the lion is not typical of the Italian fauna, was this animal taken as a symbol of Trastevere?

This is a question that, over the years, has nagged many people and for a long time they have tried to understand the origin of the Trastevere coat of arms.
Many hypotheses have been advanced about the origin of the Trastevere coat of arms and on its historical and symbolic significance but none were considered valid.

However, everything changed thanks to the writer Giuseppe Baracconi.
This man, in the nineteenth century, wrote a book called “The Rioni di Roma” in which he narrated the history of all the historic districts of the Italian capital. In his pages, Baracconi managed to give what is considered the most likely solution about the origin and meaning of the lion’s head that represents the district we are talking about.

The story that Baracconi described in his book about Trastevere

According to Baracconi, it all began many centuries ago.
The legend tells that from 1100 to 1414 a lion was housed in a cage at the foot of the Campidoglio. The lion, at the time, was a symbol that represented power and majesty.
Also according to the legend, it is said that one day a young man went to the lion’s cage but, by mistake, he got too close to it. The lion noticed him and attacked him killing the boy.

Due to this terrible and lethal accident, the city authorities made the decision to kill the animal.
The death of the animal, according to the story narrated by Baracconi, took place on a Sunday in November of the year 1414.

This was the last lion hosted in that cage. The local authorities, in fact, decided to replace it with a she-wolf. Between us, not that wolves are less aggressive than lions, but evidently the city authorities must have been of a different opinion.

Once the life of this magnificent animal was extinguished, there was the problem of its remains. The city authorities, in fact, did not know what to do with them. In the end, however, they decided to donate the remains of the lion to the head of Rione Ripa which, once, was part of Trastevere.

This man decided to give the animal a proper burial in one of his gardens near the Tiber river. This burial place, over time, became a place of reference of which all the citizens of the area were proud… a pride that in the second half of the eighteenth century, when the city of Rome was divided for the first time in Rioni, did spontaneously choose it as the symbol of Trastevere. Since then, the caput leonis (the lion’s head) has been the symbol of the Trastevere district.

This is the legend behind the heraldic symbol of the district of Rome, Trastevere.

Of course we will never know if this is just a fictional story or if it represents a historical truth, but it remains an interesting and fascinating legend that plausibly explains the birth of the symbol of this rione and gives us more information about its past.

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