Traditional Events in Italy’s Many Cities
Italy is a country with a long history of traditions and cultural events. Depending on which time of the year you decide to visit and where you are staying, you may have the luck to participate to one of the numerous festivals the country offers. If you’re particularly interested in one of them, you may even decide to organize your entire holiday around it. Let’s take a look at some of the more curious, famous and interesting sagre, festivals and events in the country.
Sagra del Mandorlo in Fiore (Festival of the Blossoming Almonds): it usually takes place during the first weeks of February, even though sometimes it may get delayed of a few days. Created seventy years ago, the Sagra del Mandorlo in Fiore celebrates the coming of Spring in the beautiful land of Sicily and in the Valle dei Templi in particular.
The Giostra del Saracino (The Joust of the Saracen): it takes place on the first Sunday of September and is probably one of the most beautiful medieval reenactments in the country. Take a plunge into the atmosphere, sounds and colors of 13th century Italy and watch knights in armor joustling against each other.
A traditional Italian event: the Giostra del Saracino in Arezzo (luca deravignone/flickr)
Calendimaggio (Celebrations for the coming of May): just as the Sagra del Mandorlo in Fiore of Agrigento, the Calendimaggio, which takes place on the first Thursday, Friday and Saturday after the 1st of May, is a celebration of Spring and of the rebirth of nature after Winter. The origins of the festival are to be found in the ancient pagan rituals of the people of Umbria, embraced by the Romans first, and then kept alive, although with a less spiritual connotation, in medieval times. The Calendimaggio became the occasion for the two main factions of the town to fight playfully against each other, a tradition that continues today through the Palio.
Torneo della Quintana (Joust of the Quintana): the Joust of the Quintana takes place on the first Sunday of August in Ascoli Piceno. It is an amazing reenactment of 15th century’s joustling contexts, characterized by beautiful costumes.
Palio: the Palio takes place in the area of San Secondo, every 2nd of May. It is a traditional, 700 year-old ceremony that culminates in a procession of hundreds of people in 13th century costumes. During the day, flag throwers perform in the streets of the city, too. The celebrations double on the third Sunday of September, when Asti celebrates another traditional Festival, with more than 800 performers, all in costumes.
Sagra di San Nicola: the month of May is traditionally dedicated in Bari to Saint Nicholas, its patron saint. Celebrations usually last for more than two weeks, and revolve around exhibitions, pilgrimages and events full of religious spirit and lore.
Sagra di Sant’Efisio: this festival takes place in Cagliari, on the beautiful island of Sardinia, between the 1st and the 4th of May. It is by many considered one of the largest and most colorful parades in the world. Several thousand pilgrims (wearing costumes dating back to 1657) accompany the statue of the saint on foot, carts and horses.
Scoppio del Carro (Explosion of the Cart): this typically florentine celebration takes place on Easter Sunday, each year. A pyramid of fireworks in the Cathedral Square is set off by a mechanical dove driven from the Altar during High Mass.
Enjoy the pirotechnic works of the Scoppio del Carro in Florence
Florentine Soccer: every June, from the 24th to the 28th, the town reenacts a 16th century football match in medieval costumes. On the first day of celebrations, fireworks are displayed from terraced gardens overlooking the city.
Giostra della Quintana (Joust of the Quintana): revival of a 17th century joust with 600 knights in costume, followed by a historical procession that takes place on the second Sunday of September each year in Foligno, a quaint town in Umbria.
Palio Marinaro dei Rioni (Palio di San Pietro): at the end of June each year (on the 29th, or on the closest Sunday to that date), Genoa celebrates her tradition and history with a marine tournament where each “rione“, borough, of the city faces the other to obtain the crown of victory. The challenge is all the more fascinating because traditional boats are used and many events in traditional Renaissance costumes take place on land.
Infiorata di Genzano: infiorate are a typical event in Italy, a land where beautiful flowers abound and their growth is, in fact, a main source of pride and income. The Infiorata di Genzano, near Rome, takes place each year for the Corpus Domini, a traditional Catholic Feast towards the end of June. Literally, infiorate are paintings made with flowers and petals and real artists participate to their preparation. The Infiorata di Genzano has been going on for more than 200 years and is one of the best known in the country. These beautiful works of art serve as background and surrounding to the Corpus Domini procession.
Festa dei Ceri (Race of the Candles). This celebration in honor of Saint Ubaldo takes place every year on the 15th of May, and revolves around a procession in local traditional costumes, where tall shrines are carried to the church on the top of Mount Ingino.
Palio dei Balestrieri (The Palio of the Archers): shortly after the Palio dei Ceri, Gubbio is once again protagonist of a traditional celebration. On the last Sunday of May each year, the towns of Gubbio and Sansepolcro face one another in a crossbow contest: what makes it special is that all participants wear medieval costumes and use medieval arms.
Palio del Golfo: the beautiful ligurian town of La Spezia is protagonist of a maritime challenge on the first Sunday of August, each year. This popular, traditional rowing context is held using hand crafted boats, similar to the typical gozzo.
Partita di Scacchi con Personaggi Viventi (Living Chess Game). It takes place on the second weekend of September, in even-numbered years. A chess game is played in the town square by living pawns in period costumes.
Festival di San Gennaro. San Gennaro, Saint Januarius, one of the best loved saints in the country, and patron of the city of Naples, is here remembered on the 19th of September each year. The Festival has a chiefly religious connotation, but as it happens, it becomes a happy and joyous feast for all participants, full of events, good food and tradition. The apex of all celebrations is the ceremony of the liquefaction of Saint Januairus’ blood, taking place in the Duomo.
Festa dei Gigli (Lilies Festival): another traditional feast rooted in Catholic tradition, the Festa dei Gigli, which takes place on the first Sunday following the 22nd of June, is held in honor of Saint Paolino of Nola. The Feast, during which enormous decorated piers, carried by hand, are paraded in the town, is part of the Unesco Oral and Intangible Heritage.
Sagra del Redentore(Feast of the Redeemer): during these last days of August, the sardinian town of Nuoro celebrates Christ Redeemer with a series of events and processions in typical sardinian costumes. It usually takes place between the 27th and the 30th of the month.
La Sa Sartiglia di Oristano. A true carnival, sardinian style. It is celebrated in Oristano at the end of February, with costumes, Medieval reenactments and pageantry and jousting contexts.
Feast of Santa Rosalia. Held in the sicilian city from the 10th to the 15th of July, this traditional festival includes a holy procession with brass band music, fireworks and many events in honor of Rosalia, the patron saint of Palermo.
A timelapse of the Festino of Santa Rosalia, defined by many as a week-long theatre show.
Piana degli Albanesi
Celebration of the Byzantine Epyphany: this small village in Sicily celebrates the Epyphany, on the 6th of January, following the Eastern Christian or Byzantyne rite, an interesting variation to the traditional Catholic Italian celebrations of this time of the year.
Gioco del Ponte (Battle of the Bridge): Pisa is mostly known for the leaning tower, but for art and heritage lovers, this lively Italian town has much more to offer. On the first Sunday of June, the Gioco del Ponte takes place, for all those passionate about medieval reenactments.
More of the same comes in the form of the Regatta of the Great Maritime Republics, a friendly context based on a historic competition, in which each of the former maritime republics (Amalfi, Genoa, Pisa and Venice) race against each other
Epyphany Fair in Piazza Navona. January 5th and 6th. A fair of toys, sweets and others presents takes place in the open air, near Bernini’s amazing fountains. A must for all Romans, it is the last occasion to enjoy Christmas festivities in Italy.
Festa de’ Noantri: folklore of old Rome in Trastevere, this celebration takes place from the 15th to the 30th of July and includes a colorful procession for the Vergine del Carmelo, folk dances and songs, carnival floats and fireworks.
L’Estate Romana: from the end of June throughout the month of August, the city of Rome offers a program of evening entertainment for all tastes, coordinated by the city. The “Teatro dell’Opera di Roma”, the Rome Opera House, offers a summer season in the open air. Recently, this has taken place in the spectacular surroundings of the Baths of Caracalla, with the program consisting of an opera and a ballet, running from early July to early August. Evening music and other events are offered at Castel Sant’Angelo overlooking the Tiber river; drama and music are staged at the Roman theater of Ostia Antica, organized by Cosmophonies and the Festival Euro Mediterraneo, which also puts on high-profile musical events at the ruins of “Villa Adriana” (Hadrian’s Villa) as well as Fiesta where you can dance to Latin American music from 11 pm to 3-4 am. “All’ ombra del Colosseo” (in the shadow of the Coliseum) dancing and theater are organized in a nearby park overlooking the Coliseum.
Palio dei Balestrieri (The Palio of the Archers): this well known competition between Gubbio and Sansepolcro‘s archers takes place on the last Sunday of May and is characterized by the use of medieval costumes and arms.
Cavalcata Sarda (Sardinian Cavalcade): this traditional event takes usually place on the second last Sunday in May. It is of great interest especially because of its main parade, which usually involves more than 3000 people, all dressed in traditional sardinian costumes.
Palio di Siena: possibly the most famous of all traditional competitive events in the country, the Palio di Siena takes place twice, on the 2nd of July and the 16th of August, each year. In it, each district of the town competes in a horse race to win the town banner (the palio). The race takes place in Siena’s main square, Piazza del Campo and it is only one of the many medieval style events keeping Siena busy in the period.
2013 July race, won by the Contrada dell’Oca
Processione dei Misteri: only one of the many events keeping Taranto busy during Holy Week. It takes place on Good Friday and it is renowned for its costumes and solemnity.
The Processione dei Misteri 2013
Carnevale: this is probably the most famous of all Carnivals in the world, along with Rio de Janeiro. It takes place in February/March, depending on when Easter falls. Celebrations in costumes and masks, entertainment in streets and squares, music, mimes and fireworks: you are bound to have fun here!
Some of the best masks and costumes of Carnevale
Il Redentore (The Feast of the Redeemer): it takes place on the third Sunday of July. It is one of the best loved feasts in Venice and it involves a picturesque gondolas parade commemorating the end of a plague epidemic in 1575.
Regata Storica: it takes place on the first Sunday of September and revolves around a traditional competition between two-oar racing gondolas, followed by a parade of ceremonial boats.
Since 2003 Verona hosts “Tocatì“, an International Festival of street artists. Every year there is a different host country that presents its particular games. During the festival there are exhibitions, meetings, seminars, laboratories and food stalls. It’s an opportunity to rediscover games, sounds and tastes of the past.
Carnevale (Carnival): just as the Carnival of Venice, that of Viareggio is a well known appointment for traditional Carnival lovers. The town of Viareggio, on the tuscan seaside, is pretty and welcoming. It takes place around February/March, again, depending on the time of Easter. The highlight of the Carnival festivities are numerous parades of spectacular and colorful floats.
Viareggio’s Carnival 2014
Edited and updated by Francesca Bezzone