Palio di Siena
July 2nd and 16th August
Anyone who has ever visited the medieval Tuscan city of Siena will know that the Piazza del Campo in the heart of the city is undoubtedly the most beautiful and magical piazza in the whole of Italy. Shaped like a scallop shell and surrounded on all sides by buildings, it's the perfect place to relax in the bar or restaurant and watch the world go by and also marvel at the fact the piazza seems to change colour as the sun goes round.
Twice a year it is also the venue for one of the most famous horse races in Italy. A bareback race steeped in medieval tradition and pageantry. Its roots can be traced back to 1644 and is held in honour of the Virgin Mary. There are ten riders, each representing a contrade or district of the city. In all there are seventeen districts in total so seven of the riders are the ones who were left out in the previous race which are held in July and August and lots are drawn of the previous riders to make up the final three. Each rider is dressed in their relevant colours and insignia and are all deeply loyal to the district they represent.
The race track itself is covered with sand and runs around the perimeter of the piazza. Grandstands are erected around the edge to accommodated some of the very lucky spectators whilst the remaining crowd populate the centre of the track. Make no mistake, this is a very popular venue and will attract up to 60,000 people or more, so if you do want to attend, you will certainly need to plan ahead. In fact it is best to arrive a day or two beforehand so that you can enjoy the build up.
This is an immensely colourful and noisy event that will not disappoint. There is plenty of pageantry to enjoy and processions of people dressed in historical costumes building up to the climax of the race itself.
The Feast of Saint Rosalia – Palermo
July 10th – July 15th
Palermo, the capital of Sicily, is an exciting city to visit at anytime with its friendly inhabitants and bustling street markets. It's a city that has perhaps seen better times but it still retains a lot of Italian charm and atmosphere. However, to add an extra dimension to your visit you may want to coincide your trip with one of Sicily's biggest festivals, The Feast of Saint Rosalia.
The feast or ‘U Fistinu‘ as it's known locally originates back to the twelve century where the young Rosalia Sinibaldi who was of noble stock and aged thirteen at the time was being forced into an arranged marriage which was very much the norm in those days amongst the aristicracy. Rosalia was terrified at the prospect and decided to run away. Desperation forced her to live in a forest near Agrigento where she only had her deep religious beliefs for comfort. She lived a short life ending her days in a cave on Mount Pellegrino which overlooks Palermo. The memory of Rosalia was consigned to history until the great plague of Palermo in 1624 which decimated the city's population. Legend has it that a young desperate huntsman who had just lost his family was out in the forest when he was confronted by the vision of Rosalia. She offered the huntsman hope and told him to collect her bones and carry them through the city streets and this will rid Palermo of this dreadful plague. This he did and the inhabitants recovered. This miracle was acknowledged by the church who made Rosalia a Saint and a patron of the city. Her memory still holds strong today and you will see images of Saint Rosalia all over the city.
Today people travel from far and wide to enjoy the festivities which climaxes with a procession through the city. Every year a highly adorned chariot in the shaped of a boat that is up to 10m long, is constructed to carry the effigy of Saint Rosalia and is pulled through the city streets by oxen. It's a very emotional affair for the locals who constantly chant “Viva Palermo and Sainta Rosalia!” The streets are also decorated with beautiful light displays and a grand firework display highlights the end of the procession.
Credit: Valeria Aksakova
Brodetto and Fish Soup Festivals – Fano
July 4th – July 7th
Here's one for the foodies! Set in the beautiful city of Fano situated on the Adriatic coast of Le Marche, this is the perfect event for anyone who loves seafood, culture and beaches. Fano is essentially a very popular seaside resort with stunning beaches but the city has real history dating back 2,000 years when it was a roman settlement. As well as a beautiful piazza there are many historical buildings including a cathedral to explore.
Brodetto is a fish stew and is a local delicacy and every year it is celebrated with this summer event where local and famous chefs alike come together to show off their version of this delicious fish dish. Alongside exhibitions there are also cooking competitions and cooking classes to enjoy or get involved in. This celebration of locally caught fish is perfect for the whole family and there is plenty for the children to enjoy including educational workshops. Most local restaurants get involved so there is plenty of opportunity to enjoy this delicious dish.
Festa Maggiore – Terlizzi
August 4th 2019
For anyone thinking of visiting the university City of Bari, Puglia, early August as I will be, as I'm planning to visit Carbotti, one of our Italian leather handbag suppliers, would do well to make a small excursion outside the city to Terlizzi. They hold a wonderful festival on the first Sunday in August called the Festa Maggiore. This is to celebrate the discovery of a precious Byzantine icon now called the Black Madonna of Sovereto about 1,000 years ago. It was discovered by a goat herder in the area of Sovereto on the outskirts of Terlizzi who reportedly noticed a light coming from out of the ground. Investigating further he realised it was the entrance to a hidden cave in which was housed this precious artefact.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century the Madonna of Sovereto became Terlizzi's patron Saint and since then this has been celebrated by an extravagant procession through the streets. The highlight of the festival is the ‘carro triumfale’ or triumphal chariot, an ornate wooden construction that's over 20m high and within it is housed the icon of the Madonna. There are four steersmen whose job it is to navigated around the narrow streets led by two oxen, with the journey ending outside the cathedral. The celebrations go on way after with plenty of street food and drink to help along the celebrations with a firework display as the finale.
Barrel Race – Montepulciano
August 18th – August 25th 2019
If you are doing the tourist trail in Tuscany you will undoubtedly find yourselves in the medieval hillside town of Montepulciano set in an area famed for its vineyards. If you're lucky enough to visit it in the middle of August you will be able to enjoy and participate in a week of events and festivities which are rounded of by an exciting barrel race between locals who represent the various districts of the town. It used to be a race on horse back but now the challenge is with large barrels each weighing around 40kg each which have to be pushing up the slope to reach the finish line in the Piazza Grande outside the cathedral.
The traditions of the barrel race or ‘Bravio delle Botti’ stems back to the 14th century in honour of the patron Saint of Montpulciano, San Giovanni Decollato.
Medieval Re-enactment – Arezzo
Also known locally as ‘Giostra del Saracino’ this is an immensely exciting and colourful event. Based on the medieval games of old, 8 knights representing the four areas of the city, compete to win the golden lance. The games are centred in the main piazza where you can enjoy the spectacle of processions, flag throwing and jousting. It is a grand event with well over 300 people dressed in medieval costume. This is a fantastic family day out where you can soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the festivities the whole day long.
Arezzo is a beautiful medieval city set on the hillside with plenty to see and do. As well as one of the world's most renowned goldsmithing areas it has many buildings and culture to admire and a great place to shop.
Regata Storica Venezia
How can you possibly make Venice an even more exciting destination to visit? Well the answer is be there on the first Sunday in September because this is the day when they hold the Regata Storica which is the most important boating event in the Venetian Calendar.
They have held boating regatta's in Venice for hundreds of years and this particular regatta dates back to 1841 to honour the gondoliers skills. In 1866 the emphasis changed and was held in celebration of Venice becoming part of the Italian Republic. The Regata Storica is a really colourful spectacle and festivities start with a procession of dozens and dozens of sixteenth century style boats with gondoliers wearing maritime costumes. This is followed by 4 races which have been divided by age categories or types of craft. The most exciting race of these is the Regatta of Champions which is set on the Grand Canal.
Macchina di Santa Rosa – Viterbo
Viterbo is a very pretty medieval city just north of Rome with many attractions for the tourist to enjoy. As well as its many museums, church and attractive piazzas it has an interesting historical past because in the thirteenth century it was in fact the capital of catholicism. This was when Pope Alexander IV moved the papal court here to avoid the civil unrest in Rome and remained here for the next seventeen years.
Viterbo is also the venue of an unusual festival in honour of Santa Rosa, the patron Saint of Viterbo. It centres around a magnificent obelisk shaped tower that measures an incredible 30m tall and weighs over 5 tons with a statue of the Santa Maria Rosa on the top. It is carried through the winding streets by one hundred ‘facchini’. Amazingly this very ornate tower which is bathed in light is redesigned and rebuilt every five years. The procession has its roots in the 15th century but it was in the 17th century when the ‘macchina’ or machine was first created.
This truly unusual event attracts thousands of people and it's a real carnival atmosphere.