Reach for the stars this month with a stellar collection of events and festivals! John Bensalhia reports...
A common denominator of August festivals is the sky. Look up at the sky in August in Italy over the centuries and what do you see? Shooting stars. Fireworks exploding. Let's not forget snow – yes you read that right, snow!
August festivals are not afraid to reach for the stars and provide memorable, colourful occasions that will stick in the minds of everybody attending. So prepare to be dazzled by these starry August events!
MARK A SNOWY MIRACLE
Festa della Madonna della Neve, 5th August 2016, Throughout Italy
Don't break out your Winter coats, mittens and jumpers just yet. But every 5th August, it's customary to mark the moment in 352 AD when snowflakes fell in Rome.
The miracle of the 4th century snowfall is celebrated all over Italy. One of the most vivid celebrations takes place in Rome, when white flower petals come down from the top of the Basilica to represent the snowflakes witnessed in Giovanni's and Pope Liberius' visions (to mark the spot, a church was built in that precise location as tribute to the Madonna).
In Ponticelli, Naples, a parade ferries a wagon bearing a statue of the Madonna – Ponticelli is where the Basilica of Holy Mary of the Snow resides, and on 5th August, this parade marks the miracle in memorable style. Meanwhile, in Pusiano, as far as the eye can see, "Lumit and balunit" light up the local houses, lake and boats – which can be appreciated with outdoor meals and a fireworks ceremony that takes place on the lake. The occasion is marked the day before in Corvino San Quirico, where a candlelit vigil pays homage to the Lady of the Snows.
FRONT ROW SEATS
Palio del Golfo, La Spezia, c. 5th - 8th August 2016 (TBC)
Traditionally, the first Sunday in August is the day on which Palio del Golfo is held as part of La Spezia's Festival of the Sea.
Palio del Golfo is a rowing race that sees the 13 maritime villages bordering the Bay of La Spezia in competition with each other. Le Grazie, Marola, Canaletto, Portovenere, Cadimare, Venere Azzurra, Muggiano, San Terenzo, Fezzano, Tellaro Fossamastra, CRDD, and Lerici battle it out against each other to see which township wins the race.
Originally, the race can be traced back to 1925 when boating crews holding cargo of fish or black gold would compete against each other. Today, the hand-made boats add considerably to the charm of this fantastic event.
HONOUR A HERO
Festa di Garibaldi, Cesenatico, Emilia Romagna, 6th - 7th August 2016
On 2nd August 1849, Italian general, policeman and nationalist, Giuseppe Garibaldi and a 200-strong group of patriots arrived in the region, having escaped from Venice, with a destination of Venice. While Garibaldi and his men embarked from Cesenatico, not long after, they were caught by a pursuing Austrian flotilla and forced to make a landing at Magnavacca. Today, this is known as Garibaldi's Port.
So, since 1885, the festival marking Garibaldi has been held, and in the first weekend of August, it makes a much-anticipated return.
On the Saturday, a Palio will take place, as 10 neighbourhoods compete in a somewhat slippery task – climbing a 14 metre greasy pole.
One of the most memorable aspects of the festival is the presence of many 'red shirts' which represent Garibaldi's men. Next day sees the historic parade of Garibaldi's men, the city authorities and the Banda Città di Gradara, who will make their way towards the Garibaldi memorial monument for the placing of the crowns. A similar sort of event takes place not long after at 11am from the Sea Museum, where crowns are thrown into the sea to remember those who lost their lives at sea.
That Sunday night, the event wraps up with a fireworks display and musical performances at Piazza Andrea Costa.
OUT FOR THE COUNT
Giostra di Simone, Montisi, c. 7th August 2016 (TBC) – the Sunday closest to 5th August
The Tuscan town of Montisi is the location for the annual celebration called Giostra di Simone. The Simone in question is Count Simon of Rainuccio Cacciaconti who held a siege there in the 13th century. One of the central events of this festival bears this in mind, as the knights of the four districts enter a competition in which the object is the beating of a rigged effigy of the Count.
This event takes everybody back to the medieval ages and does so with stylish panache. A parade decks the participants in the medieval dress and includes a prince and princess, horses, flag bearers and drummers. Medieval music and dancers are also provided in addition to theatre performances and special exhibitions of crafts, paintings and pottery pieces.
CATCH YOUR LUCKY STARS
The Night of Saint Lawrence or Falling Stars Night, 10th August 2016
August is the month that marks the life of San Lorenzo, the Christian martyr from the third century. The 10th of the month is also known as the 'Falling Stars Night', and it's said that the shooting stars signify the sparkles that emanated from the bonfire on which San Lorenzo was burnt to death.
But this is a day that celebrates San Lorenzo's life, and Florence is one such region to do so with style. The common tradition is to give everyone in Piazza San Lorenzo watermelon (and lasagne) in accordance with the city's original tradition of handing out holy bread and watermelon (donated by the San Lorenzo Bakers Company) starting around 7pm in piazza san lorenzo. Both tourists and local residents can enjoy these delights and can enjoy the festivities of a historical parade.
Other locations celebrate the occasion with a beach party, a hearty meal and the symbolic lighting of a bonfire. If you see a shooting star, make a silent wish – and who knows? Your lucky wish might come true!
CANDLE WITH CARE
Festa dei Candelieri, Sassari, 14th - 15th August 2016
The Festival of the Candle is a key highlight in the Sardinia region of Sassari. The event is steeped in tradition, and has been a key staple in the diary for August for five centuries.
The evening of 14th August is when the 10 massive votive candles are ferried from Piazza Castello to the Church of Santa Maria di Betlem by the 'Guilds', dressed in ancient outfits. What makes this so memorable is the vibrant atmosphere conjured up along the way. The crowds cheer and support the men carrying the candles, the drums beat in the background, while the coloured ribbons on the supports add a bit of extra brightness.
It's a procession with tradition, life and colour: here's to the next five centuries!
DISH OF THE DAY
Race Of The Launch Of The Dish, Castelli, 15th August 2016 (TBC)
The Abruzzo village of Castelli is known for its superb ceramics – unique, finely produced artefacts deserving of a place in any home.
But what of the imperfects? Well, these are put to interesting use, as in mid-August, these are thrown from a great height to the depths below. This takes place at what's known as the Race of the Launch of the Dish. The imperfect ceramics are hurled from 'the fence', which is a stone bastion that overlooks the river.
A good technique is required for this unique event – launch the ceramics with a sturdy, rotating motion down below in order to achieve the maximum distance to the stream's side. These days, a prize awaits the lucky victor, although a smashing time is guaranteed for all.
Palio of the Pupe, Cappelle sul Tavo, c. 15th August 2016 (TBC)
One of the most piquant festivals to grace Italy this month is Palio of the Pupe.
The eponymous Pupae are puppets – female puppets, usually, clad in colourful clothes. These puppets are loaded with fireworks which then explode on cue. It's also treated as a competition, as the local districts in the area of Cappelle sul Tavo compete to create the most eye-catching puppet – even if all that hard work vanishes in a blaze of pyrotechnics!
Nevertheless, this is a highly memorable and vivid ceremony that adds further colour to the sunny month of August. The event, which is based near Pescara, attracts a considerable number of visitors who come to witness the fireworks. There's a real party atmosphere to be had, with music, concerts and shows, as well as plenty of food and drink (including roast pork and kebabs).
A MATTER OF HORSE
Palio di Siena, 16th August 2016
Palio di Siena is a horse race that is held on both the 2nd July and the 16th August every year. The race is held at the Piazza del Campo during the Palio di Siena in Siena, Italy.
You could be one of a thousand spectators that cheer the Jockeys on as the 10 horses and riders circle the Piazza del Campo.
Before the race begins, you can purchase brightly coloured banners that represent the city's contrade (Contrade is a district or a ward within an Italian city).
Now it's time to watch the race unfold and wave those banners. The jockeys are presented bareback and dressed in the appropriate colours that represent 10 out of the 17 Contrade or City Wards.
You will be cheering and spurring them on as they circle the Piazza del Campo on which a thick layer of dirt has been laid three times and usually last no longer than 90 seconds – it's a very exciting 90 seconds as jockeys will be thrown off their horse, while making treacherous turns into the Piazza - you may get to see the horses finish without their jockey but this is part of the norm!
This is truly an event not to be missed, so if you are in Siena on the 16th August it's a must.