Ferragosto, the height of the Italian summer, is nearing, and there’s no shortage of events to celebrate it, from north to south to the islands. Ferragosto, which coincides with the Catholic feast of the Assumption of Mary, is a holiday that goes way back to Roman emperor Augustus, who, in 18 BC, introduced the 'Feriae Augusti', to provide a period of rest after the harvest, a time of intense agricultural labor. Much in the same spirit we still observe this beloved holiday.
Here are five Ferragosto events to help you celebrate in style.
Discesa dei Candelieri - Sassari (Sardinia)
The Discesa dei Candelieri (Descent of the Candlesticks) is a religious procession held in Sassari, Sardinia, the evening before Ferragosto; it is the culmination of the city’s yearly religious events and is particularly beloved by the local population. It attracts thousands of visitors, even from abroad, especially since being included by UNESCO into their List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Dedicated to the Virgin, who, according to tradition, saved the city from the plague, the Feast of the Candlesticks consists in the votive transportation of wooden obelisks, the candlesticks, or li candareri in Sardinian dialect, "through a long scenic action, a choreographic performance inspired by the oral tradition, kept alive by the annual reinterpretation of the celebration" (description by UNESCO).
The procession takes place along Corso Vittorio Emanuele II up to Porta San Antonio and from Corso Francesco Vico up to the church of Santa Maria di Betlem. The first Candeliere is scheduled to leave at 6 pm from Piazza Castello.
Carnevale di Viareggio – Viareggio (Tuscany)
In Viareggio, Carnival is not just a winter affair; a special three-day celebration takes place every year right around Ferragosto (this year, Aug. 14-16).
The allegorical floats that animated the Tuscan town this past winter will parade once again along the seafront promenade for the many tourists on vacation in Versilia to enjoy.
Entirely lit, the Carnival papier-mâché floats and masks will begin parading at 9 pm, with music and choreography for a really entertaining spectacle culminating in Piazza Puccini and Piazza Maria Luisa.
One of Italy’s most prestigious carnival celebrations, the Carnevale di Viareggio, which began in 1873, has become especially famous for its masks depicting caricatures of politicians and celebrities.
Palio dell’Assunta – Fermo (Marche)
The Palio of the Assumption, one of the most ancient in Italy, dating to 1182, takes place every year in Fermo, in the region of Le Marche, on August 15, preceded by the Ride of the Assumption the night before.
The Cavalcata dell’Assunta (Ride of the Assumption) consists of a religious procession by candle and torch lights, with participants in period costumes, some marching on horseback. It begins at 8:45 pm and goes from the Chiesa di Santa Lucia to the Cathedral.
On the 15th of August, the Palio, featuring six historic “contrade” of the city of Fermo, plus four from outside the city walls, begins at 5:30 pm.
Celebrations continue into the night with music and dancing and tastings of local products in the town’s Piazza Vittoria.
Vara di Messina – Messina (Sicily)
The Vara of Messina is a large votive wagon dedicated to the Virgin Mary, carried in procession on August 15 in the Sicilian town.
The origins of this procession go back to the 16th century. The term "vara" stands for “bara” (coffin) to indicate the coffin where the body of the Virgin Mary lay. The vara is 13,5 meters high and weighs about 8 tons, and is carried in procession by hundreds of faithful using long ropes to tow it.
The most evocative moment is the so-called “girata”, when the Vara is brought from Via Garibaldi to Via I Settembre to reach Piazza Duomo; the success of the maneuver will determine the auspices for the year to come. The arrival of the Vara in Piazza Duomo, Messina’s central square, is greeted by thousands of Messinesi. It is the city’s most important religious event, even more than the feast of the patron saint, celebrated on June 3.
Concerto Sinfonico di Ferragosto – Cuneo (Piedmont)
Every year, Cuneo’s chorus orchestra performs a big concert in the mountains, attended by as many as 10,000 people. The concert takes place in a different location within the valley surrounding Cuneo, among the beautiful backdrop of the mountains. This year, it takes place on the Quiot Rosa near the borgo of Paraloup, a historic location where the partisan army “Giustizia e Libertà” was born, to mark the 35th anniversary of the Liberation.
Paraloup is in a magnificent panoramic location, in the ridge between the Valle Stura and the Valle Grana, under the Alpe di Rittana (1796 meters), encompassing a view that spans the western Alps of Piedmont.
The music program will feature classic Italian songs from the 1930s and ‘40s, and conclude with the all-time classic Volare, by Domenico Modugno. The concert begins at 1 pm.
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