Summer is a fantastic time for festivals and traditional events in Italy. Here are five of the best.

The Siena Palio, 2nd July

Held every year on July 2nd and August 15th, the Siena Palio is a horse race around the Piazza del Campo. Riders represent ten of the city’s seventeen remaining “contrade” [districts] and wear medieval costume. Rivalry is fierce and the various districts spend all year preparing for the Palio. The event has its origin in the jousts and public games which were held in the Piazza in the Middle Ages and the Palio dates from 1701. It is run in honour of the Madonna dell’Assunta, the patroness of Siena.

Seats for the event sell out early and are expensive but you can buy tickets for the trial races which take place on the three days before the Palio much more cheaply. Following the race is free and you can stand in the Piazza. However, you will not be able to leave before the whole event is over and it will be crowded and very hot.

For more information please contact :

APT di Siena, Piazza del Campo 56. Tel: 0577 280551

L’Ardia di San Costantino, Sedilo, Sardinia, 5th – 7th July

Another horse race, this time celebrating Constantine’s victory over his brother-in-law Maxentius in 312 AD. As he was leading his men into battle, Constantine saw a vision of a flaming cross which told him that he would win. Shortly afterwards Constantine ended the persecution of Christians in Rome.
In Sedilo each year riders gather on the hill above the Santuario di San Costantino, just outside Sedilo and race down to the Sanctuary and around it seven times. One rider plays the role of Constantine and leads the “army” of villagers. After a night of feasting, the race is run again in the morning!

Festa del Redentore, Venice, 17th – 18th July

The Festival of the Redeemer celebrates the end of the plague in Venice in 1577. 50,000 Venetians, including the painter Titian, had died. To celebrate the city’s deliverance boats and gondolas are decorated and the palazzi along the Grand Canal are illuminated. The boats gather in the evening and Venetians eat traditional food in them. A temporary, floating foot bridge is constructed across the Giudecca Canal so that people can walk to the Redentore Church. There are fireworks in the evening and people celebrate throughout the night.

‘U Fistinu di Santa Rosalia, Palermo, Sicily, 14th -15th July

This is the great event of the Palermo year and the highlight is the evening of 14th July when a statue of the saint is carried through the town on a 50-foot high float. Musicians also travel on the float, which is lined with rose petals. When the procession reaches the seafront a firework display begins.

Santa Rosalia lived as a hermit on Monte Pellegrino in the twelfth century. When Palermo was stricken by plague in 1624 she appeared as a vision to a hunter and told him where he would find her remains. She ordered him to have these carried through the city and afterwards Palermo was free of plague. Santa Rosalia then became the patron saint of Palermo.

Festa de’ Noantri, Rome, 17th – 25th July

This festival has its origins in the early sixteenth century when, according to legend, some fishermen caught a beautiful wooden statue of the Madonna in the Tiber. They took it to the Basilica di San Crisogono where parishioners adorned it with fine clothes and jewels to add to its beauty. Eventually the statue was placed in the care of the monks of Sant’Apollonia and it is these monks who, every year, carry the statue in procession on the first Saturday after 16th July. The statue is called the Madonna of the “Fiumarola” to remind people of where it was found or “De’ Noantri”, meaning that it belongs to “noi altri” , the faithful of Rome.

For the duration of the festival Trastevere will be full of market stalls and there will be musicians, open air concerts and shows. The festival will close with fireworks on 25th July.