John Bensalhia greets the Spring season in Italy with some traditional events...
Spring is officially here. After the Winter season has shuffled off for a few months, it's time to enjoy the sunny, picturesque joy of Spring. In Italy, it's a time of great tradition, with some events going back to past, historical times. Join me as I take you on a tour of some of the most memorable and interesting Spring festivals to enjoy in Italy!
Scoppio del Carro
Florence, 21st April 2019
With Spring comes Easter, and in Florence, with Easter comes Scoppio del Carro – the infamous explosion of the cart.
Easter Sunday's impressive spectacle is not only designed to entertain and amaze the crowds, but tradition says that the fire will bring both good harvests and business in Florence for the ensuing year.
The way in which it works is to fill the 30-foot tall cart with fireworks. It's carried in a lavish parade, by local men dressed up as Roman soldiers from Porta al Prato to Piazza del Duomo. Once there, the fireworks are lit by the Archbishop, creating a great light show for the crowds to enjoy.
Festa di San Marco
Venice, 25th April 2019
With the sun out and Spring in season, it's a fine time for traditional romance to be in bloom.
Part of Festa di San Marco (in Venice) traditionally sees the men make a romantic gesture to their girlfriends or wives with a bocolo (a red rosebud). It's been a key element of this festival, as the men present the women with a lone rose as a token of their love.
I mentioned that it's part of this festival. Two other notable elements are marked in Venice on 25th April. One is the commemoration of the liberation of Italy by the Allies in the Second World War. The other is to mark the patron saint of Venice, St Mark. Tradition abound in this special Spring festival, which is one of the key dates in the Venetian calendar.
Montaquila, 1st May 2019
Eggs. A cornerstone of Spring, as chocolate Easter eggs are eagerly enjoyed by youngsters (and one or two adults, as well).
Meanwhile, in Montaquila, every year on the 1st of May, the genuine article is celebrated in the annual Frittata (Omelette) Festival. The most unique thing about the Montaquila omelette is its sheer size. As the crowds gather to look, a large-scale omelette is cooked. Two years ago, 1469 eggs were used to create the mammoth omelette, and this year, that record is likely be smashed with more than 1500 eggs!
Once it's completed, the monster omelette is ferried through the village by locals dressed in period costume, where it ends up in the main square. Local families will also bring their own omelettes, which while not quite as large, are likely to be eaten with great enthusiasm!
Visitors to this show can also enjoy other great events and initiatives, including music, horseback riding and vintage vehicle shows. An egg-citing experience is guaranteed for all!
Assisi, 8th - 11th May 2019
Assisi's Calendimaggio welcomes Spring with a friendly competition between its two key factions. The Nobilissima Parte de Sopra and the Magnifica Parte de Sotto will again undertake a series of challenges in order to claim victory of the Palio. Music, medieval re-enactments and parades can be enjoyed by spectators coming to see the battle of abilities between both sides.
It's an event that is said to have begun in pagan times, with a notable popularity in the medieval era. This year's Calendimaggio occurs from the 8th to the 11th of May. It kicks off with a blessing of the banners, handing over of the keys, plus a restitution of the Palio and a reading of the coming challenges. Following Thursday's medieval-style games and choosing of the Madonna Primavera, Friday sees a challenge between the tambourines of both sides. Spectacular parades happen both on Friday night and during the last day of Saturday. The final day is also rounded off with another challenge (this time, singing) and the Assignment of the Palio.
Sagra del Pesce
Camogli, 12th May 2019
San Fortunato – the patron saint of fishermen – gets pride of plaice this Spring with the annual celebration of Sagra del Pesce.
With this large scale festival of freshly caught fish, it's a good opportunity to get some ideas for some fish dishes this Spring – whether traditional recipes, salads or barbecues. The fish is fried by the fishermen in a massive, five metre wide saucepan. It's a contrast to the early days in which smaller pans were used. The festival began in 1952, with the large pan being used for the first time two years later.
Come along to Camogli this May, and enjoy some of the tastiest fish – and all for free, too!
Infiorata di Noto
Sicily, 17th - 19th May 2019
One of the things I love about the Spring is the contrast with Winter. If those chilly months gloomily showcase a barren vista of leafless trees and empty flowerbeds, the Spring season remedies this with blossoming trees and flowers in bloom.
One of the most notable flower festivals in Italy is Infiorata di Noto. The pavements of this Sicilian town become picturesque designs using flower petals – as well as other natural elements such as seeds, earth and wood. This year sees the 40th anniversary of this popular event, with the theme of 2019's edition being 'The Sicilians In America'.
But as ever with this event, it's a fleeting moment of flower art. Be sure to make the most of these unique designs, as by the following Monday, the local children will have run through the flowers as per tradition.