Miracles, music and movies combine to make August a month to remember in Italy, as John Bensalhia finds out...
The last sweltering month of summer brings some notable events to Italy. August is a month full of diversity, with festivals and events celebrating tradition, music, film and also miracles!
STRESA FESTIVAL – Throughout August
If you're a fan of classical music, but with a modern twist, then the Stresa Festival is for you. This year's line-up, running from late July to early September, sees a variety of talented musicians and performers putting their own spin on some classic pieces of music.
Fan of Rossini? There's a special show which includes extracts from the composer's William Tell. Batty about Beethoven? Then you'll enjoy some piano performances chronicling Beethoven's Last Sonatas from pianists Igor Levit and Paul Lewis. And if you're a classical music connoisseur, then you'll love the Pathos And Ethos performance that includes pieces by a mix of composers such as Handel, Bach and Fasch.
Other musical treats coming to the Stresa Festival in August include a performance by cellist Enrico Dindo; Mind The Gap, Lady Shakespeare (which stars Sonia Bergamasco) and the Signum Saxophone Quartet providing their own unique brand of music in Sax For All Seasons.
All in all, a strong line-up for all music buffs.
LA QUINTANA – c. 3rd August, Ascoli Piceno
La Quintana is traditionally held on the first Sunday of August every year – the way it has always been since 1378.
It's the ultimate escape back to the Medieval era, with the sounds, sights and attractions combining to form an enjoyable step back in time. The event boasts a stellar number of medieval costumes, banquets, shows and parades. There will also be faithful reproductions of medieval crafts.
La Quintana is also on the hunt for the best in various fields, with prizes given to the most talented archer, musician or flag waver. The centrepiece of the contests is a jousting tournament, which is guaranteed to provide a spectacle full of colour and action.
FESTA DELLA MADONNA DELLA NEVE - 5th August, Ponticelli (Naples)
When we think of summer, what comes to mind? Scorching heatwaves. Buckets and spades down at the beach. Picnics and lazy days in the sun. But snow?? That's like expecting the sun to put his hat on in the heart of winter.
Nevertheless, as the legend goes, snow appeared in the fourth century, and that's what Festa Della Madonna Neve celebrates every year on 5th August. The legend goes that in 352 AD, dreams of snow falling in Rome on an August day entered the mind of a man called Giovanni. Giovanni's friend, Pope Liberius had experienced the same dream, with snow falling in a specific spot.
Both Giovanni and Liberius went to find the location, and to their amazement, they found that snow had indeed fallen in that very spot. It was a miracle, and so, in honour of the miracle and the Madonna, a church was built there. The annual ceremony marks this miracle, and visitors can re-live this event as white flower petals are dropped from the roof of the Basilica. The miracle lives on forever.
PALIO DELLE PUPE - 14th August, Cappelle Sul Tavo (Abruzzo)
Festivals come and festivals go, but for sheer intrigue, Palio Delle Pupe stands out as one of the most unusual. Dancing, exploding dolls? That's not something you see every day!
This striking event takes place in Cappelle Sul Tavo on 14th August, and is a contest to find the most spectacular dancing doll. The puppet women are made to dance in a provocative fashion before exploding with in-built fireworks or flares. The winning puppet is judged on both its aesthetic value and the power of the combustion. Spectacle matters in this event, and spectacle wins the prize.
In addition to the dancing and exploding puppets, the streets are packed with flags, banners and food stalls. It's a celebration that packs in a vivid, memorable feast for the eyes.
FERRAGOSTO - 15th August
Also known as Assumption Day, Ferragosto is a key event in Italy this month. It's a national holiday, which is said to date back to the days of 18 BC when introduced by Emperor Augustus. The name, Ferragosto, derives from the Latin for 'Augustus' rest'. The day is said to have been introduced as a sort of bridgehead for already established Roman festivals such as Vinalia Rustica and Consualia which both fell in the same month.
This national holiday heralds the beginning of Italy's vacation season, and celebrates in fine style with firework displays, parades, food stalls and music taking place all over the country. The Catholic Church marks Ferragosto as a Holy Day of Obligation to commemorate the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.
A number of notable events are held to coincide with Ferragosto over this period. These include Festa dei Candelieri in Sassari, which see teams of men race with heavy candles, Gran Ballo di Ferragosto (with live dances in the squares) and firework spectaculars in Diano Marina, Liguria. The horse race, Palio dell'Assunta (Palio di Siena) follows on from the previous horse racing event in July, taking place on 16thAugust, again attracting many visitors both from Italy and from all across the globe.
MIRACLE OF THE WHITE MADONNA - 17th August, Porto Venere (Liguria)
August is a time for celebrating the miraculous. In addition to Festa Della Madonna della Neve, another Italian event remembers a miracle that took place in the Ligurian village of Porto Venere.
This legend revolves around a painting of the White Madonna, the patron saint of Porto Venere. The small painting is said to have appeared at Porto Venere in 1204 – however, on 17th August 1399, the painting is said to have changed into its current form – for which no one has an explanation for. Now that's a miracle!
With that in mind, the Miracle of the White Madonna is celebrated in Porto Venere on the anniversary of the change. It's a spectacular sight as the whole village is illuminated by both a torchlight procession and the placing of candles in the water along the village's waterfront.
LA PERDONANZA - 23rd - 29th August, L'Aquila
La Perdonanza traces its roots back to 1294, when Pope Celestine V issued a Papal Bull (edict), granting a “plenary indulgence to anyone” who went into the basilica of L'Aquila between the nights of 28th and 29th August to repent and confess to the beheading of St. John The Baptist.
This annual festival is now in its 720th edition in 2014. It spans the period of a week, which will see a number of celebrations and events. These include the opening Fuoco del Morrone – in which the tripod on the civic tower of Palazzo Margerita is lit; the March of the Bull; and of course, the climax of the event, the opening of the Holy Door on 28th August.
VENICE FILM FESTIVAL - 27th August 6th September, Venice
At the time of writing, the full line-up of the 71st Venice Film Festival is yet to be announced, but if past festivals are anything to go by, then 2014's event looks set to hold its fair share of surprises and excitement.
However, some details about this year's festival have been revealed. The Venice Classics sector will showcase some 21 restored films – these will comprise three short films and 18 feature-length offerings including "Guys And Dolls", "The Innocents" and "The Tragedy of Macbeth".
The festival will be bookended by two world premieres. Opening the festival will be Alejandro G. Inarritu's "Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance", a black comedy starring Michael Keaton, Naomi Watts and Edward Norton. Closing the festival, meanwhile, will be Ann Hui's "Golden Era", which chronicles female writer Xiao Hong.
With its showcase of both established and upcoming talent, this looks set to be another unmissable film festival.