Spring begins in March and Italy provides some suitably exciting and traditional events and festivals, not to mention a drop of wine and a taste of fine local produce. John Bensalhia takes a look at some of the finest examples.
Get ready for Spring with a superb gathering of events all over Italy. All sorts of events and festivals celebrate the best produce that Italy can offer while tipping the hat to well established traditions and cultures...
TIPICITA' - 7th - 9th March, Fermo
Showcasing the very best food and drink products, Fermo, in the Marche region, plays host to Tipicità this March. The top drawer food and wine products will be on display in addition to a selection of some of the finest local crafts and hand-made jewellery items.
It's food and drink at the top of the bill though and in addition to the products, there will be special exhibitions and thematic areas that look at the latest trends in this field. These include a traditional market that will look at the comparison between the producer and the consumer, a beer hall farm and an area that will boast special eco-friendly products. All sorts of specialities will be available at this three-day event including cereals, oils, cheeses, meats and of course, the finest wines.
FESTA DELLA DONNA - 8th March
The 8th March sees the country celebrate the Women's Day Festival. The initiative can be traced back to two key events in history on this day. In 1857, American garment workers were said to strike in New York – which led to the foundation of the first American women's union. In 1917, the combination of the Russian Revolution and the First World War led to the Bread And Peace Strike in Russia. So when it came to 1945, this specific date was deemed appropriate for the celebration of womanhood by the Union of Italian Women – this year marks the 70th anniversary of that decision.
The day allows women free or lower priced entry into chosen museums or sightseeing destinations. One of the most common traditions is the reception of mimosa flowers. Men buy these traditional yellow flowers for their partners, as well as other female relatives (mothers, sisters, aunts) and work colleagues. It's also a day that looks forward to the advancement of the Spring season, and with concerts and festivals taking place throughout Italy, it's a celebration not only of womanhood but of sunny optimism as the Spring season begins in earnest.
FEAST OF SANTA FRANCESCA ROMANA - 9th March, Rome
Francesca Bussi de' Leoni was a noblewoman who dedicated her time to helping the sick and the poor in the first half of the 15th century. She would pay visits to the needy and take good care of them. Nearly five centuries after her death in 1440, it was decreed that Francesca would be the patron saint of drivers by Pope Pius XI. The decision was made in 1925, and it's this posthumous nomination that forms a key part of this feast day in March. A long line of drivers arrive at Monastero delle Oblate di Santa Francesca Romana (which originated in 1433) to have their vehicles specially blessed. It's a sight that witnesses the queue of vehicles stretch for miles – it's a long line that has been said to reach the Colosseum. If you're passionate about cars, then this is one spiritual experience that you won't want to miss.
COMMEMORATION OF JULIUS CAESAR'S DEATH - 15th March, Rome
“Beware the Ides of March” is a common phrase linked with the date of the 15th March, and this iconic saying drawn from the pages of the Shakespeare play relates to the untimely demise of Roman ruler Julius Caesar on this day in 44 BC.
Caesar's death is marked in Rome on this day with a number of special tributes and events. Flowers are laid in Caesar's honour at the remains of his temple in the Roman forum. A re-enactment of the events surrounding Caesar's murder takes place at the location of his assassination.
There is also a special marathon race held in Caesar's name which takes place on this day. The events come together to form a fitting tribute to this great and legendary Roman ruler.
FEAST DAY OF SAN GIUSEPPE - 19th March
If mothers were part of the Festa Della Donna celebrations, then the fathers get their turn just over a week later on 19th March.
The Feast Day of St Joseph is a national holiday that also takes the chance to celebrate Father's Day. Fathers receive cards and presents from their children among the plethora of celebrations taking place on this day.
Tradition is a key part of this day with customs such as the preparation and eating of Zeppole, the tasty circular cake containing custard, sugar and a cherry on top. Elsewhere, bonfires are lit as part of the rite to banish the Winter season into the ether and welcome the new Spring season (even to the point where specially prepared effigies of the outgoing Winter season are prepared and set on fire). Another notable tradition is the setting of Tavole di San Giuseppe (the Table of St Joseph). Tables are specially prepared and laden with food and drink, and then the poor and homeless are invited to eat from the selection. In fact, in some areas, this concept is extended into the whole neighbourhood as rows of tables are adorned with food and drink for the local people to enjoy.
PALIO DEI SOMARI – c. 22nd March, Torrita di Siena
The traditional donkey palio has been a mainstay of the region of Torrita di Siena since 1966. The event was initiated at the time of a folk festival in honour of the patron saint of carpenters, St Joseph – wanting to symbolise hard work and simple labour, Palio dei Somari was dreamed up and for nearly 50 years has been an annual event which traditionally takes place on the Sunday after St Joseph's Day on 19th March.
The palio takes place over a span of eight districts – four of these are located around the medieval castle of Torrita di Siena (the door to Pago, Porta Sole, Porta Gavina and Porta Nova), while the other four districts are from the four quarters of the town (Station, Refenero, Le Fonti and Cavone).
It's an important event in the region's calendar and there's a suitably grand build up. Travelling shows bring jugglers, jesters and storytellers to the area in addition to flag bearers and drummers from all over the country. Medieval banquets and knight duels add to the ambience, finishing in one of the most memorable palio events in Italy.
VINITALY - 22nd - 25th March, Verona
It's been dubbed the 'Premier International Wine Event' and VinItaly always provides the momentum. This international wine and spirits exhibition is said to attract professionals from up to 120 countries. The event provides a complete picture of the current trends, technologies and innovations of Italian wines and produce. It's one of the largest wine shows in the world, showcasing a huge selection of domestic and international wines.
It's a golden opportunity for wineries to present their new products and plans. There is also a competition to find the best wines in categories such as dry, sweet, still and sparkling. The winners in each field will be awarded medals from bronze right up to the grand gold award.
FEAST OF THE ANNUNCIATION – 25th March, Florence
The traditional Florentine New Year is celebrated in style on 25th March at the Feast Of The Annunciation.
According to legend, the artist who created the painting of the Annunciation experienced a miracle. Having nearly completed his work of art, the artist fell asleep. When he woke up, he found that the previously unfinished image of the Virgin Mary now had a completed face. Since that day, the Florentines have paid homage to this image on 25th March, which has since become the unofficial new year for Florence.
It's also a fine opportunity to celebrate the season of Spring, and on the morning of the 25th, the day kicks into gear with a parade that includes stylish medieval costume and evocative music. The parade takes place from Palazzo Vecchio to Piazza Santissima Annunziata. The latter location plays host to a selection of food and drink, an outdoor market and a superb evening concert. It's also traditional to pay a visit to the Church to experience the frescoes and mosaics in all their glory.