Italy seems at its best and vibrant during its famous festivals which are steeped with rich traditions, history and continuity. Italian festivals are the typical celebrations of the local culture, food and wine, quirky traditions and deep family values. The essence of Italy magnifies during these amazing festivals.
Palio di Sienna
When: 2nd of July and 16th of August
Where: Sienna, Tuscany Region
What: Palio di Sienna is one of the most well-known historic festivals in Italy and an exciting horse race in Sienna’s main square, Piazza del Campo. The city is divided into 17 contrade (districts) and each district is represented by a champion rider. 10 contrade take part in the first race on 2nd July and the remaining 7 contrade, plus the 3 winners of previous contrade particiape on 16th August. Race day starts with a special blessing of horses and a procession of people dressed in the colours and bearing the flags of each contade. The horse race consists of three highly competitive laps with vociferous support and the winning horse is awarded the palio (victory flag).
Giostra della Quintana
When: First Sunday of August
Where: Ascoli Piceno, Marche province
What: La Quintana is a medieval festival where local residents dress up in historical period costumes and take part in a big parade through the streets. The parade is accompanied by musicians, drummers, flag-bearers and archers. You can enjoy competitions of archery and offering of candles to the town bishop and the exciting La Quintana, a display of medieval traditions of horse riders hitting a dummy target by a heavy lance and must get away before getting tangled by the dummy’s chain swing.
When: First Sunday of September
Where: Venice, Vento Region
What: Historic Regatta is a festival which transfers Venice back to 1489. The beautiful canals and lagoon of Venice are filled with boats and gondola procession, filled with locals dressed in period costumes. The festivals honour Caterina Cornaro, wife of the king of Cyprus, who announced her throne in favour of Venice. There are four races in different categories, but the main event is the men’s Carolina (broad vessel powered by rowers) contest.
When: January and February
Where: Venice, Veneto Region
What: Venice Carnival is one of the most popular and famous festivals of Italy. The Carnival is renowned for its unique events throughout the city. The city’s famed walkways are filled with people wearing traditional and colourful clothes and exquisite face masks. The events which make the carnival so attractive are gondola and boat parades, mask parades at the famed Saint Mark’s square, carnival for children in the Cannaregio district and grand fireworks show on the final day.
Battle of Oranges
When: Third week of February
Where: Ivrea, Turin Province, Piedmont Region
What: Battle of Oranges is an event which attracts plenty of visitors to the charming town of Ivrea. The festival is a traditional representation of an uprising against a cruel tyrant, Ranieri di Biandrate. Legend says, the cruel tyrant claimed the right to sleep with any bride on her wedding day and a girl named Violetta refused and the tyrant severed her head. Every year, a girl is chosen to play the role of Violetta and 9 teams are organized to fight in a real battle by pelting oranges at each other as a symbolic representation of throwing the head of the tyrant, Ranieri di Biandrate.
When: Last Week of Lent
Where: Sicily, Palermo
What: The Holy Week in Sicily, Palermo feels different and unique. Sicily is filled with religious rituals and procession and one of its most unique procession is the Procession of the Mysteries held in Trapani, a very ancient ritual dating back over 400 years. The Good Friday procession also includes 20 religious groups taking part in the procession. The groups present the depiction of Jesus Christ’s Passion and Death. The procession is filled with religious fervour and the usual Italian traditions and values.
Corsa dei ceri Gubbio
When: 15th of May
Where: Gubbio, Perugia Province, Umbria Region
What: The small town of Gubbio in the Perugia province sees an enormous surge of crowds both by locals and outsiders during the Corsa dei ceri Gubbio. The festival marks the eve of the death of Bishop Ubaldo Baldassini (Protector of Gubbio). Procession are arranged with large wooden candles and small statues of Saint George, Saint Anthony and Saint Ubaldo. The procession takes three rounds around the Piazza and races to the mountainside basilica. The three teams then compete with each other and the team which drops the candle the least number of time, eventually wins the race. Also, note Saint Ubaldo always ends up winning.
When: May and June
Where: Noto, Spello, Genzano, Brugnato and Bolsena
What: Infiorata is a festival of flowers and flower related decorations in Italy. The cities of Noto in Sicily, Spello in Umbria, Genzano in Lazio, Brugnato in Liguaria and Bolsena in Lazio are the most popular places to admire the spectacular Infiorata festival. Flower petals and plant leaves are used to create brilliant, theme based tapestries and religious procession takes place on the flower carpets after they were completed. Flower petals are also used to create beautiful street-side graffitis and decorations of churches and houses.
When: Third week of June
Where: Florence, Tuscany Region
What: Calcio Fiorentino also known as Calcio Storico (historical football) is a form of football, which originated in 16th century in Italy. Every year in the third week of June, three matches are played in Piazza Santa Croce. Four teams – Santa Croce (Blues), Santa Maria Novella (Reds), Santo Spirito (Whites) and San Giovanni (Greens) play the game and the winners of each game, feature in the final on June 24, San Giovanni’s Day, the Patron Saint of Florence. Matches last 50 minutes and are played on a field covered by sand. Each team has 27 players and the goal net runs the entire width of the field at both ends. The team which scores the highest goals emerges with the palio and the chianina cow.
Game of the Bridge
When: Last Sunday of June
Where: Pisa, Tuscany Region
What: The Game of Bridge dates back to 1568 and is a celebration or rather a battle for ownership of the bridge over the Arno River. The event is marked with a colourful march of people dressed in 18th-century costumes and armour and representing the two traditional side: north (Tramontana) and south (Mezzogiorno) sides of the Arno River. The game is to push a wooden trolley into the opposing team’s territory and the winners claim the symbolic ownership of the bridge.