Italians love their festivals and pageants where the country ‘s rich heritage and culture is celebrated. Here are 21 of the best, in no particular date order and excluding Easter festivals which you can read about here ( link to Italian Easter festivals ) .
You can also search our site for more information and articles on some of these festivals
1.CARNEVALE DI IVREA , Febuary
Epic battles fought with oranges.
2.CARNEVALE DI VIAREGGIO , Oristano ,Febuary
World-famous parades held on four consecutive weekends prior to Lent. The carri allegorici (allegorical floats) feature politicians, artists and athletes. Italy’s best known pre Lent celebration by far.
In Oristano , a medieval tournament called the Sartiglia is reenacted. Horseman in masquerade try to thrust their swords into a suspended star-shaped object while their horses gallop at full speed. The contest is preceeded by a procession of costumed townsfolk. In Bosa costumed citizens mock the faults and idiosyncrasies of fellow townspeople and a group dresses in mourning to improvise a funeral procession searching for milk. Everyone in town wears white and carrys lanterns.
In Verona, the parade ends with food for all. Gnocchi with piquant sauce awaits at the end of the procession of 15th Century costumed figures representing the Papa del Gnoco. Costumed horsemen, riderless horses, floats, and people decked out in the finest brocades parade throught the streets of Ronciglione.
3.SARDINIAN CAVALCADE ,May
The biggest and most extraordinary folklore gathering in Sardinia includes costumed parades, equestrian competitions and contests of singing, dancing and music making. The occasion marks a war with the Saracens and includes mock battles and acrobatic feats by knights on horseback. The amazingly diverse traditional costumes of the islands hundreds of villages are presented by more than 3000 participants, many of whom dance or play traditional instruments while parading throught the medieval town center.
4.RACE OF THE CANDLES, Gubbio, May
Huge wooden candles are raced around by teams of men. The orgy of confusion begins at dawn when trumpeters call out the structures. Teams of about 20 men each supported by hundreds of identically dressed fans shoulder the wooden candles and run through the piazsza as if lives depended on their actions. Music blares, people jump up and down, and colourful processions roll through the medieval town. Feasts of seafood are prepeared to fortify the runners, who in late afternoon surge up mt ingio at a breakneck pace, finally reaching the town’s Basilica.
5.FEAST OF ST JOHN AND GIOCO DI CALCIO, Florence , June /July
Men wearing 16th Century costumes play a soccer like sport called the Gioco del calco. Only the hardiest athletes participate in this very rough game, but the attendant pageantry appeals to everyone.
6.REGATTA STORICA ,Venice, September .
The grand canal comes alive with 16th Century splendor, as gondolas and other vessels race and parade, their occupants dressed in historical costumes. Dating back to the second half of the 13th Century, the Venice Historical Regatta is a spectacular competition whose origins are firmly entrenched in the history of Venice.
The historical regatta takes place on the Sunday afternoon. It begins with a ceremonial parade along the Grand Canal of historical boats manned by Venetians in period costume. The most important rowing races are between the various neighborhoods of Venice. The fans and followers of each neighborhood boat and crew are a form of entertainment in themselves.
The competition starts with a regatta for youngsters, followed by one for the women, and then finally one for the two-oared gondolas that are numbered and colored differently.
Once the Regatta is finished, the canals of Venice come to life with boats of various sizes, full of people celebrating amongst all the noise and confusion. Other events, such as street-entertainers and other artists, take place in he principal square’s of Venice.
7.HUMAN CHESS MATCH ,Venice
Costumed flesh and blood figures move around the great marble chessboard of the Castello Inferiore square on the orders of a herald speaking in a Venetian dialiect. The four day event is a celebration of a match that took place in 1454 between two youths vying for the right to marry the daughter of a lord.
8.CARNEVALE VENEZIA ,Venice , Febuary
Masked partygoers are what make the Venice Carnival one of the most romantic and traditional of Europe’s big festivals.
9 GIOSTRA del SARACINO ,Joust of the Saracen, Assisi, September
First Sunday in September in Assisi this is a Tilting contest from the 13th century featuring knights in armor
10.TORNEO della QUINTANA ,Joust of the Quintana, August
First Sunday in August (Ascoli Piceno)
Historical pageant with people in 15th century costumes. Revival of a 17th century joust with 600 knights in costume, historical procession.
11.SAGRA di San NICOLA, Bari, May
This annual festival in Bari commemorates the arrival by sea of the body of Saint Nicholas, better known today as Santa Claus, from Myra in Turkey in 1087. Events include fireworks, historical parades, concerts and special masses. The centrepiece of the festival is a re-enactment of the arrival of the saint, the traslazione or “translation”, where the statue is taken from the Basilica di San Nicola, where it normally resides, out to sea and back again.
One of the more interesting details of this celebration is the miracle of the manna di San Nicola, a clear liquid which seeps from the bones of the saint and which is collected every year on the 9 May, on the anniversary of the translation, from the urn in which the bones are kept. This liquid is mixed with water and either drunk or smeared on diseased parts of the body by the faithful, and is said to have miraculous healing properties.
12.SAGRA di Sant’ EFISIO, Cagliari, Sardinia , May
One of the biggest and most colorful processions in the world. Several thousand pilgrims (wearing costumes dating back to 1657) accompany the statue of the saint on foot, carts and horses
13.CALCIO FIORENTINO Soccer Match, Florence , June
Revival of a 16th century football match in medieval costumes.
14.FESTA DEI BANDERESI, Bucchianico , May
This football match takes place every year from the 22-25th May at Bucchianico and features the re-enactment of the defeat of the Chietini by the Bucchianichesi. The event is recognized by the Italian Federation of Historical Games.
Like many good football matches the troops from Chieti were laying constant siege to the guarded doors of Bucchianico. Despite bravely holding out with an inferior defence the townsfolk knew the walls could be breached at any moment. After praying for a miracle from Sant’Urbano, a youth came up with the idea of a ‘ciammaichella’. This basically involved the whole population walking up and down the walls of the town in a continuous spiral formation. The visual effect was to make their rivals believe they were outnumbered, so breaking in would only lead to a possible defeat. A honorable draw was duly achieved.
15. PALIO MARINARO dei RIONI, Genoa, June
Similar to the horse Palio of Siena – these are rowing races in ancient dress.
16. FESTA dei CERI (Race of the Candles), May
A procession in local costume in which tall shrines are carried to the church on the top of Mount Ingino.
17. PALIO dei BALESTRIERI (The Palio of the Archers), May
Medieval crossbow contest between Gubbio and Sansepolcro with medieval costumes and arms.
18. FESTA DEI SEPARI , Cocullo in Abruzzo, May
This is a truly pre-Christian event which takes place where the statue of San Domenico Abate is covered in snakes from the local woods and paraded through the village.What happens to the serpents following the midday procession is anybody’s guess but La Festa dei Separi must be one of the most authentic in the whole of the country, if not for the squeamish.
19. CORSA DEGLI ZINGARI , Pacentro , September
This barefoot race recalls an apparition of the Madonna di Loreto who appeared on the mountain and ran all the way to the town centre. The route to the sanctuary is run in the form of a race and the winner receives then Palio, a display of courage and resistance.
20. L’ARDIA DI SAN COSTANTINO , Sardinia, July
One of the biggest festivals in Sardinia is L’ardia di San Costantino, a monumental horse race held on the grounds of the Sanctuario di San Costantino.
On the evening of the race, horses and riders gather on a hill outside the sanctuary grounds. The local priest and the mayor give grand speeches accompanied by the eloquent gestures: prayers for safety, prayers for the victory of Constantine and thus for Christianity. The moment the pomp settles the horses sense their duty and charge down the hill, the man representing Constantine first, his two flag bearers next, then the thundering herd close behind.
Afterwards the crowd eases toward an open field where suckling pigs rotate in wood fired ovens and live skewered eels writhe in painful ecstasy over hot coals. While locals munch on a few of these eels from a greasy newspaper cone.
21. PALIO DI SIENA, Siena , June
A dangerous horse race and carnival in honor of Constantine’s victory over Maxentius.
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