Italy and festivals go hand in hand. Any trip to Italy, which has an itinerary that includes taking part in one of the many Italian festivals that take place during each year, will definitely be the icing on the cake. Most of the festivals are steeped deeply in the heritage of this country, and are an important part of Italian culture. So, if you are looking for memorable experiences try including attendance of a local festival.
Festivals, in Italy, range from religious in nature, to grand elaborate celebrations to commemorate a time or event in history. There is something there for everyone, food, wine, entertainment, and of course a colorful rejoicing of life and the moment. Most towns throughout Italy have some sort of festival during the year, whether it is to rejoice the year’s harvest, or welcome in the heat of summer, Italians always find a reason to celebrate, and to get together in the name of fun and festivity.
If you are planning a trip to the region of Veneto, during an even numbered year, and will be there for the second weekend in September, then, you might be interested in making reservations and purchasing tickets to see the Living Chess Game that takes place in the town of Marostica. The history of this festival and game dates back to 1454, when Marostica still belonged to the Venetian Republic, and, of course, transpired out of the love for a woman. Rinaldo D’Angarano and Vieri da Vallonara, two noblemen in their time, had fallen in love with Lionora, who was the daughter of Taddeo Parisio, the Lord of Marostica Castle. Parisio did not wish to lose these two noblemen in battle or duel over love, so he decided they should battle wit in game of chess. Lionora would marry the winner, and the loser would marry Lionora’s younger sister, Oldrada. The game took place in front of the lower castle, and armed living people were used as the chess pieces. There was dancing, music, and fireworks, which is how it is still carried out today. Today, the festival incorporates over 550 characters, elaborate costumes, banners, music, dancing, marital parades, and fireworks. This ancient story is brought to life for two hours of your time.
The Tuscany region is home to the breathtakingly beautiful city of Siena. This beautiful city comes alive each year on July 2nd and August 16th, when it transforms to embrace the folk festival known world wide as Il Palio, the horserace. Preparation for this festival occurs all year long, with Siena’s seventeen neighborhoods scraping together spare euro and all their effort to win. The evening before the event, it is said that around 25,000 people eat outside, as each neighborhood prepares a practice banquet, as a sort of rehearsal for the victory banquet they will have if they win. When the actual pageant begins, spectators will be transported back to medieval times for three hours or so. The actual horserace has jockey and horse racing through the streets at breakneck speed, toward the finish line. Each jockey represents one of Siena’s seventeen neighborhoods and dons clothing colored and designed to represent each neighborhood: wave, tortoise, porcupine, shell, goose, caterpillar, unicorn, ram, forest, tower, giraffe, eagle, she-wolf, dragon, snail, panther, and owl. The elaborate fan-fare and history that goes into this event is truly splendid and well worth attendance.
The Historical Regatta is held the first Sunday in September, in Venice. With water a key element to the city of Venice, it is no wonder there is a festival that utilizes this natural element. This spectacular festival takes place on Venice’s Grand Canal. The festival commences with a procession of 16th century style boats gliding over the glistening waters of the Grand Canal. The procession commemorates the welcoming that was given to Caterina Cornaro, who was the wife of the King of Cyprus. Caterina Cornaro, in 1489, renounced her throne in favor of her new found love, Venice. After the procession, there are competions in boat rowing along the canal.
One of Italy’s well-known festivals also takes place in Venice, and that is Carnevale. Festive Carnevale is a ten-day celebration that ends, each year, on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday, in the Roman Catholic religion, is the day that begins the season of Lent, or the 40-day period of self-sacrifice and reflection, before Easter. The history of Carnevale can be traced back to 1162, Ulrico, the Patriarch of Aquileia, was defeated by the Republic, and there began a tradition of slaughtering one bull and twelve pigs in Piazza San Marco for what was called Shrove Tuesday, in commemoration of their victory. By 1268 the celebrations grew and became more elaborate, it was then that there was the first mention of masks being used during the festivities. During the 18th century, Carnevale celebrations grew, and while Venice began a decline in power, the engaging in conspicuous pleasures was a common drive of the time. Interestingly, the celebration of Carnevale declined through the 1930’s, when Mussolini banned it completely. Carnevale did not appear again until 1979, when a group dedicated to restoring the tradition, helped it to revive. Today, Carnevale is alive and well. Each year, Carnevale is given a theme, and each year Venetians, and tourists flock and frolic to this city of mystery, romance, and history. There are elaborate events planned throughout the 10 day period, everything from concerts, to fashion shows are staged to engage those who come to party. Traditional adornment of exquisitely beautiful masks has everyone rejoicing. Many people dress in costumes traditional of days long gone, lending more spirit to the atmosphere. In the evenings, if you can afford attendance, you can buy your invitation to one of the several masquerade balls that happen in the city. Certain days there are costume parades through the Venetian canal streets; and, of course, what is a party without food and drink. Indulge your taste buds with some warmed wine, which will definitely help keep the February chill away. While strolling the city, you can stop and take pictures with those who came dressed in costume. The Venetian air is filled with fun during Carnevale.
Italy is a wonderland, enriched by its history, and made even richer through its people. One way to really appreciate Italy, and its culture, is to experience their festivals.
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