Spring has already sprung in Agrigento, Sicily. Originally founded as a Greek colony in 581 BC and called Akragas, Agrigento has been, at various times, ruled by Byzantines, Romans and Arabs. The Greek presence is perhaps most felt at the Valle dei Tempi, home to five temple ruins that draw visitors from around the globe.
The Sagra del Mandorlo in Fioricelebrates the almonds of the area. Today is the last day of the festival celebrations in 2017. Various restaurants participate in fixed menus that incorporate the use of the almond as the highlighted ingredient. Today at 10:00 AM (the last Sunday of the celebration each year) there is a parade of folk groups, Sicilian carts, and both Andalusian and Friesan horses.
Eager for more local dancing and entertainment? Not only is this the 72nd Feast of the Almond Blossom, it’s the 62nd International Folklore Festival. This is the last weekend of three.
August is full of food and folklore festival opportunities throughout Italy. In Le Marche region of Italy, Ascoli Piceno is home to two festivals highlighted in today’s blog: Quintana di Ascoli Piceno and Ascoliva. Ascoli Piceno is surrounded on three sides by mountains and sits on a landscape where two rivers meet at the southernmost part of the region. The town’s historical center is built of travertine marble from the nearby mountains.
QUINTANA di ASCOLI PICENO – Medieval Tournament & Fun – August 7, 2016
The Quintana di Ascoli Piceno includes two Quintanas (tournaments) taking place on the 9th of July and concluding tomorrow on August 7th with various other medieval-related events in between. Tomorrow’s final event is preceded by the Saint Emidio historical parade beginning at 2:30 PM with over 1,500 costumed participants from the town’s six districts. The Quintana follows at 3:30 PM when the districts will compete for the coveted palio (victory banner). A knight from each district tries to hit and destroy an effigy of an enemy warrior using a jousting lance.
ASCOLIVA – Stuffed Ascolana Olives Festival – August 10-21, 2016
Ascoli Piceno is the self-proclaimed “world capital of olives.” Over twelve days of tastings and workshops in and around Piazza Arringo you can satisfy your olive cravings and sample 16 other dishes typical of Ascoli Piceno and the region. Olive all’Ascolana are the highlight of this food festival; they are stuffed, large olives that are breaded and deep fried.
Since I am currently in Italy enjoying the festivities surrounding the Palio and attending the event on July 2nd, enjoy this excerpt from my book Food and Folklore: A Year of Italian Festivals (currently available through your local bookshop or on Amazon.com). The Palio is the culmination of a series of historical activities over a 4 day period filled with much more pageantry and history-in-the-making than can be covered in a simple blog post. Enjoy! @paliodisiena
While many folkloric traditions continue as a draw for both tradition and tourism, the Palio of Siena is by the Senese for the Senese. The Palio is held twice each year, on July 2 and August 16, but on the minds of every resident each day of the year. There are seventeen contrade (districts) and each is a community within a community of extended family with its own leaders, headquarters, flags, colors, museums, churches, patron saints, allies and sworn enemies. The seventeen contrade are named Caterpiller, Conch Shell, Dragon, Elephant, Forest, Giraffe, Noble Goose, Leopard, Owl, Panther, Porcupine, Ram, She Wolf, Snail, Tortoise, Tower, Unicorn and Wave.
Each contrada fields a fantino (jockey) and a horse for the race. Since space is limited and the course dangerous, only ten horses and fantini run each race. The contrade selected to run will always be the seven that did not race the previous Palio and three additional selected through a lottery. They race to win the Palio, the unique, silken banner created for each race. (Note: contrade is the plural for contrada in Italian)
One month before each race the lots are drawn for which contrade will race. The week before the race, soil is brought in from the countryside to lay the dirt track over the cobblestones around Piazza del Campo. The main festivities start three days before each Palio when the horses for each contrada are selected; it is not until then that the contrade and fantinos know which horse their jockey will ride. The process looks a lot like bingo and kicks off the next part of the Palio precursor, strategy.
Children from each contrada in the race singing their respective fight songs
Children from each Contrada in the race singing their fight songs before the Prova Generale last night (the second to last test before the race)
After it is known which horse each fantino will ride, the representatives for the contrada begin negotiating with each other. Horses and their jockeys are guarded by several members of the contrada to avoid foul play and contact with other contrade. Participating contrade will even go as far as paying another contrada to defeat its sworn enemy; some will try to bribe the jockeys. The days that follow include trial runs in the piazza, drummers, and flag bearers practicing and parading in the streets. The night before, hundreds of people sit at tables that seem to stretch on for miles in each contrada for dinner. Everyone is wearing their colors and passionately shouting the fight songs of their contrada.
On the day of the race, each horse is taken into the church of its respective contrada, sprinkled with holy water and blessed. About mid-afternoon a procession lasting several hours winds its way through the city and into Piazza del Campo. About 60,000 people are in the Campo waiting for the horse race to begin. The starting lineup is selected, they lineup at the starting line and once there are no false starts, they race to the finish whipping each other and their horses in an effort to gain position. The jockeys ride bareback through the dangerous course, which lasts about ninety seconds. It’s the only horserace in the world where the horse wins the race, whether the rider is still on it or not. In the end, everyone celebrates except the team that comes in second, they turn out their lights and become the quietest corner of the city.
The August race is the most important but no less anxiety-ridden than the July one and just as exciting for anyone lucky enough to attend. Tickets can be hard to come by so plan well in advance or arrive very early to claim a spot inside the interior (where there are no facilities provided). If you arrive in Italy prior to the July Palio, you should also look into attending Calcio Storico Fiorentino in Florence held about eight days prior.
Jockeys (Fantini) and horses leaving Piazza del Campo this morning after the Provaccia, the final test run, before tonight’s Palio at about 7:20 PM local time (1:20 PM ET)
If you are interested in streaming the Palio live, this is a link to Siena TV (cell phone signals appear to be blocked during the events in Piazza del Campo). The race is scheduled to start at 7:20 PM local time (London 6:20 PM, 1:20 PM in New York, 12:20 PM in Chicago, 11:20 AM in Denver & 10:20 AM in Los Angeles). The start time is sometimes delayed due to the heat, the historical processions and the time it takes to line up the horses (quite difficult with no stalls). Siena TV linkSiena TV link
IN THE KNOW
if you are seriously thinking about attending NEXT year in July or August, reserve a room or apartment ASAP if you want to stay within Siena and/or consider a package through an event operator
Ask your host about tickets (the inner circle is free, but seats in stands or in the windows of private homes must be reserved)
If you decide to watch from the inner circle, get there four hours ahead to stake your claim (about 3 PM)
There are no facilities provided at the free inside ring of Piazza del Campo; plan ahead for bathrooms, water and sunscreen since you will be there for several hours
It’s a fun-filled day here in Florence with history, pageantry and spectacle! This morning started with the religious procession honoring St. John the Baptist. Beginning in Piazzetta di Parte Guelfa to the Duomo to pick up additional participants, then to Piazza Signoria by via Caiuroli. Part of the group entered the Palazzo Vecchio to pick up candles while the sbandieratori (flag-throwers) entertained the crowd with their skills outside. The Procession continued, tracing their steps back to the Duomo for the candle ceremony followed by Mass.
There’s another, larger parade this afternoon starting at 4pm at Piazza Santa Maria Novella and ending at Piazza Santa Croce. This parade includes the Calcio Storico Fiorentino (aka Florentine Football) players and is followed by the final match of 2016 at 5pm. While researching my book, Food and Folklore: A Year of Italian Festivals, the American television shown 60 minutes on CBS featured a clip on this historical and brutal sport (scroll down for a link to the clip). It’s called Calcio, the Italian word for soccer, but is it really? It looks more like a mix of soccer, football, rugby and mixed martial arts slugged out on the sand-filled square of Piazza Santa Croce
Originating in the 16th century, it was once the sport of rich nobles who played every night between Epiphany and Lent. Official rules were drafted and recorded in a Florentine court in 1580 by Giovanni de’ Bardi. Team members from four quartiere (neighborhood) in Florence take this quite seriously. The neighborhoods and their colors are:
Blues (Azzurri) – Santa Croce
Rossi (Reds) – Santa Maria Novella
Whites (Bianchi) – Santo Spirito
Greens (Verdi) – San Giovanni
Twenty seven players on each team are half-clad in historical uniforms for the occasion. Each neighborhood is allowed to recruit players from outside the neighborhood and even outside of Italy. There are two semifinals played two weeks before the final on June 24th of each year, which coincides with St. John the Baptist day. Who plays who in the semifinals is decided Easter weekend when colored balls are drawn to determine the semi-final match ups. This year’s final (tonight) features the blues (azzurri) against the whites (bianchi). Tickets sold out in 10 minutes flat!
Hands and feet can be used, anything goes except sucker punches and ganging up on your opponent; strictly one on one combat – and if you are kicked out – no replacements are allowed, your team plays short of members. A goal (caccia) is scored by hurling the ball over the netting at each end of the sand playing field through a narrow opening guarded by 4 goal tenders. At the end of 50 minutes, the most goals wins! What does the winning team get for their blood, guts and glory? A palio (banner) and a free dinner; in the past it was a Chianina cow. There is no monetary compensation for the winners, only bragging rights for a year. The festivities will conclude this evening at 10 pm with a spectacular fireworks show over the Arno.
A film to be released on September 16, 2016 Lost in Florence (working title was The Tourist), featuring actor Brett Dalton of the TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. He plays a college football player who joins in on the action of the Calcio Storico Fiorentino and becomes embroiled in both love and love of the sport.
This Sunday June 12th will be the 61st Regatta of the maritime Republics (la Regata delle Repubbliche Marinare). Amalfi, Genoa, Pisa and Venice compete each year to win the gold and silver trophy made by the Goldsmith School in Florence (Scuola Orafa Fiorentina). The regatta rotates between each of the four ancient maritime powerhouse cities, with Amalfi hosting in 2016.
Regatta Parade: Woman in black Dress
Past Event Banner
Regatta Parade: Woman with Flowers
Venice has dominated in the most recent competitions, winning the last three years in a row. Venice also won the first one in 1956 in Pisa. The race consists of one team from each city with eight rowers and a coxswain. Half of the eight person team must be residents of the city they represent and the other half must be residents of the province in which the city is located. They race along the Tyrhennian coastline for two kilometers to the finish line. The Tyrhennian Sea is the area of the Mediterranean along the west coast of Italy.
A parade through Amalfi including each team will precede the race event. The parade includes a group from each city with medieval-clad flag bearers, noblemen, commoners, drummers, and of course, the rowers. The beautiful Amalfi Coast is a popular tourist destination in the Campania region of Italy that was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 and classified as a cultural landscape.
Lisa M. Vogele is the author of Food & Folklore: A Year of Italian Festivals; available now through your local bookstore or amazon.com (Amazon Link to Book). More information on Lisa and the book can be found at Lisa’s Travel Guides.
The Race in Florence: https://www.flickr.com/photos/efandorin/3593288188/
I am very happy to announce that the first book in the Food & Folklore series is now available in paperback on Amazon.com. A kindle version will be available shortly.
Food & Folklore:A Year of Italian Festivals is available by ordering through amazon.com. Click here to buy it on Amazon.com now. A great buy if you are planning a trip to Italy or as a gift for someone else who is. $9.95 + applicable taxes and shipping.
Food & Folklore: A Year of Italian Festivals
This fun travel reference guide helps travelers incorporate local Italian food & folklore festivals into their trip planning and enjoy local, authentic experiences. Whether you have traveled to Italy before or looking forward to your first trip, this guide will make you positively hungry for Italy!
A listing of over 450 festivals focusing on local foods and historical folklore is provided as a starting point to a local adventure. Learn some fun facts about each region of Italy, how to effectively search for festivals, tips for attending festivals and a highlighted festival for each region. A simple glossary of keywords and a cross reference index of food festivals are included.
The Lisa’s Travel Guides website is up and running as the home for publications and events. I will continue to write Lisa Love’s to Travel (almost) weekly as the companion blog to the travel guides filled with fun festival ideas. If you’d like join the mailing list for announcements of events and future publications you can sign up HERE, follow me on twitter @travelwithlisa or watch my blog!
You have your pick of festivals to attend this weekend in Italy: lemons or fish on the Ligurian coast, rowing in Venice or running in Gubbio. Rather than choose between them, I decided to give you a taste of each.
This Saturday, food is the focus on the Ligurian coast. Monterosso al Mare is the northern most stop of the Cinque Terre (five lands) full of picturesque pastel-colored houses along the Mediterranean coastline. The Festa del Limone in Monterosso highlights the lemon in food offered by vendors throughout the old town. Each year a special gastronomic walking tour is also offered and you can eat your way through each course at different stops in the old and new town, including a visit to a fragrant lemon vineyard. There is yellow everywhere as residents compete with elaborate window displays using lemons, children run lemonade stands, folk musicians stroll and street food to eat, including some awfully yummy porchetta! My friend Robin and I took the tour last year and weren’t disappointed in the quality of food or atmosphere; our group was expertly lead by Kate Little of Little Paradiso Tours and the plucky Valentina (the namesake of Villa Valentina in Levanto, a high-end B&B).
Also this Saturday, The Sagra del Pesce in Camogli has been held since 1952 and is a highly anticipated event. A huge quantity of fish is fried in a gigantic frying pan then shared with locals and visitors. The locals hope it will bring the generosity of the sea to the local fisherman. Retired frying pans are kept and displayed on a wall near the harbor.
Every May 15th since the year 1160, the City of Gubbio, deep in the green valleys of Umbria, holds the Corsa dei Ceri. Three guilds challenge each other to carrying three towering candlesticks, each weighing in the 800 pound range, on their shoulders up to the basilica of Sant’Ubaldo. There are events for several days leading up to this grand finale.
Vogalonga literally means “Long Row”. It’s a boat race from Piazza San Marco to Burano and back (20 miles/32 km roundtrip). Hundreds of boats take part with many participants in historical costumes. It is held each May 15th and this year is its 42nd celebration.
Last year I attended the Serremaggio festival held in Serre Di Rapolano, Tuscany with my friends Ann and Robin. This annual festival transports Serre back in time to its medieval roots. Processions in historic costumes, a medieval marketplace, traditional food and falconry all set the stage as a 14th century recreation of village life. There are food stalls and entertainment in each neighborhood of the village, excellent dinners are held in historic structures and musicians blowing horns and beating drums into the night.
We attended the “Cena Povera” on the last night of the festival. A delicious buffet of traditional food at more than reasonable prices, served in the Antico Granaio (antique grain storage warehouse) and we even got to keep the pottery dinner was served in. While enjoying our candlelit meal in this unique setting, we were serenaded by the musicians as a procession literally circled the hall while we were eating.
Located in central Tuscany at the intersection of Siena, Chianti, Arezzo and Montepluciano, Serre di Rapolano is a small village full of charm and history. While not as famous as its spa-town neighbor Terme di Rapolano, Serre is set on a hilltop with amazing views, basic necessities and can serve as a great home base for exploring the local area.
Daytime fireworks, pageantry and excitement surround the centuries old Florentine tradition of Scoppio del Carro. If you’re in Italy during “Holy Week” you will encounter Easter-related activities in progress in cities and small towns. Of the many traditions that take place this weekend, the 500-year Florentine Scoppio del Carro is one of the most well-known. “Scoppio del Carro” literally means explosion of the cart. A 30-foot-tall antique cart called a Brindellone, also several hundred years old, is hauled by a team of oxen decorated with garlands of spring flowers. 150 people in 15th century dress escort the cart from Porta al Prato to Piazza del Duomo every Easter morning.
Easter Mass is held inside the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence’s Duomo) and at 10:00 AM a fire is lit using three flints brought back from Jerusalem during the First Crusade. While the ceremony continues inside, the Brindellone is loaded with fireworks and staged outside the door of the cathedral. A wire from the altar inside is connected to the cart and at 11:00 AM the ceremony reaches its crescendo. Gloria in Excelsis Deo is sung, a mechanical dove is lit on fire and then it flies down the wire into the cart, igniting the fireworks. The fireworks display lasts approximately 20 minutes and a successful execution guarantees a good harvest and business in the coming year.