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.
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. On Saturday at afternoon at 4:30 PM, a parade of folk groups kicks the evening off. Starting at 7:00 PM Sicilian street food will be served in Piazza Marconi. If you‘d like something more formal, various restaurants participate in fixed menus that incorporate the use of the almond as the highlighted ingredient. On Sunday at 10:00 AM don’t miss the parade of folk groups, Sicilian carts, and both Andalusian and Friesan horses.
Eager for more local dancing and entertainment? Not only is this the 71st Feast of the Almond Blossom, it’s the 61st International Folklore Festival. This is the second weekend and it continues each weekend through March 13th.
If you didn’t make it to Mardi Gras in New Orleans to celebrate Fat Tuesday, hop over to the Tuscan Coast of Italy for one of four remaining carnival parades. Multiple carnival celebrations take place throughout Italy at this time each year. What makes the 143 year old #CarnevalediViareggio special is its size and artistic pageantry. Over 200,000 spectators attend the month-long series of events showcasing fabulous floats along 3 kilometers of the palm-tree lined promenade by the sea.
Since 1873, when the parade began with decorated carriages along the Via Regia, this carnival parade entertains with effigies of (in)famous people, sports athletes and politicians who are sometimes in attendance to view the spectacle. There are a total of five masked parades; the next three Sundays and the first Saturday in March are the remaining dates in 2016. In addition to the parades filled with larger than life floats, there are daytime and nighttime festivities including parties and masked balls. On the final day judges award the best floats and cap off the event with a large fireworks display.
Preparing for this $5 million event involves a lot of planning and preparation. “La Cittadella” is a building and event complex housing 2 museums and 16 warehouses; the warehouses are utilized by masters of paper-mâché to create the gigantic floats. One museum displays the history and pageantry of the carnival celebration, the other, ”Carnevalotto”, displays a collection of valuable works of art.
Burlamacco: Symbol of the Carnevale
Viareggio is located north of Pisa on the Tyrhennian coast and is a relatively short train ride from Pisa, Lucca & Florence. Daily tickets are 18 Euros for 12 + over, 13 Euros for ages 7-12 and children under 7 are free. Reserved seating is available for an additional 10 Euro per person.
Oranges are the ammunition of this battle royale in the northern Italian town of Ivrea. Referred to as the “largest food fight” in Italy, the Battle of the Oranges engages over 5,000 participants inflicting pain by hurling 60 tons of blood oranges at each other. Ivrea, north of Turin and west of Milan, imports an entire train full of oranges from Sicily each year for the event.
The Battle is based on stories of real people from the rebellion 900 years ago. At this period in time, the “right of the first night” or jus primae noctae allowed the local Lord to sleep with a bride the night before her wedding. As the story goes, the mugnaia (miller’s daughter), went to the castle the night before her wedding, wielded a knife, murdered the Lord and cut his head off. The locals then started a three day rebellion which is represented by the throwing of the oranges.
Activities for this Carnival period celebration started in January and culminate in the coming week with historical parades, feasts and of course, the famous orange fight. Aranceri (orange handlers) on fifty carts battle the aranceri from the nine pedestrian teams. Spectators are strongly advised to purchase and wear at all times the beretto frigio; this red stocking cap identifies the innocent onlookers hoping to escape errant oranges. Nets are strung throughout the parade route with designated areas for spectators to gather beneath for protection. The orange throwing spectacle can be seen on Sunday and Monday nights before dinner, refer to the full program schedule below for parade map and times.
The Venice Carnival festivities begin this weekend. Over a period of two weeks there will be costumed parades, masquerade balls and costume contests. There are more than 50 related events in Venice and nearby providing entertainment, live music and theater. The 2016 Carnival theme is “Creatum -introducing Arts and Traditions”; honoring the craftspeople that have kept traditions alive. The amazing colorful costumes and elaborate masks are a feast for the eyes. Traces of the festivities we see today began as early as 1192. The modern-day Venice Carnival was instituted in 1979, after many periods of stop and start, including being banned by the fascist regime of Mussolini in the 1930s.The mask-makers, called “mascherari”, traditionally had their own craftsmen guild and set of laws. One of the main highlights is the beautiful mask contest “la maschera più bella”. Held the last weekend of the carnival celebrations, entrants are judged by a panel of international fashion and costume designers.
Venice will play host to over 3 million visitors during the Carnival period. Depending on the size of your wallet, you can choose how much or how little to participate. Spending only your time, you can view the costumed boat parade through the Grand Canal, great people-watching, and mask or costume contests. Tickets were still available to some of the masqueraded ball events next week; they range in price from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on which ball and which level of ticket you purchase. Costumes and accessories are rented by the day and range from a couple hundred to a thousand dollars depending on the type of character you want to portray, how fancy you prefer to be and if you want to pay for professional makeup.
If the Venice Carnival is on your bucket list, you will feel transported back in time to an age when putting on a dress took more than one person and your position in society was literally worn on your sleeve.
Since 1958 the last weekend in October is marked with pageantry, camaraderie, competition and food in the southern tuscan hilltown of Montalcino. I attended the Sagra del Tordo (Feast of the Thrush) in October, 2011 and was not disappointed. From the first drumroll and blasts of trumpets, through the parade of about 150 locals and the archery competition, there wasn’t a dull moment. It is evocative of hunting traditions of the past when hunters and falconers would go into the woods, bring back their spoils and everyone would feast, noblemen and commoners alike.
Surrounded by the golden, late fall sunshine and colorful leaves that mark autumn in this region we established our place on the parade route and watched as participants paraded through town making various stops along the way to the fortress. It was the first (and only) time I have ever been up close and personal with two ghostly Chianina bulls; they dwarfed me as they walked past pulling a cart, I don’t even think I came up to their shoulders! The Chianina produce the Bistecca Fiorentina, a massive steak served throughout the region and Italy.
Montalcino is split into four neighborhoods (quartiere) each with their own tribal colors: Borghetto (white and red), Pianello (white and blue), Ruga (yellow and blue) and Travaglio (yellow and red). During the celebration two archers from each quartiere compete in an archery competition. The losers suffer insults and jokes of the winning team for the next year. Each quartiere also has a food booth in the main park “Giardini Impero” outside of the Fortezza serving several courses of food; you can pick and choose what you buy from each and eat at the picnic tables provided. The food is great, inexpensive and best of all, local. Let’s not forget, this is the home of the famed Brunello di Montalcino, a hearty Tuscan red that’s produced with 100% sangiovese grapes. Try the wine at one of the food stands or venture into one of the many tasting rooms located around town and at the Fortezza.
Truffles and wine are gems of the Piemonte region of Italy. From the end of September thru mid-November events are held in Alba to honor the White version of these prized tubers. This festival is in its 85th year and is jam-packed with events. If you’re looking for an experience combining food, wine and folklore, you will not be disappointed.
Alba is in the area of the Piemonte known as the Langhe; displays at the festival boast not only the excellent truffles and wine but the cheeses, egg pastas and sweets common to this area. During the festival there is a truffle market at Cortile della Maddalena each weekend where you can smell and buy truffles from reputable vendors. The truffles are hunted by dogs who smell and scratch just under the surface to alert their handlers to their find. Truffles are not cheap and are used in a variety of ways in the kitchen.
The Alba International Truffle Fair is as entertaining as it is tasty. Food and folklore events are scheduled each weekend to fill your belly and your spirit. The folklore events started September 26th with The Investiture of Podesta; participants in medieval costumes re-enacting tributes to the Lady of Alba and the Podesta (magistrate who governs the city). On October 4th the medieval theme continued with a donkey palio, the “Palio degli Asini”, run by the 9 districts of Alba in a traditional mock of Asti’s horse palio. This weekend each district will transport you back to medieval times with games and re-enactments staged throughout.
The highlight of the weekend is the “Baccanale del Tartufo”; each district uses the truffle theme to develop a delicious menu unique to them. Review the menu and pick which of the 9 districts whets your tastebuds and partake in a truffle themed dinner (the menu is posted below). To learn about the other events and tastings offered this weekend and though mid-November at the festival click on the link below and select “Calendar”. Mangia bene!