Simple Menu

Archive | Festivals and Events

The Best Ever In-Depth Video of Siena’s Palio

Inspiration always seems to find me when I’m not looking and that is exactly what happened as I settled in to watch a few minutes of television last night. Lucky for me, I clicked over to Kenny Mayne’s Wider World of Sports, a show on ESPN that puts sports into a cultural context.

One of the segments was on the Palio, the famous, twice-yearly horse race in Siena. Mayne gained insider access to the Leocorno (Unicorn) contrada to cover the race from mane (ahem) to tail. We learn about Leocorno’s rivalry with the Civetta (Owl) contrada, the pre-race ritual of having the horse blessed in the district church, and the strategies and intrigue that go into competing in one of Italy’s oldest sports traditions. Both the footage and the commentary in this segment were compelling, so I wanted to share the video with you.

Fantastic stuff, Mr. Mayne. Mille grazie!

Cortili Aperti – Italy’s Open Courtyards

Cortili Aperti, Italy's "Open Courtyards"
For 17 years, ADSI, the Historic Home Association of Italy, has been working in conjunction with the owners of the country’s estates and villas to bring a program called Cortili Aperti, or “Open Courtyards,” to the public. The 2011 edition of Cortili Aperti, taking place the last weekend of May, will see historic properties in more than a dozen cities, including Rome, Bologna, Florence, Lecce, Milan, and Palermo, open their courtyards, gardens, and, in some cases, their living rooms, to the general public. This is a fantastic opportunity to take a peek behind the gates and doors of Italy’s very private palazzi. Visit the Cortili Aperti website for more information on this year’s program and participating cities. You may also want to check on Facebook, as a number of cities have set up Cortili Aperti event pages that you can follow for more information.

Photo © redbeetle

Visiting the Vatican and Rome During Easter


Springtime is a very popular time to visit Rome and the Vatican City. And for good reason. The weather is warmer. The gardens and parks are in bloom, with huge pots of azaleas providing a burst of color on the Spanish Steps. And for the thousands of churches, it is time to celebrate Easter.

Of course, the most popular place to visit during Easter is St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peter’s Square (Piazza San Pietro). The Pope presides over several services at the basilica during Holy Week, including morning and evening masses on Holy Thursday, an afternoon vigil on Good Friday, and an evening mass on Holy Saturday. The big event, Easter Sunday mass, is celebrated in St. Peter’s Square, where thousands gather to watch the Pope bless an icon of the risen Christ and hear the Pope’s “Urbi et Orbi” message delivered from the balcony of the papal apartments.

The Pope also travels to other churches in Rome during Easter time to perform holy rites. On Maundy Thursday, the Pope typically delivers the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at St. John Lateran (San Giovanni in Laterano), the church for the Bishop of Rome – the Pope’s other official title. After St. Peter’s, this is the second-most important basilica in Rome and worth a visit even if you aren’t in town during Easter. (Also in this area is the Scala Santa, purported to be the “holy stairs” that led to the throne of Pontius Pilate. Saint Helena, mother of Constantine, brought these stairs to Rome from Jerusalem in 326 A.D. and Christians have been venerating them ever since.)

The Stations of the Cross Vigil in the Colosseum

Click here if you are unable to see the video above.

Another intriguing site to visit during Easter is the Colosseum, where the Stations of the Cross are held during an evening vigil on Good Friday. The Pope presides over this rite in the arena where many ancient Christians are said to have been “thrown to the lions.” The Colosseum was consecrated as a church in 1749 to commemorate these early persecutions of Christians and stem the pillaging of the structure’s building materials.

Note that seating at the Colosseum on Good Friday and in St. Peter’s Square on Easter Sunday is very limited. Free tickets for these events must be reserved well in advance with your local diocese.

Leading up to Holy Week, there are several other opportunities to see and/or hear a blessing from the Pope, including on Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday is also the the typical day on which World Youth Day, a celebration initiated by Pope John Paul II, is held in St. Peter’s Square. The Pope also delivers a blessing to general audiences each Wednesday throughout the year. For more information about applying to participate in a general audience with the Pope, review this information from the Prefecture of the Papal Household.

For more ideas on visiting holy Rome, have a look at the links below. You may also visit the official website of the Vatican for information on the Pope, the Holy See, and liturgical services.

Papal Basilicas of Rome
Santa Maria Maggiore
San Giovanni in Laterano
San Paolo Fuori Le Mura

Additional links of interest
Getting Into the Vatican Museums
Italy’s Most Unusual Religious Relics
Angels and Demons Tourism

Photo © WiltshireYan

Six Places to Celebrate Carnival in Italy

Carnevale Masks in Venice

It’s Carnival time again in Italy, when Italians prepare to say “goodbye meat!” (Carnevale) by throwing lavish parties and parades before hunkering down for 40 days and nights of denial during the Holy Lenten Season.

Many travelers think that Carnevale only takes place in Venice. While Venice has the best known Carnival in Italy, there are many other cities with long carnival traditions. Let’s have a look at them: Continue Reading →

World’s Biggest Christmas Tree

albero-di-natale-gubbio-pRockefeller Center has nothing on this tree. The largest Christmas tree in the world is, in fact, in Gubbio, Umbria. But this is not any tree. No, this is not a tree at all. Gubbio’s Albero di Natale is a dazzling neon feat – and Guinness Book of World Records holder – that has been lighting up the hills of Umbria since 1981.

In order to get the tree ready for its annual December 7 lighting, local volunteers work for three months stringing lights and electrical equipment up the slope of Mount Ingino. (Yes, that is the same mountain that Eugubini scale each May for the celebration of the Corsa dei Ceri.) And, the numbers are astounding:

  • The surface area of the star is 1,000 square meters
  • The length of the connecting cables is 8,500 meters
  • The tree has more than 700 lights each of which requires 35 kilowatts of power to light
  • The tree has a height of 650 meters.

If you’re in some parts of Umbria, such as Perugia or Umbertide, from December 7 until approximately January 10, you should be able to see the bright lights from Gubbio’s Christmas tree. If you want to get a better look, head to Gubbio. For more information on Gubbio, visit the Comune of Gubbio website.

Photo © Agriturismo San Vittorino, Gubbio

Ramble On: Tuscany Walking Festival

Walking Festival in TuscanyTuscany, with its beautiful vistas and thousands of hectares of nature preserves and woodlands, offers numerous opportunities for serious hikers and casual trekkers alike. This is the also the thought of the organizers of the Tuscany Walking Festival, a yearly event that happens goes on roughly between the first days of spring until the end of fall.

The festival highlights six of the great hiking areas in Tuscany, including the Maremma, the Monti Livornesi and the Tuscan Archipelago. In addition to the great walks are other events and promotions, such as photography exhibits, birdwatching courses, and restaurant discounts near the walking regions. What a great way to learn about Tuscany’s natural treasures and take a break from art overload!

Photo from Tuscany Walking Festival

What’s On in Italy: February 2009

Here’s the event round-up for February:

Carnevale 2009: Carnival celebrations will run for approximately 2 weeks, from February 13 to 24, with big events, parades, and fairs. The biggest of these, of course, will be in Venice and Viareggio. Other Carnival festivals, according to the Italy Guide on About.com, can be found in Sardinia and Sicily.

Valentine’s Day: If you want to spend lovers’ day in the home of St. Valentine, head to the town of Terni in Umbria. Another ideal spot for you and your valentine on the 14th is in Verona, which holds the Verona in Love festival each year in honor of young lovers Romeo and Juliet. Stagings of Shakespeare’s play, as well as art exhibitions and sweet markets, complete the love fest.

For Record Lovers: Vinilmania (vinyl mania), a huge fair for the buying and selling of LPs, 45s, and other records, is held three times a year at Milan’s Parco Esposizione Novegro. The first fair of 2009 will be held February 7-8; the other two – May 16-17 and October 17-18.

And there’s lots more going on this month. Check out italiantourism.com and whatsonwhen.com for more details.

The 2008-2009 Opera Season

Although many cities in Italy incorporate opera events as part of their summer festivals, the opera season typically begins in the fall and runs through spring. According to UK’s Italy Magazine, this year’s opera offerings are expected to excite, with Milan’s La Scala staging an opulent Aida; Rome’s Teatro dell’Opera performing Aida and La Traviata, and Tosca ; and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly taking flight at Venice’s La Fenice in the spring. Here’s a brief rundown of what else is on tap this season:

Teatro La Fenice, Venice
Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi, 10/19-29/2008
Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini, 5/22-31/2009
How to Get Tickets

Teatro Alla Scala, Milan
Don Carlo by G. Verdi, 12/2008 and 1/2009
Tristan and Isolde by Richard Wagner, 2/2009
Aida by G. Verdi, 6/2009 and 7/2009
How to Get Tickets, also check out their discount offers

Teatro dell’Opera, Rome
Tosca by G. Puccini, 1/14/-23/2009 and 4/22-27/2009
Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, 5/31-6/1/2009
Carmen by Georges Bizet, 6/17-28/2009
Aida by G. Verdi (at Terme di Caracalla), 7/10-24/2009
Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti (at TdC), 7/18-31/2009
Madama Butterfly by G. Puccini (at TdC), 7/27-8/3/2009
How to Get Tickets

Teatro Massimo, Palermo
Carmen by G. Bizet, 11/4-6/2008
Aida by G. Verdi, 11/26-30 and 12/2-7/2008
Lohengrin by R. Wagner, 1/24-31/2009
Cosi Fan Tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 6/10-17/2009
Cavalleria Rusticana (by Pietro Mascagni) with Pagliacci (by Ruggiero Leoncavallo), 7/4-9/2009
How to Get Tickets

Teatro San Carlo, Naples
Don Carlo by G. Verdi, 11/22-23/2008
Various medley evenings featuring the works of Verdi, Bellini, Puccini, etc., performed by the Teatro San Carlo Orchesta
How to Get Tickets

The Italian Tourism Board has listings of Italian opera houses (and their websites) if you’re interested in learning more.

What’s On in Italy: October 2008

Lots of art exhibitions going on in Italy this fall, especially this month. So, let’s get started:

Bellini in Rome. The works of Venetian Renaissance master Giovanni Bellini will be on display in Rome’s Scuderiere del Quirinale through January 11, 2009. According to ansa.it, the exhibition – one of the largest ever featuring Bellini’s works – “is showcasing most of Bellini’s best-loved works, including a number of his stunning altarpieces, such as the Baptism of Christ from Vicenza and the famed Pesaro sequence.”

Palladio in Vicenza. Vicenza, long synonymous with the great architect Andrea Palladio, is celebrating the 500th year since the artist’s birth with a grand exhibition at the Palazzo Barbaran da Porto, itself one of many Palladio-designed building in Vicenza, the artist’s hometown. The exhibition showcases almost 80 of Palladio’s original drawings and tells the life story, through paintings by Canalettoand El Greco, among others, and scale models, of the influential architect. The exhibition will run through January 6 in Vicenza and then move on to London for the spring. Take a look at the link for the exhibit, as you can take a virtual tour – awesome.

Correggio in Parma. Sixteenth century artist Antonio Allegri, also known as Correggio after the small town in which he was born, is getting his due in a large exhibit in Parma through January 25, 2009. Some of the works in the show are in situ in Parma, where many of Correggio’s works were created and are still housed, while the rest (about 80 pieces) come from museums throughout Italy and Europe. You can preview the exhibit and pre-order tickets online at the Mostra Correggio Parma website.

National Truffle Fair. With fall comes white truffle season, which is celebrated with the Fiera Nazionale del Tartufo in Acqualagna in Le Marche. Several comuni in the region, including Sant’Angelo in Vado and Sant’Agata Feltria, will hold fairs on the weekend throughout the month of October and beginning of November. The National Fair is held the last weekend in October and the first two weekends in November.

Eurochocolate Time! More feasting will occur in Le Marche’s regional neighbor Umbria as Perugia hosts the annual Eurochocolate Festival. Eurochocolate 2008, which will run from October 18-26, will feature tons of tasting opportunities. And, if you want to get a jumpstart on the celebrations, National Choco Day, a holiday since 2005, takes place on October 12.

Venice Marathon. Just thinking about the truffles and chocolate give you the urge to burn calories? Then you can enter the Venice Marathon, which takes place on October 26. The race starts east of Padova, travels around and over canals, and ends at the Riva dei Sette Martiri in the city. If you’re not up for that much running, there’s a 3K Fun Run and great people watching from the bridges.

For more October events in Italy, check out italiantourism.com and the events site whatsonwhen.com.

What’s On in Italy: September 2008

Hard to believe it’s September again! Here’s a rundown for the beginning of the fall – a marvelous time to be in Italy!

Time for Wine! One of the reasons it’s so great to travel in Italy in the fall is for all of the wine sampling to be done. Oenological Week in Montefalco, Umbria, which celebrates Sagrantino, runs from September 18-21. The Wine Championship in Florence, a sort-of wine-related Jeopardy! contest, kicked off today and runs through the weekend; the event is sponsored by Slow Food Firenze. Throughout the month in Tuscany will be the Chianti grape harvest, a yearly ritual which has been honored each year since 1926 with a Festa dell’Uva in Impruneta. The town of Bardolino, on the shores of Lake Garda, also holds a Festa dell’Uva, which begins at the end of September.

Food, Glorious Food! You need something to go with your wine. Try the Festival del Prosciutto di Parma, happening throughout the Parma province of Emilia Romagna through September 21. Some of you probably didn’t know that couscous is a staple in Sicilian cuisine; in fact, a festival dedicated to couscous takes place in San Vito Lo Capo from September 23-28. Outside of Milan, in the town of Gorgonzola, the 10th annual Sagra Nazionale del Gorgonzola, which celebrates the distinctive cheese and other food products of the area, will be held on September 20 and 21. Meanwhile, in Le Marche, the city of Fano will hold a Festival del Brodetto, which will honor the region’s typical zuppa di pesce (fish soup).

Traditional Festivals and Fairs. Soak up some Italian heritage with a visit to Venice, where the Historic Regatta on the Grand Canal takes place this weekend (Sept. 7) at 5:10 p.m. There are traditional jousting tournaments in Arezzo (Sept. 7) and Foligno (Sept. 13 and 14). Naples’ ever-popular Feast of San Gennaro takes place on September 19, and will include lots of food, frolicking, and fawning over the city’s patron saint, a statue of whom is paraded throughout the streets. (We couldn’t find a good official site for the San Gennaro fest, so here’s an “unofficial” explanation of the event.) Finally, a fun event for the entire family is the live chess match, played in the town of Marostica every two years by real people on a life-size chess board in Piazza Scacchi (fittingly, Chess Square). The game(s) will be held September 12-14, and tickets cost between €10-80.

“Rome 1960″ Book Presentation

Earlier in the summer, we wrote about David Maraniss’ new book Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World. If you read the book and loved it or put it on your reading list, then you may be interested in attending a book presentation with the author.

On September 10 at 6:30 p.m., the Istituto Italiano di Cultura of Washington, DC, and the Embassy of Italy will host the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and DC native for a discussion of his latest page-turner. If you’d like to go, you must RSVP to [email protected] or by calling 202-518-0998, ext. 1.

Another book talk coming up from the IIC will be with Eleanor Herman, the author of Mistress of the Vatican. The True Story of Olimpia Maidalchini: The Secret Female Pope.* That discussion will take place on September 24. Contact the above e-mail or phone number for more info.

*Update: This book presentation has been cancelled. To find out about rescheduling or other events, contact the e-mail address above.

Rome, Siena, Sardinia, and more

We hope you’ve had an enjoyable August. Obviously, we took a little time off for rest and relaxation (and a move!), so there’s been little time to fill you in on some of the latest Italy travel news. Here’s a recap:

Some people in Rome think it’s a good idea to create a Disneyland-like theme park outside the city. Could this possibly be a good idea? I can’t imagine Italians wanting to pay money for a bit of Italian-style Americana in their backyard, nor can I see tourists skipping the real Roman tourist attractions to see another Euro-Disney. Yuck.

On August 16, the Bruco contrada won Siena’s Palio Horserace. Congratulations, Caterpillar! Lots of Palio history and trivia here.

There have been two articles on Sardinia’s coast. The New York Times’ Seth Sherwood writes about the Costa Smeralda (Emerald Coast), claiming that An Elite Playground Becomes Less So, while The Guardian ran a feature on Sardinia’s Overlooked Beaches.

And, some art news caught our attention. In Rome, through September 7, looted Roman antiquities that have recently been returned to Italy will be on display at the Palazzo Poli (near the Trevi Fountain). And, beginning on September 7, those interested in Etruscan art and relics should head to Cortona, where Etruscan art from the Hermitage will be on loan to the Museo dell’Accademia Etrusca e della Città di Cortona (MAEC).

We should be getting back on track this week, so stay tuned!

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes

%d bloggers like this: