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Natale di Roma: Rome Celebrates Its Birthday

She Wolf in the Capitoline Museums

She Wolf in the Capitoline Museums © Melanie Renzulli

Most city foundation stories are pretty straightforward. But the origin story of the city of Rome is more akin to something you would read in a comic book about superheroes.

Today April 21, marks the birthday of Rome (locally called the Natale di Roma). According to city legend, Rome was founded on April 21, 753 B.C. by Romulus. But the entire story is quite complicated.

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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

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

Italy Exhibits Guide Fall 2009

Here is a sampling of exhibits beginning or ending this fall in Italy. For a longer list, check out Ansa, the Italian news service, or visit our tourism boards page and click on the area you are interested in.

BOLZANO – Museo Archeologico dell’Alto Adige: Iceman joined by more than 60 mummies from Ancient Egypt, Asia, South America and Oceania; until October 25.

FLORENCE

-Medici Chapels: show on life and times of Ferdinand I de’ Medici, powerful third grand duke of Tuscany (1549-1609), marking 400th anniversary of his death; until November 1.

-Palazzo Strozzi: Galileo show marking 400th anniversary of his first observations of the night sky; 250 exhibits including the middle finger from Galileo’s right hand; until August 30.

MARSALA – Convento del Carmine: Monochrome; 70 works from post-war Italy to the 1970s by artists including Alberto Burri, Lucio Fontana and Mimmo Rotella; until October 18.

MILAN

Palazzo Reale: 250 paintings from influential 19th-century Scapigliatura movement; until November 22.

– same venue: Robert Wilson’s ‘Voom Portraits’, celebrities like Mikhail Baryshnikov, Johnny Depp, Robert Downey, Salma Hayek, Isabelle Huppert, Jeanne Moreau, Brad Pitt and Princess Caroline of Monaco; but also ordinary people and animals; until October 4.

– same venue: 20 Monet water lily works from Musee’ Marmottan in Paris; until September 27.

– same venue: 36 years of cartoons by political satirist Giorgio Forattini; until September 27.

ROME

– Palazzo Venezia: The Mind of Leonardo, The Universal Genius at Work; acclaimed exhibit already seen at Uffizi and in Tokyo; until August 30. HURRY!

– Palazzo delle Esposizioni: Bulgari, Between Eternity and History, 1884-2009; 125 Years of Italian Jewels; the first retrospective in the brand’s history, featuring 400 pieces; until September 13. HURRY!

VENICE – Biennale: 53th and biggest-ever edition of world’s oldest arts festival; 90 artists at 77 national pavilions, including Joan Jonas, Lygia Pape, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Xu Tan, Thomas Saraceno, Nikhil Chopra and Anawana Haloba; until November 22.

Photo from the Venice Biennale website

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: April 2009

We missed March’s event round-up and we’re late for this month’s. So here we go…

Easter: Last month, we posted the Vatican’s Holy Week Calendar. The website whatsonwhen.com lists two of Italy’s most famous Easter celebrations: Florence’s Scoppio del Carro and Madonna che Scappa in Piazza (Madonna who runs in the square) in Sulmona (Abruzzo). Taranto, in Puglia, is also known for its hours-long Holy Week processions, a tradition from the days when Puglia was a Spanish territory.

Spring! A profusion of flowers and outdoor events usher in spring in Italy. Milan puts on the annual Fiori e Sapori gardening show and food fair on April 5. If you’re in Rome this month, you can expect to see the Spanish Steps abloom with flowers of pink, red, and white.

Food and Wine. In addition to the Fiori e Sapori fest in Milan (see above), there are a number of food festivals this month. From April 17-20, Genoa will  host Slow Fish, a tribute by local restaurants to fish and seafood done the traditional (slow) way. There will be wine festivals in Rome (April 25-26) and Porto Cervo in Sardinia (24-26) and, through April 6, Verona will host VinItaly, which brings together wine producers from all over the country.

Sport: In Rome, there’ll be the derby between Lazio and Roma (April 19). On the same day in Venice will be the Su e Zo per i Ponti, a sort of walkathon “up and down” the canal city’s bridges.

April also sees the celebration of Liberation Day (25) and the birth of Rome, which, on April 21, will be too old for me to calculate!

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.

What’s On in Italy: December 2008

Dear readers,

I realize I’ve neglected you for a while now. But, for good reason. I gave birth to my second son – Leo – on November 19. So, since then, I’ve been recovering and getting to know the little fella. Blogging has been furthest on my mind, as you can imagine, but now I’m back (slowly but surely) to provide you with a very short list of some Christmas happenings in Italy this month.

Rome. Rome is magnificent around Christmas, not least of all because of the Christmas Market in Piazza Navona. This year, the Eternal City will also be filled with music, thanks to events like Natale all’Auditorium at the Parco della Musica. The Christmas festival, which will run for a month between December 6 and January 6, will feature numerous Italian acts singing holiday standards and will also play host to the Roma Gospel Festival, among whose acts will include Anthony Morgan’s Inspirational Choir of Harlem. Elsewhere in the city, from December 20 through 30 you can catch the Nutcracker (Lo Schiaccianoci) at the Teatro Nazionale. If you happen to be in Rome on December 8, you may be able to catch a glimpse of Pope Benedict XVI himself as he travels across town to lay a wreath at the Spanish Steps in commemoration of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Milan. Milan’s annual contribution to the Christmas landscape is the “Oh Bej! Oh Bej” Festival, which happens around the feast day of the city’s patron St. Ambrose on December 7. Essentially, Oh Bej! is a traditional Christmas market selling artisanal crafts and local fare that the whole city comes out for. It is held annually at the Castello Sforzesco.

Venice. Christmas in the Lagoon, which takes place in the city’s Campo Santo Stefano, is Venice’s answer to the annual Christmas fair. There, you can pick up Murano glass, artisanal soaps and perfumes, and all manner of Italian snacks and sweets. This year’s fair goes through December 23. And, according to the Natale in Laguna website, the itinerary remains unchanged despite the recent flooding.

There are, of course, tons of other Christmas markets going on in Italy this month. For a more exhaustive run-down, check out this list from About.com or surf on over to whatsonwhen.com.

What’s On in Italy: November 2008

November is typically a slow month for tourism in Italy. So listed below are only a few events going on in the country. On the other other hand, this November is hardly slow for me. I’m awaiting the birth of my second child in about a week’s time. So, be prepared for fewer posts for just a little while. Thanks, and I’ll be up and blogging again soon!

Bonfire of the Vanities. This tip for La Fugurena, a harvest festival culminating in a huge bonfire in the town of Terra del Sole (in Cesena, Emilia-Romagna), comes from the site whatsonwhen.com. The event takes place on November 16, with the fire being lit after dark. As the harsh winds of winter start to blow into northern Italy, I can’t think of a cozier place to be.

Lucio Fontana in Genoa. Contemporary art lovers can catch the Lucio Fontana exhibition at Genoa’s Palazzo Ducale now through February 2009. About 200 works from the Italian/Argentine artist will be on display.

Hail, Caesar. Julius Caesar returns to Rome’s Chiostro del Bramante in an exhibit that includes all sorts of archeological finds as well as paintings and sculptures of the emperor. “Julius Caesar: The man, the enterprise, the myth” runs through May 2009.

For more info on November events, check out Italofile event posts from September and October (many exhibits run through the entire fall), our 2008-2009 opera guide, and the websites whatsonwhen.com and italiantourism.com.

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.

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