Ceri race in Gubbio, photo by Marco Signoretti

It’s May, which means that the calendar is full of food and flower festivals, new museum exhibits, and outdoor concerts.

May in Italy: Holidays, Festivals, and Other Events

May 1 – Labor Day

Primo Maggio is a national holiday in Italy and is traditionally commemorated with demonstrations by various labor unions. In Rome, the day is celebrated with a huge televised concert in Piazza San Giovanni.

May 1 – Festival of the Snake Catchers

This fascinating and, frankly, fearsome festival, known in Italian as Festa dei Serpari, takes place in Cocullo, Abruzzo. It features a wooden statue of San Domenico draped with dozens of wild snakes and paraded through town. The spectacle is derived from pagan worship of the goddess Angitia and was later merged with the worship of San Domenico when Christianity became the religion of the land. San Domenico is the patron saint protector against snake bites and toothaches.

Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence

Classical music, dance, and theater are highlighted at this month-long arts and music festival in Florence. See www.maggiofiorentino.com for details and schedule.

May 8-11 – Calendimaggio in Assisi, Umbria

This yearly event with medieval origins is a celebration of the return of spring that includes good-spirited competitions between the upper and lower sections of the city of Assisi. The festival features food and parades, as well as a lot of activity centered around the Basilica of Saint Francis. More information is available at calendimaggioassisi.it.

May 15 – Festa dei Ceri in Gubbio, Umbria

Gubbio’s running of the “Ceri,” or candles, is one of Umbria’s biggest events of the year. The Festa dei Ceri’s highlight is the medieval candle race, in which costumed participants race up Mount Ingino carrying enormous wooden candles. There is also a crossbow tournament, food fairs, and more.

Festa dei Ceri in Gubbio, Umbria

Mid-May – Noto Infiorata in Noto, Sicily

Usually taking place around 18 May, Noto Infiorata is an event in which the UNESCO World Heritage city of Noto, Sicily, is carpeted with flowers in a variety of designs based on a theme. Noto is not the only city to hold an Infiorata, but it is one of the best known.

Late May – Palio of Ferrara

If Siena’s Palio is on your life list, you should also consider the Palio of Ferrara, which is the oldest Palio (medieval horserace) in the world.

Late May – Palio of the Ancient Maritime Republics (Amalfi, Genoa, Pisa, Venice)

Yet another medieval-era event, the Palio delle Repubbliche Marinare pits the four ancient Italian maritime powers – Amalfi, Genoa, Pisa, and Venice – in a yearly boat race at one of the four sites. The event is also known as the Regata Storica delle Antiche Repubbliche Marinare d’Italia.

Late May – Cortili Aperti (Open Courtyards)

Art and architecture lovers will relish this opportunity to visit Cortili Aperti or Open Courtyards. The annual event hosted by ADSI gives visitors a glimpse into otherwise private estates.

Late May – Cantine Aperte (Open Cellars)

May is a great opportunity to sample some of Italy’s finest wines. On the last weekend of the month, more than 900 wine makers throughout Italy open their doors to oenophiles with inexpensive (or free) flights of wine, plus information on winemaking techniques, proper storage, and food pairings. See the Movimento Turismo di Vino website for more info.

Quick Guide to Dates in May: Anniversaries, Events, Births, and Deaths

May 1

  • May Day (Primo Maggio), a public holiday
  • Festival of the Snake Catchers, Cocullo, Abruzzo

May 2

May 3

May 4

  • Grande Torino tragedy, in which a plane carrying the members of Italy’s most successful professional soccer team — Torino — crashed on a hillside outside Turin, killing all on board (1949)

May 6

May 8

  • Calendimaggio, Assisi

May 10

  • Birth of Miuccia Prada (1949)

May 11

  • Birth of Valentino Garavani (1932)

May 12

  • Birth of architect Luigi Vanvitelli (1700)

May 13

  • First Giro d’Italia bike race starts from Milan (1909)

May 15

  • Festa dei Ceri, Gubbio, Umbria

May 17

  • Death of Sandro Botticelli (1510)

May 20

  • Feast Day of Saint Lucifer of Cagliari

May 22

  • Death of Constantine the Great (337)
  • Trevi Fountain inaugurated in Rome (1762)

May 23

  • Girolamo Savonarola burned at the stake in Florence (1498)

May 24

  • Birth of Pontormo (1494)

May 25

  • Death of San Filippo Neri (1595)
  • Birth of Padre Pio (1887)
  • Birth of Enrico Berlinguer (1922)

May 26

  • Napoleon assumes title King of Italy and is crowned in the Milan Duomo (1805)

May 27

  • Death of Niccolò Paganini (1840)
  • Death of graphic artist Massimo Vignelli (2014)

May 31

  • Death of Tintoretto (1594)

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