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.
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 Day (Primo Maggio), a public holiday
- Festival of the Snake Catchers, Cocullo, Abruzzo
- Death of Leonardo da Vinci (1519)
- Birth of Niccolò Machiavelli (1469)
- 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)
- 6.5 magnitude earthquake in Friuli (1976)
- Calendimaggio, Assisi
- Birth of Miuccia Prada (1949)
- Birth of Valentino Garavani (1932)
- Birth of architect Luigi Vanvitelli (1700)
- First Giro d’Italia bike race starts from Milan (1909)
- Festa dei Ceri, Gubbio, Umbria
- Death of Sandro Botticelli (1510)
- Feast Day of Saint Lucifer of Cagliari
- Death of Constantine the Great (337)
- Trevi Fountain inaugurated in Rome (1762)
- Girolamo Savonarola burned at the stake in Florence (1498)
- Birth of Pontormo (1494)
- Death of San Filippo Neri (1595)
- Birth of Padre Pio (1887)
- Birth of Enrico Berlinguer (1922)
- Napoleon assumes title King of Italy and is crowned in the Milan Duomo (1805)
- Death of Niccolò Paganini (1840)
- Death of graphic artist Massimo Vignelli (2014)
- Death of Tintoretto (1594)
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