The country of Italy is beautiful, rich, and steeped in historic traditions. While some travelers vacation in Italy for the cutting-edge fashion and expensive yacht parties, others choose to see a more traditional, yet just as entertaining side of the culture. Italian festivals are an experience of a life time, and bring together the passionate culture, long-standing history, and magnificent regalia that Italy is known for. Here are some well-known Italian festivals that are favorites among locals and visitors alike.
Carnevale – Venice Carnival
Carnevale was originally adapted from pagan festivals and reintroduced to the public by the Catholic church as a celebration of civic unity. In Italy, Carnevale is a winter festival celebrated with masquerade balls, music, parties, and entertainment. It usually occurs 40 days before Easter and is considered a celebration and “last hurrah” before Lent begins. While Carnevale is celebrated throughout Italy, one of the best celebrations is held in Venice. During carnival season in Venice, every night features a special event, entertainment, or parade. Venetians and visitors alike dress up in elaborate costumes and masks and roam the city enjoying each other, eating food, and playing pranks. On the final day of the carnival, a huge display of fireworks light up the skies over Venice. While some visitors claim not to partake in the celebration, its very doubtful as people can’t help but enjoy themselves in the enchanting music and carefree spirit of the carnival.
Il Palio di Siena – Palio of Siena Festival
The Palio of Siena Festival is one of the most well-known festivals in all of Italy. The festival is centered around a horse race run by the 17 neighborhoods of Siena in the main square, Piazza del Campo (or Il Campo). Contrary to popular belief, the palio doesn’t refer to the actual horse race, but rather refers to the banner or cloth given to the winner. At the Palio of Siena, the winning neighborhood, or contrade, keeps the palio until the next contest. In addition to the horse race, the festival features historic flag twirling and incredible food. As the Palio of Siena Festival is so popular among tourists, visitors are strongly recommended (if not required) to book hotel and race reservations (for seated spots, standing room is free) well in advance. Many other Italian cities hold horse race festivals, like L’Ardia di San Costantino in Sardinia, and its a wonderful way to meet the locals, get to know the city, and experience the Italian culture.
Regatta of the Ancient Maritime Republics
Held every year in a different city, the Regatta of the Ancient Maritime Republics celebrates the four republics of Amalfi, Genoa, Pisa and Venice, once Italy’s greatest maritime powers. The celebration is actually a rowing contest among the four cities. Each boat or gozzi carries eight rowers and a helmsman. The boats are painted the color or the city (Amalfi – blue, Genoa – white, Pisa – red, and Venice – green), and topped with an animal sculpture also representative of the city (Amalfi – winged horse, Genoa – dragon, Pisa – eagle, and Venice – winged lion). Preceding the race is the actual center of the celebration, a historical procession celebrating the various glories and heroes of each maritime republic. Although not the oldest festival in Italy (the first regatta was run in 1956), visitors to the Regatta of the Ancient Maritime Republics can enjoy the competitive boat race, the sumptuous food, and the unique celebration of Italy’s maritime powerhouses.