January 9th , 2010 → 2:48 pm @ Susan

FEBRUARY

Viareggio – The Viareggio Carnevale (Carnival) was first held in 1873 and is now one of the most famous pre-Lent carnivals in the world. It is held in February and early March and features huge paper-maché floats and models that parade along the viali a mare, the sea promenades of Viareggio. “First category” floats are the biggest at 20 m high, 14 m wide and weighing about 40 tons each. They each carry as many as 200 costumed participants, plus others inside to manoeuvre the weights, the counter-weights and levers that will make the models move. The paper-maché models satirise public and political figures, as well as representing fairy-tale heroes. There is an extensive programme of related events including a large number of shows including extremely funny musical comedies in the local dialect, carnival menus available in the restaurants of the area, festivals in the various town neighbourhoods, as well as numerous masked balls held in the most fashionable discotheques and ballrooms. There’s also a huge programme of sporting events.

EASTER

Florence – The Scoppio del Carro (explosion of the cart) is a Florentine Easter Sunday tradition that dates back to the First Crusade. When the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem on 15 July 1099, the Florentine Pazzino di Ranieri de’ Pazzi was the first to raise a Christian banner above the city. He was rewarded with three chips of stone from the Holy Sepulchre which were later used in Florence during Easter celebrations to light the fire symbolising new life. The fire was then distributed around the city by a cart, where families would relight their hearths which were traditionally extinguished on Good Friday. This tradition is reported as early as 1102. However, the Pazzi family were stripped of all their wealth and privileges and exiled from Florence after their aborted attempt to overthrow the Medici in 1478. From that moment on, the Signoria took over responsibility for the preparation and celebration of the ritual explosion of the cart. The richly decorated cart, which dates to the 18 C, is hauled by brightly bedecked white oxen from Porta al Prato to the cathedral square. A wire is run from the choir of the cathedral and fixed to the centre of the cart. In the meantime a procession of clergy leaves the Church of the Santissimi Apostoli and goes to the Baptistery. At midday, a dove-shaped rocket, the Colombina, is released inside the cathedral. It slides along the wire, leaving a trail of smoke along the length of the nave. When it reaches the cart, it sets off a cluster of crackers and then slides back to its point of departure. After a few moments, hundreds of multicoloured fireworks positioned on the cart go off with much banging and whistling. A Catherine Wheel on top lights up and starts spinning, ending with a loud bang and opening up to form the petals of a lily. Then four small gonfalons appear, bearing the emblems of Florence, of the old Pazzi family, of the Wool Merchants’ Guild and currently, as a sign of peace in the world, of the UN. The cart starts from via Il Prato at 9 am. At 10 am the procession of clergy starts from the Church of SS. Apostoli. The explosion of the Cart occurs at 11 am.

Greve in ChiantiIl Mercatino dell cose del passato (Antiques and collectors fair) is one of the better antiques fairs in Tuscany and it occurs annually on Easter Monday. Stalls are set up in the main piazza (Piazza Matteotti) and one ot two adjacent streets. Among the main categories on display are old and reproduction rustic furniture, old tools, farmhouse and vineyard artifacts, ceramics, glassware and cutlery, a very good range of embroidered linen, very interesting iron work, paintings, postcards, some books, silver gilt, and much else. Along the street off the square, porchetta and other snacks are available, together with plenty of pecorino, dried fruit,and sweets.

JUNE

Pisa –  Il Palio of San Ranieri on 17 June (the day of St. Ranieri, patron saint of Pisa) – the four districts of Pisa (San Martino, San Francesco, Sant’Antonio, and Santa Maria) compete in a boat race, with each boat containing eight oarsmen, on the Arno for the “paliotto”, the prize. The race is held on the Arno along an upstream stretch of 2 km. On the night before, the famous Luminara is held in which the Pisans hang thousands of candles from the buildings along the river. Thousands of locals crowd along the banks of the Arno to see the fireworks at midnight.

FlorenceIl Calcio Storico (costume football), the famous Florentine traditional football that dates from the Renaissance and takes place on 24 June plus two other days that are chosen on Easter Sunday.  All are in June or early July. Putative dates for 2010: Sunday 13 June and Sunday 20 June with the final on Thursday 24 June.  Four teams originating from each of the traditional city districts participate in the tournament: Blue for Santa Croce, Green for San Giovanni, Red for Santa Maria Novella, and White for Santo Spirito. All of the players are dressed in mediaeval breeches.  There are 27 players on each team, which means that matches can by fairly violent given the large number of players. Rules are minimal, so that almost anything is allowed to get hold of the ball and score a ‘caccia’.

Pisa Il Gioco del Ponte (Battle of the Bridge) on the last Sunday of June when teams from the two banks of the Arno, Tramontana (north) and Mezzogiorno (south) grapple with one another on the Mezzo Bridge. The six teams from the two banks challenge each other to push a 70 ton cart on a 50 meter rail over the opponent’s line.

JULY

SienaIl Palio is the famous bare-back horse race round the sand-covered Piazza del Campo that takes place every 2 July and 16 August. The ‘contrade’ (town neighbourhoods) compete for the ‘palio’ (banner) dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  The square is filled with costumed pageantry before the race and afterwards massive feasts are set up on long outdoor tables that can stretch for blocks on the side streets.  Tickets for favoured locations provided with seating are expensive but a good view of the race can also be obtained from the middle of the piazza where a large crowd stands.

PistoiaLa Giostra dell’Orso (Joust of the Bear) takes place after a magnificent procession held on the 25 July in honour of St. James, patron saint of Pistoia. Twelve knights take part in the Giostra, a mediaeval jousting tournament. The knights’ goal is to hit two stylised bears with their lances to the sound of drum rolls and fanfares.  The bear (orso) is the heraldic beast of Pistoia and the Giostra is the highlight of the town’s Luglio Pistoiese festival.

AUGUST

VolterraVolterra A.D 1398 is a medieval fair that takes place each year during the last whole week of August, starting on a Sunday, and is one of the best medieval fairs in Italy.  A week of costumes, events, and food – complete with medieval money.

SEPTEMBER

FlorenceLa Festa della Rificolona (Festival of the Lanterns), on 7 and 8 September, is said to be one of Florence’s oldest festivals, and has its origins in the most important farmers market of the year, held in the Piazza of SS Annunziata on the eve of the birth of the Virgin. The farmers and their families would get up very early, put on their Sunday-best and walk to Florence by the light of candles held in tissue-paper lanterns on the end of poles.  The sophisticated Florentines would mock the yokels’ attempts at elegance and the children would make their own brightly coloured lanterns and follow along, jeering and whistling. Today, the night of the 7th sees the children of Florence running through the streets with their rificolone, and there are street parties, theatre, and a huge market in the square.

LuccaLa Festa della Esaltazione della Santa Croce, held on 13 September is the principal event of the year in Lucca and part of a series of festivals during September. It is a devotional procession in which the Volto Santo or Holy Face, a wooden crucifix figure, is carried along the streets of the old town centre from the Church Saint Frediano to the Cathedral of Saint Martin, illuminated by thousands of small candles. Afterwards there is the “Mottettone” concert inside the cathedral and fireworks on the banks of the river.

Greve in Chianti La Rassegna del Chianti Classico (The Chianti Classico Wine Festival) is a showcase for Chianti Classico wines that takes place in Piazza Matteotti in Greve in Chianti on the second weekend of September and the preceding Friday (11, 12 and 13 September 2009). You buy a glass and are then free to try any wine offered at the many stands.

Panzano in ChiantiIl Vino al Vino wine festival is held on the third weekend in September (19, 20 and 21 September 2008) in the main square of Panzano. Wine from many of the Panzano wineries is available to be sampled. This is a smaller and more informal event than the Greve wine festival the preceding week.

CHRISTMAS

Equi Terme – In the beautiful ancient hillside village of Equi Terme, the Christmas festival, known as presepi viventi – Living Nativity Scenes – is held over three or four days over the Christmas holiday and sometimes again the following weekend around the time of Epiphany (January 6 – the 12th day of Christmas). One of the more famous presepi viventi in Italy, this is a quaint and charming festival.

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