Only in Italy: Three Wild & Unique Festivals in Italy
May – The Snake Festival of Cocullo – Cocullo, Abruzzo
Festa di Serpari di San Domenico Snake Procession
Wild & Unique Festivals in Italy #1
Nestled in the hills west of Sulmona in the Abruzzo region, Cocullo has a population of 250 on any given day. That number swells to thousands every May 1st when pilgrims from other provinces and people interested in this 985-year tradition converge on the village. One of the top Festivals in Italy, the official name of the festival is the Festa dei Serpari di San Domenico (Festival of Snakes of San Domenico). Why snakes? San Domenico is honored for ridding the village of snakes in the 11th century and his statue, draped with these serpents, is paraded through the town for about 1.5 hours.
View of Cocullo, Abruzzo
The snake handlers (serpari) start gathering them in March for the May celebration. The snakes used to be housed in clay pots but are now kept in wooden boxes and fed mice and hardboiled eggs in the days leading up to the festival. There are four types of non-venomous snakes used in the procession. Stands are set up around town to feed the thousands that have descended on the town for the spectacle. There is a fireworks display at the conclusion of the festival. Parking is quite difficult so expect to walk or be shuttled from wherever you park to the edge of town.
Wild & Unique Festivals in Italy #2
June – Medieval Soccer Tournament – Florence, Tuscany
Members of the blues and whites fighting it out in Piazza Santa Croce
Saint and sport are the theme each June 24th when Florence is filled with history, pageantry and spectacle! Calcio Storico Fiorentino (aka Florentine Football) originated in the 16th century, it was once the sport of rich nobles who played every night between Epiphany and Lent. Team members from four quartiere (neighborhood) in Florence take this quite seriously. Twenty seven players on each team are half-clad in historical uniforms for the occasion. Each neighborhood is allowed to recruit players from outside the neighborhood and even outside of Italy. It’s called Calcio, the Italian word for soccer, but is it really? It looks more like a mix of soccer, football, rugby and mixed martial arts slugged out on the sand-filled square of Piazza Santa Croce. Hands and feet can be used, anything goes except sucker punches and ganging up on your opponent; strictly one on one combat – and if you are kicked out – no replacements are allowed, your team plays short of members.
Medieval Procession honoring St. John the Baptist
(Photo Credit: Lisa M. Vogele)
The morning of the Calcio Storico starts with a religious procession honoring St. John the Baptist. Beginning in Piazzetta di Parte Guelfa and ending at the Duomo. There’s another, larger parade this afternoon starting at 4pm at Piazza Santa Maria Novella and ending at Piazza Santa Croce. This parade includes the Calcio Storico Fiorentino (aka Florentine Football) players and is followed by the final match at 5 pm. The festivities conclude in the evening at 10 pm with a spectacular fireworks show over the Arno. Tickets go on sale two weeks in advance and sell out in less than an hour so plan ahead and ask someone to buy them for you!
Wild & Unique Festivals in Italy #3
September – The Human Chess Match – Marostica, Veneto
People are the Pieces in Marostica’s bi-annual Medieval Chess Game
Marostica is famous for two things, its cherries and a medieval chess event played with live human beings in the main square. Just over an hour northwest of Venice, Marostica hosts this event the second weekend of September in even-numbered years, and a chess competition on the odd ones. The living chess match is a re-enactment of two suitors vying to be the husband of the local Lord’s daughter. However, since the chessboard on the main square was installed after World War II, the lore is presumed to be fictional, but none the less fun and interesting. Other than chess and cherries, Marostica has two castles; one medieval, on the hillside above town a brisk hike away and the other on the main square, Palazzo Castello. If you are in the Veneto region area it’s an easy drive; if you don’t have a car take the train to Bassano del Grappa five miles away and catch a bus from there to Marostica.
Lisa Vogele, Lisa’s Travel Guides | March 14, 2017
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lisa Vogele is an Italophile, festival-lover, and travel-addict. Her blog “Lisa Loves to Travel” has been created to share her love of festivals with fellow travelers and enthusiasts. Originally from Connecticut, she and her husband Mark call Colorado home. She loves hearing suggestions, recommendations, and experiences around festival travel. The “Food & Folklore” series is published by Lisa’s Travel Guides and highlights food, fun, and festivals to help others go local as a traveler, not a tourist.
Lisa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @travelwithlisa.
This fun travel reference guide helps travelers incorporate local Italian food & folklore festivals into their trip planning and enjoy local, authentic experiences. Whether you have traveled to Italy before or looking forward to your first trip, this guide will make you positively hungry for Italy!
A listing of over 450 festivals focusing on local foods and historical folklore is provided as a starting point to a local adventure. Learn some fun facts about each region of Italy, how to effectively search for festivals and tips for attending festivals and a specific festival highlighted for each region. A simple glossary of keywords and a cross reference index of food festivals are included.