Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Italy's Summer Festival Delimma

 Pisa San Ranieri festival  illumination draws  crowds  
 If you are planning a summer stay in one of Italy’s beautiful mid-size towns be sure to  check the dates of the local summer festival before booking your flight and accommodations.   Many historic Italian towns celebrate summer with  festivals that  draw large crowds such as  Pisa’s  Luminara di San Ranieri and Gioco del Ponte which have been celebrated  in mid June for hundreds of years.
the tower of Pisa  by night 

Other towns like  Montefiascone and Vignanello have  invented festivals or sagre  celebrating  local wine  and local food stars at the Cene in Cantina in my hometown, Vetralla. 

Along with providing entertainment,  these festivals produce  a great  amount of  confusion  annihilating the usual lifestyle of historic towns.   
The  younger crowd  looking for  lots of action may enjoy  the added buzz of  a  summer festival, but if  you prefer more traditional, slower paced living and genuine Italian lifestyle, organize your holiday  stay  before or after the festival or book a place distant  from the festival venue in order to enjoy the festivities and also get a good night’s sleep.

Italian towns cannot  compete with the night life of  Ibiza or Mykonos yet  Vetralla’s  Cene in Cantina festival boasted  4 nights of  rock music  blasted by  powerful speakers  and a strange, sweet "perfume" wafted through the air  from 11 p.m. until well after 2 a.m. 
In Viterbo  the pseudo-cultural Caffeina Festival’s  ten evenings of happenings boasted many food stands cooking up fried foods and selling  alcoholic drinks in medieval piazzas where local restaurants regularly  close down.
circus or cultural festival? 
contrasting  with the medieval architecture 
 As tourists walked  through Europe’s best preserved medieval quarter San Pellegrino, they wondered:  What do energy drinks  and mojito have to do with medieval Italy?

The lower prices and commercial (junk) food served  at the 10-day festival  creates a lot of competition with  permanent restaurants offering quality local fare.. and what about the health safeguards?  During a  street-side show  cooking, a chef was coughing directly  onto the  food  being prepared.  

This year the organizers of the Viterbo festival, perhaps sensing their future demise, decided to milk the city’s major volunteer and cultural associations.

Archeotuscia presents in Cortile dell'Abate 

on the far right, Caffeina staff take "donations" 

 Archeotuscia with its 500+ members was given time and space on the festival  calendar to publicize  their association, but in order to enter  the piazza where the presentation was being held  everyone, including members, was  asked to “donate”  3.50 euro to Caffeina’s organizers. 

A mammoth book stall set up in the  main piazza seemed to be a sign of culture: but after scouring the tables loaded with books  and interviewing a volunteer (one of  250 who receive only a free meal and T shirt) I realized there was a complete  absence of books, authors and publications from and about  the Viterbo/Tuscia area 

book tent at Caffeina
There are a smattering of local authors presenting their latest books during the quiet dinner hours, and hopefully the audience will not mind paying a ticket to attend.
 It was a surprise  to see  an entire stand dedicated to Gabriele D’Annunzio’s  Vittoriale located on Lake Garda in northern Italy. This was done to  thank  a commercial writer  whose books have been presented numerous times at the Festival. 

The city's older residents,  families  and sleep deprived working people become prisoners of these summer festivals for they have little access to their neighborhoods and can be seen schlepping  their groceries from distant parking areas.

Local tourism operators, restaurants,  B&Bs and  artisans who keep the  historic center (especially San Pellegrino ) alive all through the year are not happy with the filth, broken bottles, hooligans and extra garbage produced.
San Pellegrino,  8:30 a.m. 

 Inhabitants and administrators are beginning to realize that concentrating large doses of festival/culture/action may not be worth the problems created.  This year the discussions concerning  these noisy  summer festivals  have been rife  and  the idea of  sustainable tourism is now  being considered.

historic fountain and portapotty
A set of guidelines and  rules of behavior are needed to protect the  rights of citizens living in the areas where the festivals are held.  Safeguarding  fragile medieval and Renaissance buildings, fountains and  piazzas  is another priority.
historic fountains masqueraded as plant holders

massive speakers for a tiny piazza 
 The architectural  monuments that make our towns and cities so special should not be masked by garish  carnival rides and  plastic flowers.  

A summer festival that involves high decibel  music should  have a proper  container: a stadium, a large outdoor space or  theatre  not  a tiny, flower filled piazza which serves as an outdoor living room to its inhabitants.
 Read  more about this on my previous blog  article.  
Your comments and shares are appreciated. What are summer festivals like in your area? 


  1. MaryJane, I was never one for crowded public events and I feel the same way about "festivals" whether here or in the U.S: an excuse for selling garbage that has nothing to do with the culture being celebrated as well as an excuse for drunkenness and unrelated "entertainment." Never thought of the downsides for local businesses and residents nor the mess for the towns. Have to wonder why they continue to be held

  2. Janice wrote: I could do without them, too chaotic. Have to say the first times the charm as some are quite pretty and interesting to know its history...but some are just plain in sardinia with more than the number of average traditions and sagras, it's just impossible to see them all. I prefer the ones in the smallest towns which aren't as well attended. Who wants to go to a place at 6 am just so you can park. I have actually gone the night before and stayed at hotels so I could photograph certain ones...but there's a limit!

  3. This morning we visited the Lavender Festival held in nearby Tuscania: kudos to the administration for the good organization in their pedestrianized center . Tonight's pop concert will be held in the sports stadium, outside the historic center.

    At lunchtime our historic center in Vetralla was invaded by motorcycle reunion and 50+ motorcycles vroomed through the narrow main street showing off their loud motors and horns.