Italy: Passions and Processions

Local color and custom, pageantry and excitement make Italy's annual celebrations and festivals a memorable extra for visitors. For exact dates contact the Italian Government Tourist Office.

The Opera Season reigns throughout Italy in a host of major venues, among them Milan, Genoa, Naples, Rome, Parma, Palermo, Pesaro, Trieste, Venice and Verona.

April 21-June 20. Florence May Music Festival, Italy's oldest performing arts festival.

May 15. Race of the Candles features a procession of bearers in local costume carrying towering wooden pillars to the top of Mt. Ingino in Gubbio.

May 24. The Sardinian Cavalcade is a monumental procession through Sassari of more than 3,000 participants in Sardinian costume.

Early June. The Flower Festival in Rome is a religious procession in which participants weave their way along streets carpeted with flowers arranged in designs.

June 7. The Regatta of the Great Maritime Republics is a historic spectacle featuring competition between the four former Italian maritime republics: Venice, Genoa, Pisa and Amalfi.

June 24. Soccer Games in Florence are played in 16th-century garb to commemorate a historic 1530 match. The event also features fireworks.

June 26 to July 12. The Festival of Two Worlds is Spoleto's world-renowned performing arts festival.

June 26 to Aug. 30. Visitors who missed the December to June opera season can take in performances of the Arena of Verona Outdoor Opera Season held in the city's 22,000-seat Roman amphitheater.

July 2 and Aug. 16. The Palio Horse Race in Siena is a bareback horse race with participants competing for the palio, or banner.

July 16-19. Venice's Feast of the Redeemer centers on a procession of gondolas and other craft commemorating the end of a devastating epidemic in 1575. Also featured are fireworks over the lagoon.

Aug. 30 and Sept. 6. Arezzo's Joust of the Saracen is a tilting contest complete with knights in 13th-century armor.

Sept. 2 to 12. The Venice Film Festival is the oldest of the international film festivals. It is held primarily on the Lido.

Sept 6. The Historic Regatta in Venice features a traditional competition between two-oar gondolas.

Sept 13 and 20. The Joust of the Quintana is a historic 17th-century-style jousting competition and historical procession in Foligno.

Early October. Alba's 100 Towers Tournament includes costumes and races. It is held in conjunction with Alba's Truffle Fair, a food festival dedicated to the white truffle.

Dec. 31. Rome's annual New Year's Eve is a celebration with fireworks in the Piazza del Popolo.

First week of January. Roman Catholic Epiphany Celebrations. A major celebration is Rome's Epiphany Fair held at the Piazza Navona.

Feb. 13 to 24. Carnival in Venice is a historic 18th century event revived in the 20th century. Featured are masked balls, plays and fireworks. The Carnival in Viareggio on the Tuscan Riviera includes parades, a flower show, masked pageants and fireworks. Near Turin, the Carnival in Ivrea is a three-day affair with parades, costumes and folklore pageants.

April 10. Good Friday Procession in Rome is a dramatic torchlit procession led by the pope from the Colosseum to the Roman Forum and up the Colle Palatino.

In Florence the Scoppio del Carro, or "Explosion of the Cart," is an Easter Sunday tradition with the eruption of a cartful of fireworks in the Piazza del Duomo.

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