Italy is known to celebrate culture, and especially music, throughout the year, but if you happen to be in Southern Italy in July, and you’d be missing July Fourth celebrations in your neighborhood, don’t despair – check out the Festa Della Madonna Bruna.
The centuries-old feast of the Madonna della Bruna , Patron of the city of Matera, begins with the procession "of the shepherds", which wakes the ancient quarters at the first light of dawn, to greet the Image of the Virgin. Her passage is announced with fireworks, while the Knights who escort the float gather along the streets and in the "neighbourhoods".
According to tradition, on the morning of July 2nd the statue of the Holy Mother is taken into the church of Piccianello and then is carried in procession on the float all afternoon, along the main streets of Matera, which are flooded with people. In the evening the procession reaches the Cathedral Square, where "three turns" are performed, to symbolize the taking of the city by the Holy Patron. The statue, accompanied by the Archbishop's court is placed in the Cathedral.
The Knights, whose horses are draped with paper and velvet flowers, surround the float. The charioteer urges the mules towards the close-by piazza, to return the symbol of the Feast to the throngs gathered there. Following the same ancient ritual, the masses of people in their excitement confuse the sacred with the profane, and, to the general astonishment, assault and destroy the chariot, fruit of months of handiwork.
The festivity ends in the late evening with the din of the fireworks contest, which creates a unique scenario above the ancient quarters of the Sassi, a Unesco World Heritage site.
L'Ardia di San Costantino, Sardinia
This Sardinian festival, also in July, is “a wild race in a ritual that has not changed throughout the centuries, a test of courage and horsemanship without equal, a violent spectacle of an indescribable beauty and rare charm…” Cesare Corda.
Sardinia has many of legends that start with familiar to all “once upon a time....” These stories come from tales of epic deeds are fed by people's fantasy and handed down, in the oral tradition, from generation to generation. These legends then become popular imagination legends, and consequently, grow as authentic festivals of the people who want to believe and remember these mythical heroes, ascribing to them supernatural abilities and moreover divine investitures which of course never existed.
We are in Sedilo, a village of 3,000 inhabitants in the province of Oristano, in the centre of Sardinia. It is situated at an altitude of 288 metres, on the last sweep of the wide tableland which extends from the slopes of Marghine to the river Tirso. To the north of the village a megalithic bastion called "Nurake" can be still seen, dating, probably, to 3,500 BC.
It is easy to reach Sedilo by car. It is off the 131 Abbasanta-Nuoro main road, a few kilometers from Abbasanta. In this village the most loved, if not the most important "sagra" takes place every year.
The "L'Ardia di San Costantino" festival. The name "Ardia" comes from the "logudorese" dialect verb "bardiare" (to keep watch, protect, to guard).
Between the 5th and 7th of July every year about hundred of the most capable, daring and brave horsemen in the village take part in this wild and frantic race. They do not do it for money or to win prizes but for their devotion to a saint-warrior, who is not really a saint, but an elected to that "status" by the people, because of the feats attributed to him as a brave warrior, ready to fight for the rights of the weakest people. He is called Santu Antine (San Costantino).
Palio di Siena, Siena
You’ve probably noticed by now that almost all holidays and festivals in Italy are associated with a saint of some kind importance, and involve a horse race. The festival of Palio di Siena is no different, but neither it’s less entertaining and enjoyable.
This famous horse race in Siena's central piazza, the Piazza del Campo - a spacious scallop-shaped square dominated by the massive facade of the Palazzo, is held twice each year on July 2 and August 16, in which ten horses and riders, dressed in the appropriate colors, represent ten of the seventeen Contrade, or city wards.
These 17 contrades are: Aquila (Eagle), Bruco (Caterpillar), Chiocciola (Snail), Civetta (Little Owl), Drago (Dragon), Giraffa (Giraffe), Istrice (Crested porcupine), Leocorno (Unicorn), Lupa (Female Wolf), Nicchio (Seashell), Oca (Goose), Onda (Wave), Pantera (Black Panther), Selva (Forest), Tartuca (Tortoise), Torre (Tower) and Valdimontone (literally, "Valley of the Ram" - often shortened to Montone).
The race itself, in which the jockeys ride bareback, involves circling the Piazza del Campo, on which a thick layer of dirt has been laid, three times and usually last no more than 90 seconds. It is not uncommon for a few of the jockeys to be thrown off their horses while making the treacherous turns in the piazza and indeed it is not unusual to see un-mounted horses finishing the race without their jockeys.
A magnificent pageant, the Corteo Storico, precedes the race, which attracts visitors and spectators from around the world.
Redentore, one of Venice’s most spectacular summer festivals, is held on the third Sunday of July. However by tradition the Venetians enjoy fireworks on Saturday at midnight.
Redentore is the celebration most loved by Venetians, to remind the end of the plague in 1577, one of the most disastrous plagues in Venice history, which was believed to be brought in the city by flea-infested mice carried back from the Orient by Venetian trading ships.
In Venetian tradition the decisive factor of salvation was, like later and before occurred, the practice of sincere public devotions pursued by almost all of the surviving. These devotions culminated in the solemn vote, made by the Doge in the name of the city, to build a marvelous temple whenever the Serenissima would escape the annihilation, a real menace carried out from those kind of plagues; enough to think that that particular one killed over 50.000 inhabitants, and in that number the famous painter Tiziano Vecellio was included. After the plague diminished , therefore, the Serenissima maintained the vote of the Venetians, commissioning the architect Andrea Palladio to project and build a majestic church at the Giudecca.
Untill today, every year for the Festival an army barge bridge is built between the Zattere and the Giudeccam, and every year on the 3rd weekend in July, religious and political authorities, inhabitants and guests walk on this passageway to reach by foot, from the historical centre of Venice, the temple dedicated to Christ the Redeemer in the island of Giudecca.
For the "famous night of fireworks", between the 3rd Saturday of July and the Sunday after, thousands of Venetians and visitors come to celebrate, in the S. Mark´s basin swarming with boats crowded with people who bring typical culinary delights. Beginning on that Saturday morning, people engages with the organisation and preparation for the Redentore Festival. Foods are cooked for up to 20/30 people; candle-baloons, leafy branches and other trinket are hanged on the boats, terraces and rooftop loggias
Soon as they are ready, those on the boats start looking for the best places in St. Mark´s Basin. After supper with relatives and friends under the showy ornamentation, everybody waits for the great firework show (the "foghi") to begin, usually around 11 p.m.