Festivals and Palios in Umbria in summer 2024

We are quite often asked if we have any original tips for activities in our area. Seasoned Italy-goers know the better-known tourist attractions in Umbria by now, and then it is nice to go and see something unique and come home with new stories. 

Every summer all over Italy, there are folk festivals and markets that you can visit as a tourist and get an interesting insight into how Italians commemorate their centuries-old folk traditions. Everyone knows the Palio in Siena, where every year thousands of people try to secure a spot along the square to watch the representatives of the districts race their horses.

Umbria also has many such folk festivals and celebrations, almost all of which have their origins in the early Middle Ages, or even earlier. The events are often a playful reference to mutual struggles, between the main towns, or between the different districts in the towns. Often, the festivities last several days, with each day involving tests of skill by the participating districts. All this, almost without exception, in splendid clothes like those worn in central Italy around 1500.

It is worth consulting Umbria's local events calendar for a full list of all the festivities taking place during your stay in the region. You will see that there is something going on somewhere every weekend in spring and (late) summer. Check out https://www.umbriaeventi.com/. The site is not translated but with a little good will you will be able to figure it out.

Below I will already list the most famous ones with the dates for 2024. The festivals are all within a maximum one-and-a-half-hour drive from Polmone.

Il Mercato delle Gaite is a festival with a medieval flavour that takes place annually in the town of Bevagna (1h10 drive from Polmone). During this festival, all kinds of medieval crafts and activities are depicted, such as cheese making, bread baking, weaving and blacksmithing. The clothes of the artisans and their surroundings are then dressed entirely in medieval atmospheres for the occasion. Visitors can enjoy traditional food and drinks, medieval music and dance performances. The Mercato delle Gaite attracts thousands of visitors every year who want to enjoy the atmosphere and history of medieval Italy.

The 2024 Mercato delle Gaite will take place from 21 June to 30 June. Website: https://www.ilmercatodellegaite.it/

La Festa dei Ceri. The Festa dei Ceri is an ancient religious and cultural festival that takes place annually in Gubbio, an hour and a half's drive from Polmone Turismo Verde. The festival takes place every year on 15 May in honour of the town's patron saints San Ubaldo, San Giorgio and San Antonio. The special highlight of this festival is the running with the "Ceri". At the end of the festival day, during which there have been parades and demonstrations all day, three specially selected groups of Gubbio residents present huge wooden cylinders, called "ceri", decorated with the images of the saints. The three groups must run with these ceri on their shoulders through the town's narrow streets to the basilica of San Ubaldo, where the holy relics are kept. When, at the end of the "race", the ceri are carried up the stairs to the basilica, it provides an awe-inspiring spectacle. Because of the speed at which the ceri are carried through the streets, there are also occasional falls, and YouTube still has videos of them.

Find more information at: https://www.ceri.it/

Calendimaggio in Assisi The Calendimaggio in Assisi festival is also a spectacle of medieval costumes, parades, music and dance. The two districts of Assisi, Parte de Sopra and Parte de Sotto take part in all kinds of ceremonies, parades and competitions among themselves. The festival originated in the 4th century AD as a pagan festival celebrating the arrival of spring and the departure of winter. Over the centuries, it has evolved into this multi-day festival in which traditions and folklore are reflected in all parts of the festivities. 

For a good explanation of everything that takes place there and for beautiful pictures, I refer to their website (with an English version) at https://www.calendimaggiodiassisi.com/ . Traditionally, the festivities are held on the first Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and seat day in May (but never around May 1). In 2024, it will be held from May 8 to 11.

The Fugue Del Bove festival in Montefalco is an annual event that always takes place in August. This festival is another reference to the town's late medieval history. Over a week-long period, the town's four districts take part in a variety of inter-competitions (including a sympathetic race with young Chianina cattle, from which the festival takes its name) and parades in beautiful costumes. Every year, 1 of the districts wins the festival and is then awarded the Golden Falcon. There are also performances by folk groups and traditional music.

This year's festival takes place from 3 to 18 August, and more information can be found at: https://www.fugadelbove.it/

The Giostra della Quintana is originally a knights' tournament that takes place twice a year in Foligno. There is a June and a September edition. Once again, the different districts of the city compete for honours. Apart from a beautiful procession in traditional costumes, the festival is marked by an exciting contest in ring stabbing. Using horse and lance, a ring must be knocked out of the hand of a statue of the god Mars.

For a nice description of the festivities, in Dutch, please visit here read in the Italy blog Ciao Tutti. The official website of the Giostra is: https://www.quintana.it (English version). In 2024, the Giostra della Quintana will be held on 14/15 June and 14/15 September.

Spoleto: Festival dei Due Mondi (Festival of the Two Worlds) A prestigious arts festival held every year in the picturesque town of Spoleto. No medieval costumes and competitions between districts this time: this festival is more for those who prefer to check out the state of art and culture in contemporary Italy. 

"Due Mondi" was founded in 1958 primarily as a music festival by Italian composer Gian Carlo Menotti. Today, it encompasses various disciplines such as theatre, music, dance and visual arts. During the festival, internationally renowned artists and companies perform and various exhibitions and events are organised in the historic city centre. It is recommended to visit the very well set-up website https://www.festivaldispoleto.com/en(english version) to consult. Tickets must be bought for many of the parts during the nearly 3 weeks of events.

In 2024, the Festival dei due Mondi will take place from 28 June to 14 July.

The Palio dei Terzieri in Città delle Pieve. An hour's drive in the other direction is Città delle Pieve, a town worth a visit in itself with its sympathetic layout and alley-route. A big competition between the three districts of the town takes place here every year after mid-August. There is a real competition ground with stands where palios are held on several nights in a row. Cow races, flour fights, archery and ring jumping; it all passes by. There is also competition every year to emerge victorious in terms of the quality and originality of the costumes worn during the parades. To see the latter, all you have to do is stand somewhere on the route in the town, and to watch the competitions properly, you can buy tickets. When you walk around there during the palio, it is great to see how the whole town, young and old, participates proudly and is very involved in the festivities.

No dates for 2024 are known at the time of writing, but on the official website https://www.paliodeiterzieri.it/il-palio/ is bound to find something in due course.

Even the residents of our own small village San Venanzo find all kinds of reasons throughout the year to get together and have a party, and even if you are a non-resident, you are just welcome! In summer, there are events almost every weekend from June to September in the little park in front of the town hall (the old castle of the Faina family) Usually you can order, get and eat a cheap meal at the many picnic tables set up for the occasion. Later in the evening, there is often a local, or sometimes even national, artist giving a concert on the big stage. Young and old San Venanzo flock to this, and it gives a nice picture of summer Italian life in a rural village.

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