June is a great month to visit Italy. It is the high season and the country will be crowded with Italian and international visitors, but it is not normally as hot as July and August. For those who want to experience the history and culture beyond visiting monuments and museums, Italy has a long list of events for all to enjoy. June is an important month for Italians and is sometimes referred to as the “Mese della Libertà” (Liberation Month). On June 2 Italians will celebrate la Festa della Repubblica. On that date in 1946, Italian citizens voted with a national referendum to choose a republic government over a monarchy. The referendum also included the right for women to vote. Almost 54 percent of Italians chose a republic government.
Concerts, festivals, and parades take place across the country, but the largest celebration is in Rome, the seat of the Italian government.
The city celebrates the day with a huge parade in the morning which takes place along the Via Dei Fori Imperiali. This impressive thoroughfare runs from Piazza Venezia to the Colosseum. A military parade takes place along the Via dei Fori Imperiali with participants consisting of many government dignitaries as well as The Italian Armed Forces, all the police forces of the Republic, the Vigili del Fuoco, the Protezione Civile and the Italian Red Cross.
On June 2, 1946, Italian citizens voted with a national referendum to choose a republic government over a monarchy. The referendum also included the right for women to vote.
One of the most notable of the military units is I Bersaglieri. This elite group, founded in 1836, was part of the Piemontese military. Impressed with their military skills, King Charles Albert made them part of the Royal Italian Army. On Sept. 20, 1870, they earned some notoriety when they seized Rome, freeing the city of the Pope’s rule, and further consolidating Italy’s total unification. Wearing unique uniforms, with 400 beautiful black Grouse/Capercaillie flowers streaming from their wide-brimmed hats, they are noted for their intricate marches. The distinctive plumes worn on the hat were once more than decorative. They served a military purpose, providing shade for the shooting eye of the expert shooters, camouflage for the rifleman, and, before the days of helmets, deflected the assault of many a saber blade. At the other end of the parade route is the Monument to Vittorio Emmanuaele II who was the first king of a unified Italy. It is here that the president of Italy, currently Sergio Mattarella, will lay a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier. Later in the afternoon, military bands will play music in the gardens of the Palazzo del Quirinale, the official residence of the Italian president. One of the biggest highlights of the day is the aerial display by the Frecce Tricolori. This is a flyover by the Italian Air Force acrobatic patrol with nine planes emitting red, green, and white smoke flying in formation over the Monument to Vittorio Emmanuele II.
This is one of several times of the year when Italians will take an extra day, called a ponte (bridge) so they can enjoy the festivities, taking the opportunity to travel or spend more time with family and friends. Several other notable events take place during this month, all honoring and remem-bering the history and culture of the country.
On the ninth Sunday after Easter, the small Umbrian town of Spello celebrates the Infiorata del Corpus Domini. Hundreds of people spend hours creating this floral carpet with a one-mile path of beautiful floral creations along the town’s narrow streets. These events also take place in Orvieto, Genzano di Roma and Bolsena.
In mid-June, the town of Foligno, also in Umbria, hosts the Quintana Joust. This historical jousting event takes place both in June with the first challenge and with a counter-challenge later in September. Quintana derives from the fifth road of the Roman military camps where soldiers trained to fight with lances. The practice was to run a dummy soldier to try and catch a ring hanging from his arm. The first documented tournament dates to 1448. Later in 1613 the tournament began to include additional festivities which are more in line with what takes place today.
The modern version was “reborn” in 1946 and includes 10 knights. Each knight performs for a section of the town and carries that neighborhood’s distinctive flag. The knights charge on horseback at high speed around a figure-eight track with the purpose of grabbing three rings with their lance. The rings become smaller with each round requiring more agility with the spear.
The rings hang from a rotating oak statue which dates to 1613 in the center of the arena. This statue represents the God of War Mars and includes a shield with the symbol of Foligno. The festival includes a number of other festivities including a parade with hundreds of participants dressed in 17th century costumes the day before the joust.
Near the end of June, the town of Alba Fucens in Abruzzo hosts a series of concerts at one of the most spectacular archaeological sites in the region. This Roman Amphitheatre is a stunning background for music events which are also presented in the medieval churches of Santa Maria in Valle Porclaneta, Santa Lucia in Rocca di Cambio and San Pietro Alba Fucens.
When it comes to sports, we all know Italians are great tifosi, or fans of soccer. Italy boasts a number of renowned teams, but they also give a nod to the sport with a historic soccer match Calcio storico, whose final games takes place in Florence in June.
The Calcio Storico Fiorentino is a combination of soccer, rugby, and wrestling. The event originated in 16th-century Florence and players engage today in historical costume. There are four teams from the city’s historical neighborhoods who compete against each other, first in two semi-finals and then in a final match to determine the winner. It is tough for non-locals to get tickets for the event due to its popularity but if you have relatives there it might be possible to witness this well-known sporting event.
Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the importance to Italians of the many Saint’s Days which take place across the country in every city and every small town. When I lived in Italy, I participated in many a saint’s day celebration in the small town in Sicily where we spent our summers. In the town of Graniti we would be awakened early with the sound of percussion cannons echoing through the town and then the marching band would play through the streets. Later there was always a market and the culmination was taking the statue of San Sebastiano from the mother church and then walking through the hilly and narrow streets back to the church where it is displayed for the remainder of the year. This was followed by impressive fireworks and then a musical concert. I also spent several years living in Frosinone and was often able to watch fireworks at night all across the valley when several nearby towns would be celebrating their patron saint.
Pisa hosts a number of events in June in honor of their patron St. Ranieri. The Luminara of St. Ranieri is celebrated on the eve of the feast day of Saint Ranieri when buildings along the Arno River, the bridges crossing the river, and the river itself are illuminated with the ﬂames of over 70,000 small glass candle holders.
The next day is The Historic Regatta of St. Ranieri. There are four boats, one from each district of the city whose participants row against the Arno River’s current. The ﬁ rst boat to arrive at the ﬁ nish line will have one crew member climb up a 25-foot rope to reach the victory ﬂag. On the last Sunday in June the city and visitors turn out in full force to watch Il Gioco del Ponte, or Game of the Bridge. In this competition between the north and south sides of the Arno River, two teams try to push a huge cart into the opposing side’s territory to claim possession of the bridge. Prior to the battle, there is a parade on each side of the river with participants in historical costumes. The two teams then line up, the cart is unlocked, and the battle begins.
There are numerous other events which take place across Italy in June: wine and food festivals, small and large musical events, ﬂower festivals, art exhibits and much more. Each event is a way for Italians to not only remember their history but to enjoy the plethora of cultural achievements that has made them famous worldwide. While honoring the past they are enjoying the present and all this beautiful country has to offer.