All Italy is a stage, open to the public all year round, for the celebration of countless festivities, historical events and contests.
Piceno too, with its population spread out over its hills and mountains, and with its centuries-old history, is part of this grand performance: each of the hundreds of villages has its own history, and each one is worthy of commemoration.
Visitors can choose from a long list of events, all of which offer a great experience.
Palio del Duca and Sponsalia (Acquaviva Picena)
The first week of August brings the commemoration of the betrothal, wedding, and banquet, in 1234, of Forasteria degli Acquaviva and Rainaldo dei Brunforte, called “Il Grosso”.
The wedding brought great prestige to the Acquaviva family and enabled Frederick II to strengthen his hold on Piceno. The festivities include dancing, gastronomic delights, games and contests between the two city districts (Aquila and Civetta) against the enchanting backdrop of the old part of town.
Processione delle Canestrelle (Amandola)
Taking up rituals handed down over countless generations, the “procession of the wicker baskets” is a characteristic rural celebration of the people of Piceno, based on a long tradition of making offerings.
Wicker baskets decorated with ribbons, and filled with wheat and other farm produce, are carried in the procession as an offering to the Blessed Anthony, in the central church of Sant’Agostino.
In peasant tradition, offering the produce of the land is a way of expressing thanks to Divine Providence for the abundance of the harvest, and the offering is made indirectly, through an intermediary – in this case, the Blessed Anthony, “il Beato Antonio”.
The Festa Bella (Spelonga di Arquata del Tronto)
The “beautiful festa” takes place every three years in the last ten days of August.
It commemorates the participation of many from Spelonga at the Battle of Lepanto (1571 AD), which led to the capture of a battle flag from a Turkish ship, now in the church of Sant’Agata.
Wearing red surcoats, 150 villagers walk to the huge Bosco Maltese, a wood in the Monti della Laga, where they cut down an enormous tree, at least 25 metres tall.
This becomes the mast of a Christian “ship” built in the village square.
The climax of the Festa comes when the tree trunk is raised into position on the ship using step ladders and ropes.
The Discesa delle Fate (Pretare di Arquata del Tronto)
Every three years, the highly original “descent of the fairies” attracts a huge public to the foot of the cliffs of Monte Vettore.
The imaginative story line of the event recalls the origins of the village of Pretare and is inspired by stories of the Monti Sibillini, which have enchanted and attracted visitors ever since the Middle Ages.
All the characters in the legend appear in the show: there is the Sibyl, with her magic powers, the Fairies, dream-like and yet also diabolic creatures, the shepherds, and the unknown warrior Guerrin Meschino.
The Notte di San Lorenzo (Paggese di Acquasanta Terme)
The “Night of Saint Lawrence” recalls the war in August 1445, when Pietro di Vanne, the lord of Luco, set out for Ascoli at the head of a band of mountaineers to fight Rinaldo da Folignano, the half-brother of Francesco Sforza, in order to reassert the sovereignty of the Pope in Rome.
The commemoration, which involves a huge historical procession and a display by flag-throwing sbandieratori and drummers, ends with a dinner through the streets of the mediaeval village.
Giostra della Quintana (Ascoli Piceno)
The age-old “Quintain Joust”, in honour of Saint Emygdius (Sant’Emidio), the patron saint of Ascoli, was revived in 1955 and its success has spread beyond the borders of Italy.
The spectacular historical procession, with over 1200 extras in period costumes, make it one of the most famous historical re-enactments in Italy.
The commemoration – a warlike challenge with no blood spilt – recalls the late fourteenth century and culminates in a contest between six knights, who represent the six “rioni“, or districts, of Ascoli Piceno.
The actual joust consists of a battle between the knights and “Il Moro”, placed at the centre of the field.
The ceremonies, which involve the entire city, start the previous day with flag-throwing and archery contests, the offering of candles to the bishop of the city and the blessing of the horses on the parvis of the cathedral.
The monastic order of the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, better known as the Templars, was founded in 1118 by nine knights headed by Hugues de Payens, and followers of the Rule of St Benedict, who were determined to protect pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem.
The order soon became an authentic military and economic power and was ruthlessly suppressed and dissolved in 1307.
The presence of the Knights Templar in Castignano is due to the fact that it was on the route taken by pilgrims from Rome on their way to the ships that would take them to the Holy Land.
Templaria is not so much a historical re-enactment as a festival dedicated to the Middle Ages, with musical, theatre, and dance performances, against a backdrop of period settings, crafts workshops, markets and theme banquets.
Sacra Giubilare (Grottammare)
The historic re-enactment of the “Holy Jubilee” takes place in years when 1 July falls on a Sunday, with week-long celebrations.
The origins are to be found in an episode that took place in 1175: during a sea storm, the Pope Alexander III’s ship was forced to take refuge in the port of Grottammare.
In gratitude to the monks at the nearby Abbey of San Martino, who had taken him in, the Pope granted plenary indulgence to all those who took part in the eight-day ceremonies before and after 1 July whenever this falls on a Sunday.
Cavalcata dell’Assunta (Fermo)
The Cavalcade (or Palio) of Our Lady of the Assumption re-enacts an episode that took place in 1436, when Giovanni di Maestro Ugolino da Milano, an inhabitant of Fermo, created the illuminated page of the Firmonibus Missal with a detailed illustration of the cavalcade in honour of Our Lady of the Assumption.
The event includes the induction of the priors of the ten districts taking part, the bestowal of the “Palio”, or banner, and the “Tratta dei Barberi” – the assignment of the horses to the districts.
This is followed by a solemn procession to the cathedral, where the Palio is blessed and the thrilling race through the city streets takes place.
A number of events, including a tug-of-war contest, take place during the festivities.
Contesa del Secchio (Sant’Elpidio a Mare)
The “bucket contest” is the oldest historic re-enactment in the Marche, recalling the bloodless contests promoted by the Council of Priors to put an end to quarrels between the local women about use of the town’s only well.
The contest is between the four districts of the town and is preceded by the investiture of the Captain of the People and a historic procession with no fewer than 800 extras.
Torneo Cavalleresco di Castel Clementinoand Giostra dell’Anello (Servigliano)
The historic re-enactment in period costume of the “chivalric tournament of Castel Clementino” and the “ring joust” commemorates the ceding of the Piana di San Gualtiero by the Abbot of Farfa to Servigliano in 1450.
After the procession and the contests, the knights of the five town districts challenge each other in a joust that consists in spearing twelve rings of different sizes.
Four bouts take place on a figure-of-eight track.
Winter Festivities (Carnival)
Carnival is extremely popular in Piceno at both a personal and community level, with people becoming very involved in the celebrations, which attract numerous visitors from outside.
Each town has its own carnival and a precise programme of events, but four in particular have become authentic folk festivals.
Not only do thousands of adults and children in fancy dress throng the streets and Piazza del Popolo during the Ascoli Carnival but there are also (apparently) improvised events worthy of the Commedia dell’Arte.
In them, individuals or small groups create amusing scenes, putting on cabaret-style sketches and bizarre performances.
These are all in the Ascoli dialect, and make fun of the powerful, politicians, and well-known people in the city, involving the spectators themselves in an event of authentic popular democracy, with elections at the end to choose the finest masquerade.
The Offida Carnival revives the ancient propitiatory festivals of the Greeks and Romans, during which public activities were suspended and everyone indulged in unbridled merry-making.
The “ritual” begins a couple of weeks before the carnival and involves the entire population.
Lu Bov Fint takes place on Thursday before Lent: the effigy of a bull is chased through the streets by thousands of people in traditional costume (a white apron and red kerchief).
This too is a historical re-evocation that recalls the custom of the Offida aristocracy, who used to donate an ox to the population – who first had to capture it.
On Mardi Gras, the last day of the carnival, comes Li Velurd, an enthralling ceremony for the community which celebrates the “death” of the carnival by the light of huge flaming torches made of reeds and straw.
The spectacular climax of the Castignano Carnival is a ceremony to celebrate the “death” of the carnival with the procession of Li Moccule– rather like distaffs, these are made with a cane, coloured tissue paper and candle-ends.
The long procession winds its way through the streets until all the candles are finally burnt up in a huge bonfire.
The San Benedetto Carnival is famous for its parade of floats with moving papier-machè figures, and with dozens of extras on the floats and around them.
The enormously popular parade, which goes along the seafront against a backdrop of sandy beaches and palm trees, attracts thousands of people from all over.
Cavallo di Fuoco (Ripatransone)
A week after Easter, a spectacular fireworks display referred to as the “Fire Horse” is exciting evidence of the population of Ripatransone’s devotion to Our Lady of Loreto.
Tradition has it that the origin of the festival dates back to the late seventeenth century, when a pyrotechnist, who had been called in for the celebrations, “rode a horse packed with fireworks, going round the square and setting off rockets and other great marvels“.
The people of Ripatransone loved it so much that they decided to repeat it every year.
These days the horse is an effigy filled with firecrackers, which follows the band through the crowds.
Its tail is then lit in front of the cathedral.
Armata di Pentecoste – Sciò la Pica(Monterubbiano)
The “Whit Sunday Army” – “Chase Away the Woodpecker” festival commemorates the origins of the Piceni who, following a sacred ritual to the god Mars (the ver sacrum), abandoned their homeland and followed the picus, a bird sacred to the god.
During the festivities to celebrate the Pentecost, a procession of zappaterra (“earth digger” peasants) dressed in traditional working clothes (a white apron called lu guazzarò) bear a “pica“, or woodpecker, creating the air of a country fete.
Other traditions have been added to this one, which is certainly of pagan origin.
One is religious, dedicated to Our Lady of Succour, with the use of ceri magni – huge candles decorated with flowers and fruit, offered by arts and crafts guilds, and the mediaeval Whit Sunday Army, which recalls an ancient battle for civic liberty.
The event culminates in a ring joust between knights representing the various corporations.