Calendimaggio–Assisi’s May Day Revelry

Calendimaggio participants standing in front of the Temple of Minerva in the Piazza del Commune

Calendimaggio participants standing in front of the Temple of Minerva in the Piazza del Commune

Imagine two rival families in the same village fighting for supremacy, leading to a period of enmity for over two centuries. Not unlike the Capulet’s and Montague’s of Romeo and Juliet, the Fiumi and Nepsis families from 1300 Assisi did just that. Today it is re-enacted, although in a much more neighborly way, which culminates toward the end of the Calendimaggio.

A most worthy event, the Calendimaggio was originally an ancient celebration of Spring May Day. Today it is a three-day festival held the first Thursday, Friday and Saturday of May. Traditionally, the festival is dedicated to St. Francis, since he was known to be a poet, troubadour and dancer in his youth. Locals carry on by dressing up in lively and colorful medieval costumes while putting on three days of festivities and competitions with love songs, games and events. Groups of revelers serenade throughout the streets of town, bringing a spirit of romance and chivalry.

The long-standing rivalry between the warring families is a more recent historical addition to the festival. Deep divisions were created and hatred continued until the mid 1600’s, when the Papal Governor, Giovanni Andrea Cruciani, organized the town into three districts.  As a result, the hatred slowly gave way to harmless rivalry, making the Springtime ritual develop into a playful contest between the two rival sides. Peace and Friendship celebrated the annual Return of Spring.

Fair Ladies dance in May Day revelry

Fair Ladies dance in May Day revelry

A Festival Queen is chosen through an animated contest of medieval games, held in the Piazza del Commune, the main piazza of Assisi.  Flag throwers show off their expertise as Minstrels sing troubadours songs to the new Queen. Illuminated by torchlight, the games and contests continue.

Theatrical Exhibits by Torchlight

Theatrical Exhibits by Torchlight

Parades, floats, and animated dancing flow throughout the flower-strewn cobbled streets of Assisi.

Welcome to Calendimaggio...it's time to celebrate!

Welcome to Calendimaggio…it’s time to celebrate!

The festival leads to the famous Palio, a contest between the two neighboring districts of Assisi. They are the Magnifica Parte de Sotta and the Nobilissima Parte de Sopra. This event mirrors the centuries old feud between the Fiumi and the Nepsis families.

Ahhh....Let the Contests Begin

Ahhh….Let the Contests Begin

Archery, Crossbow and Chivalrous contests thunder throughout the Piazza del Commune. The two opposing sides perform amidst a spectacle of color and flurries of banners. A sporadic drumroll keeps the tension high.  The grand award is called the Palio, a banner the prevailing “Parte” will keep for a year. Calendimaggio is Assisi’s only secular celebration even though the banners, at the beginning of the festivities, are blessed in the churches.

On the final eve a panel of judges, composed of historians, directors and musicologists, award the team that displays the best interpretation of celebrating the return of Spring. All done in good jest, the festivities are capped off with feasting and well-wishing. Until next May, the winning team reigns as supreme.

Flag Dancers

Flag Dancers

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St. Andrews Cathedral, Amalfi


Categories: History

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3 replies

  1. Thanks for a very useful and well-written blog, Susan.

    This is too late for the anonymous Calendimaggio enquirer, but I hope it clarifies things for other people.

    Calendimaggio begins a week or so before the final displays (which now take place over four days, not three as in the past – the first Wednesday to Friday of May which does not include 1st May – check each year though, in case things change again). Events leading up to Calendimaggio proper include crossbow, dancing, flag throwing and the Sopra (upper town) and Sotto (lower town) “tavernas” (traditional eating and drinking pop-ups – great fun when they’re crowded to overflowing!).

    During the main Wednesday to Saturday events the Piazza del Comune is closed off to the public and you need to buy tickets (approx 2016 prices: 80 euro for the “best” seats and 60 euros for the other (all are fine though). Calendimaggio is mainly a celebration of Assisi for Assisi and the vast majority of seats go early to local people, but it is possible to buy tickets online if you get in early eough (google “Calendimaggio” for the official website). Seats for one or two events (especially the Friday afternoon display) may be sold separately, but they run out early!

    For more details, see my Discovering Assisi site, under the Events tab: discoveringassisi.wordpress.com

    Like

  2. My husband and i have saved for years to attend..we are trying to understand if we need to purchase a pass to the event…i am at laura9first@yahoo.com…it would be onderful to hear back💜

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