Natale di Roma: Rome Celebrates Its Birthday

This post is about the birth of Rome, not about the birth of Christ. Both occasions use the word “Natale” in Italian. For posts about Christmas in Rome and Italy, click here.

Most city foundation stories are pretty straightforward. But the origin story of the city of Rome is more akin to something you would read in a comic book about superheroes.

According to city legend, Rome was founded on April 21, 753 B.C. by Romulus and named after him. The Natale di Roma, the birthday of Rome, is quite a complicated story.

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Cortili Aperti – Italy’s Open Courtyards

Cortili Aperti, Italy's "Open Courtyards"
For 17 years, ADSI, the Historic Home Association of Italy, has been working in conjunction with the owners of the country’s estates and villas to bring a program called Cortili Aperti, or “Open Courtyards,” to the public. The 2011 edition of Cortili Aperti, taking place the last weekend of May, will see historic properties in more than a dozen cities, including Rome, Bologna, Florence, Lecce, Milan, and Palermo, open their courtyards, gardens, and, in some cases, their living rooms, to the general public. This is a fantastic opportunity to take a peek behind the gates and doors of Italy’s very private palazzi. Visit the Cortili Aperti website for more information on this year’s program and participating cities. You may also want to check on Facebook, as a number of cities have set up Cortili Aperti event pages that you can follow for more information.

Photo © redbeetle

World’s Biggest Christmas Tree

albero-di-natale-gubbio-pRockefeller Center has nothing on this tree. The largest Christmas tree in the world is, in fact, in Gubbio, Umbria. But this is not any tree. No, this is not a tree at all. Gubbio’s Albero di Natale is a dazzling neon feat – and Guinness Book of World Records holder – that has been lighting up the hills of Umbria since 1981.

In order to get the tree ready for its annual December 7 lighting, local volunteers work for three months stringing lights and electrical equipment up the slope of Mount Ingino. (Yes, that is the same mountain that Eugubini scale each May for the celebration of the Corsa dei Ceri.) And, the numbers are astounding:

  • The surface area of the star is 1,000 square meters
  • The length of the connecting cables is 8,500 meters
  • The tree has more than 700 lights each of which requires 35 kilowatts of power to light
  • The tree has a height of 650 meters.

If you’re in some parts of Umbria, such as Perugia or Umbertide, from December 7 until approximately January 10, you should be able to see the bright lights from Gubbio’s Christmas tree. If you want to get a better look, head to Gubbio. For more information on Gubbio, visit the Comune of Gubbio website.

Photo © Agriturismo San Vittorino, Gubbio

Ramble On: Tuscany Walking Festival

Walking Festival in TuscanyTuscany, with its beautiful vistas and thousands of hectares of nature preserves and woodlands, offers numerous opportunities for serious hikers and casual trekkers alike. This is the also the thought of the organizers of the Tuscany Walking Festival, a yearly event that happens goes on roughly between the first days of spring until the end of fall.

The festival highlights six of the great hiking areas in Tuscany, including the Maremma, the Monti Livornesi and the Tuscan Archipelago. In addition to the great walks are other events and promotions, such as photography exhibits, birdwatching courses, and restaurant discounts near the walking regions. What a great way to learn about Tuscany’s natural treasures and take a break from art overload!

Photo from Tuscany Walking Festival

“Rome 1960” Book Presentation

Earlier in the summer, we wrote about David Maraniss’ new book Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World. If you read the book and loved it or put it on your reading list, then you may be interested in attending a book presentation with the author.

On September 10 at 6:30 p.m., the Istituto Italiano di Cultura of Washington, DC, and the Embassy of Italy will host the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and DC native for a discussion of his latest page-turner. If you’d like to go, you must RSVP to [email protected] or by calling 202-518-0998, ext. 1.

Another book talk coming up from the IIC will be with Eleanor Herman, the author of Mistress of the Vatican. The True Story of Olimpia Maidalchini: The Secret Female Pope.* That discussion will take place on September 24. Contact the above e-mail or phone number for more info.

*Update: This book presentation has been cancelled. To find out about rescheduling or other events, contact the e-mail address above.

Rome, Siena, Sardinia, and more

We hope you’ve had an enjoyable August. Obviously, we took a little time off for rest and relaxation (and a move!), so there’s been little time to fill you in on some of the latest Italy travel news. Here’s a recap:

Some people in Rome think it’s a good idea to create a Disneyland-like theme park outside the city. Could this possibly be a good idea? I can’t imagine Italians wanting to pay money for a bit of Italian-style Americana in their backyard, nor can I see tourists skipping the real Roman tourist attractions to see another Euro-Disney. Yuck.

On August 16, the Bruco contrada won Siena’s Palio Horserace. Congratulations, Caterpillar! Lots of Palio history and trivia here.

There have been two articles on Sardinia’s coast. The New York Times’ Seth Sherwood writes about the Costa Smeralda (Emerald Coast), claiming that An Elite Playground Becomes Less So, while The Guardian ran a feature on Sardinia’s Overlooked Beaches.

And, some art news caught our attention. In Rome, through September 7, looted Roman antiquities that have recently been returned to Italy will be on display at the Palazzo Poli (near the Trevi Fountain). And, beginning on September 7, those interested in Etruscan art and relics should head to Cortona, where Etruscan art from the Hermitage will be on loan to the Museo dell’Accademia Etrusca e della Città di Cortona (MAEC).

We should be getting back on track this week, so stay tuned!

Italian Program for European Day of Jewish Culture Announced

I’m always fascinated to learn about Jewish heritage in Italy. So, here’s a Jewish cultural event that will be going on this fall.

September 7 marks the European Day of Jewish Culture, and, according to Ruth Ellen Gruber’s blog Jewish Heritage Travel, “Italy is consistently probably the most enthusiastic country that takes part.” This year’s theme for Jewish Culture Day will be “Music,” and Italy is expected to host events in some 58 towns and cities, including Milan and Mantova.

To see a schedule of events and information about the programs, visit the Giornata Europea della Cultura Ebraica website. Note that the information is in Italian, but the times and locations are pretty easy to understand.

Siena Ready For Tourists and the Palio

Siena's Piazza del Campo Before the Palio

According to TripAdvisor, by way of Italy Magazine, the Tuscan town of Siena ranks 5th among the most-visited cities in Europe. No doubt, one of its allures is the twice-annual Palio, which takes place on July 2 and August 16.

This year’s first installment kicks off tomorrow (!) and you can watch a live feed (!!) from Piazza del Campo (the main square) on the official Palio website (in the left column, click on “Palio 2 luglio 2008 – video e diretta,” then on the following page “Diretta dalla Piazza.” We’re unsure if the live feed will be available during the race itself, but you could give it a try.

Eating Your Way Through Le Marche

Ladies and Gentlemen – start your appetites! Chowhound.com has begun a year-long series titled “Eating Your Way Through Le Marche,” starting with an entry about food festivals in the region during June 2008. If you’re in the area during June, vist Cartoceto’s Sagra dei Vincigrassi, a festival celebrating a marchigiana-style lasagna on the first Sunday of the month; Monte Porzio’s Sausage Festival on the third Sunday (and proceeding Saturday); or any one of the summer-long fairs in cities like Gradara, Gabicce Mare, and Sant’Angelo in Vado.

To learn about and discuss the food in Le Marche or other regions in Italy, see the Chowhound Italy boards. And stay tuned for more installments on Eating Your Way Through Le Marche.

It’s National Bread Day in Italy

Pane Fresco

Today marks National Bread Day in Italy, a day that will give bread lovers a chance to watch how bakers prepare the daily pane. According to U.K.’s Italy Magazine, Roman bakers are celebrating the day with the advent of a new bread – the “Tottino.”

The initiative has been extended into a week-long event in the Italian capital where a new local bread has been invented and named after the beloved captain of the city’s Serie A soccer team: Francesco Totti. The ‘Tottino’ is a circular loaf weighing about half a kilo and mixes white durum wheat flour with whole wheat flour.

For more information on Festa Nazionale del Pane, check out this link (in Italian) using a web translator.

Giro d’Italia Underway

Giro d'Italia

The 2008 Giro d’Italia – Italy’s answer to the Tour de France – kicked off in Sicily this past weekend. And, before it’s all over on June 1, pro cyclists will have traversed a big section of “the boot,” riding along the west coast up to Civitavecchia, then over to Tuscany and the Marches. You can learn about the various stages and read live spectator comments on Eurosport’s Giro coverage. Additionally, steephill.tv and versus tv offer live video, photos, and news.

Touring Italy by bike is a great way to see the country, and there are quite a few companies that specialize in cycling tours. To learn more, check out cicloposse.com, ibikeitaly.com, ciclismoclassico.com, and vbt.com.

Scootermania in Sicily

Vespas on display

At the end of this month, from April 24-27, Vespa enthusiasts from around the world will gather in Cefalù, Sicily, for Vespa World Days. This annual event, held in a different city each year, brings together thousands of the iconic Italian “motorini” from Piaggio in one place. Participants not only have the chance to meet up with other scooter fans but ride their scooters into Palermo for a parade on the 26th. Registration for the event has long since closed. But, if you plan to be in Sicily during the event, watch out (or listen!) for swarms of “wasps” zooming down the street.

Coloring the Skies

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This weekend, the incredibly picturesque town of Castiglione del Lago, located on the banks of Lake Trasimeno in Umbria, will become even more beautiful. The event is called Coloriamo i Cieli, and it features some of the world’s most interesting kites as well as its most adept kite fliers.

Since its inception, in 1982, the festival has spawned dozens of smaller programs, such as hot air balloon rides, nature walks in Parco del Lago Trasimeno, art exhibits, such as a collection of Chinese kites, and food fairs in Castiglione’s main piazza. Indeed, in Umbria, Coloriamo i Cieli means that spring has sprung!
Photo: Let’s colour the sky 27042007-001, originally uploaded by Giuseppe Toscano.

Regata della Befana, Venice

Today, day of the Epiphany, is the day that Italian children celebrate the coming of the Befana, a kindly witch that delivers treats or tricks (much like Santa). While the day is special throughout Italy, Venice commemorates the last day of the Christmas season with the Regata della Befana, a boat race through the lagoon. Venice stages hundreds of regattas throughout the year, but this one, featuring witches with broomsticks aboard the boats, is not to be missed.

Fore more information about Venice events, visit the City of Venice website.