Fall is the season of colors: earthy shades alternate with lively foliage colors, and the vibrant patterns are evident both in the natural landscape and in the seasonal produce.
In Italy, fall is one of the best seasons to celebrate the Sense of Sight for another reason too: from north to south, the boot celebrates local folklore with spectacular events.
Let’s find out about some of the most exciting fall festivals in Italy.
Fall festivals in Northern Italy
October begins with one of the most fun events around, loved by both adults and children: it is the Palio degli Asini! It is a donkey race that takes place in Alba, Piedmont, usually on the first Sunday of the month, during the International White Truffle Fair.
The history behind it? The towns of Alba and Asti were at war in 1275. When the former lost the confrontation, Asti’s inhabitants celebrated the victory by organizing their traditional horse palio under Alba’s city walls. In turn, the people of Alba decided to mock their adversaries by hosting a race with donkeys – and the tradition continued throughout time.
On this occasion, Alba transforms into a medieval city: colorful banners hang from windows and balconies in support of the 7 local rioni (ancient neighborhood divisions); more than a thousand dames, knights, merchants and soldiers in gaudy and elegant costumes parade through the city center; skilled flag wavers perform and incite the crowds to support their donkey. And the race itself is a joyous spectacle: the jockeys try to get the 7 competing donkeys to obey their orders, but the protagonists are stubborn and unpredictable, stopping suddenly, kicking, retreating or even running in the opposite direction!
In the mid-1980s, the town of Lodi, Lombardy, decided to revive and celebrate its past by creating its own, unique palio. In fact, the Cursa dei Cavai race does not involve real animals: the jockeys compete on horses made with plasterboard and wheels, which are pushed by fellow citizens! Children can also enjoy this game by competing in a dedicated race on the cutest colts.
Another game played by the competing 8 neighborhoods of Lodi is the Gara degli Anelli, in which the jockey on the “horse” has to insert his spear through four circles placed around the piazza as fast as possible. The Palio di Lodi usually takes place on the first Sunday of October.
Towards mid-November, the town of Mirano near Venice, Veneto, revives the ancient tradition of celebrating the end of the agricultural year. This event was usually enjoyed by eating goose on St. Martin’s Day, and Mirano has recreated a foodie festival that goes beyond cuisine. In fact, it has become particularly famous thanks to the Zogo dell’Oca, a funny goose game focused on local characters, facts, history and traditions. Just like a board game, Mirano’s main square is divided in 63 boxes with positive and penalizing actions for the participating players.
Apart from the game, Mirano’s festival also hosts a historic fair called Ocaria, originally started in the early 1900s. That’s why, on this occasion, the town features a picturesque setting of the early 20th century, including historic characters in costumes. There are food stands and dedicated menus with local goose specialties, live music and street performances, and even a pageant for the election of Miss Goose!
Fall festivals in Central Italy
Umbria hosts some of Italy’s most amazing and picturesque festivals. One of the most characteristic fall events is called Palio dei Terzieri, and takes place in Trevi, near Perugia. It is a historical reenactment of some events from the early 1200s, when the local youth proudly rebuilt the town from the destruction inflicted by Duke Theopoldo of Spoleto. The main celebration involves a race between three chariots that weight about 430 kg each!
On the eve of the Palio, more than 500 participants in medieval costumes march in a lavish parade around the historic center, creating a magical sight. Restaurants and food stands propose special menus with ancient flavors and dishes. Markets offer beautiful artisanal creations. This event, which occurs at the beginning of October, truly involves and ignites all of your senses… even sound! In fact, the Sfida dei Suoni is a musical challenge between Tamburini drummers!
For Umbrian festivals during other seasons, have a look at the article called “Spectacular folklore festivals in Umbria”
The princely Orsini Family played an important role in the history of Monterotondo, a town near Rome. Every year in October, locals revive the splendor of the Renaissance with a week dedicated to culture and art – called Fasti d’Autunno. In particular, theater shows and costume parades relive the period of time between the XV and XVI centuries, when Clarice Orsini married one of the main symbols of the Renaissance – Lorenzo de’ Medici (alias Lorenzo il Magnifico), and Monterotondo experienced glorious times.
One of the most striking events during this festival is the Cena Rinascimentale, a sumptuous themed dinner that takes place inside Palazzo Orsini – complete with ancient music, dances and games played by the XVI-century Italian court!
The region of Lazio is also home to another beautiful fall event: the Battle of Lepanto. Every year, on the second Sunday of October, the little jewel town of Sermoneta celebrates the epic battle of Lepanto of 1571, when Onorato IV Caetani freed the Christian world from the Turk menace.
A majestic costume parade – headed by the victorious Duke Onorato with soldiers, flag wavers and standard-bearers – enters Sermoneta and meets the procession led by Duchess Agnesina Colonna, who leaves the castle followed by knights, dames and pages. The couple reunites in the town square, where the people happily rejoice for the victory. The speeches given during the reenactment are recited in the jargon from the 1500s!
On the Sunday preceding this event, locals also celebrate the Festa della Madonna della Vittoria by organizing a 10,500-meter running race within the evocative historic center surrounded by the medieval walls.
Fall festivals in Southern Italy
Festa di San Trifone is one of the most awaited for festivals in Apulia. It usually takes place in the first 11 days of November in Adelfia (Bari), with most of the action happening in the last three days. The festival is packed with cultural, religious and foodie events from start to end.
In particular, on 10 November a cannon fires at 4AM, calling the townsfolk to join the solemn mass at 4:30AM in the parish of San Nicola di Bari. The rest of the day features streets concerts, hours and hours of diurnal and nocturnal firework shows, tastings of local products, and a solemn procession to honor the patron saint. According to popular tradition, San Trifone protected Adelfia against the plague of 1691 and saved the town from an invasion of grasshoppers. That’s why this insect is often portrayed in the saint’s iconography.
For more popular events, have a look at the article “Folklore Festivals in Apulia”
One of the most intriguing fire festivals takes place in Agnone, Molise, first on 8 December and later during winter, on Christmas Eve. The Ndocciata is a parade with a great number of ‘ndocce, which are large torches made of fir pine and bundles of dried broom held together by twine. These torches are three to four meters high. As if they were not big enough already, they are sometimes joined by horizontal poles to form structures with up to twenty ‘ndocce arranged in the shape of a fan!
Originally a pagan ritual under the Samnite tribes that inhabited the area during Roman times, the Ndocciata has become a religious celebration to worship the light of Christmas. It is a glaring example of how pagan and sacred get mixed in folklore festivals. For example, the carriers wear black traditional costumes inspired by the ancient garments of the Samnite tribes.
Even though it is not a traditional, historic or religious festival like the abovementioned ones, the following festival definitely deserves to be mentioned as a unique and vibrant fall festival in Italy. It is called Ibla Buskers, and it is a street artists’ festival that takes place in Ragusa Ibla. Every October since 1994, street artists from all over the world invade the streets of the Sicilian town: jugglers, acrobats, clowns, puppets and others all perform in exciting shows.
It is a true feast for your eyes and spirit: the colorful, lively festival turns of one of Sicily’s most striking baroque towns into an open-air circus, creating a new form of artisan authenticity and folk art!