Category Archives: Spello Festivals

Scene Through the Eye of a Lens

Spello Staircase

Spello Staircase

One of the things I love about Italians is that they love a festival. Any opportunity to celebrate local food, wines, traditions and culture is seized upon with enthusiasm. One such cultural event which we were privileged to attend this week was the Spello Photo Fest.

Fabrizio Corvi's Studio, Spello

Fabrizio Corvi’s Studio, Spello

Organised largely by Fabrizio Corvi, who has a studio in Spello, and Barbera Pinci, it was a celebration of the work of fifteen talented photographers. Local people opened up their garages, storage spaces and unrestored buildings to host the exhibitions in the ancient Via Giulia. This meant that as well as the art on show, we were allowed a secret peek into the wonderful old buildings which are usually hidden behind large wooden doors. This particular space was enhanced by the view across the fields and hills: a framed picture in itself….

Framed View, Spello

Framed View, Spello

Interiors offered glimpses into crumbling rooms, waiting to be brought back into use….

Ripe for Renovation, Spello

Ripe for Renovation, Spello

The exhibits themselves were extremely varied. There were haunting black and white photos by Deigo Good that drew you into his mystical world….

Lake Trasimeno. Copyright Diego Good

Lake Trasimeno. Copyright Diego Good

Artists such as Andrea Cianca documented the struggle of Italians who came out onto the streets as a last resort to defend things that were dear to them, such as their land and their jobs. These were harsh realities, tenderly portrayed.

Copyright Andrea Cianca

Italian Streets. Copyright Andrea Cianca

A laughing bride was presented in a distressed frame against a rustic wall….

image

As well as the more traditional works, there were contemporary exhibits such as this mix of familiar objects. Who wore these shoes? Who watched this TV? Whose lives are we part of for a few fleeting minutes?

image

Fabio Galioti recreated a 16th century painting by Caravaggio – The Calling of Saint Matthew – in a 9 minute film entitled “In the Light”. The characters were positioned exactly as in the painting, and as we watched they moved really slowly. It was an unusual and moving piece.

Was this doll’s head meant to remind us of childhood, or to give us nightmares?

image

In a local cafe there was a display of old photographs of Spello and the people of Spello – the Spellani. This picture was really evocative – taken in Via Guilia which has hardly changed.

Family Collection, Spello

Family Collection, Spello

In Spello’s tiny museum there was another celebration of photography, this time by the American photographer Steve McCurry containing photos of Umbria. Steve McCurry is perhaps best known for his beautiful colour photos in the documentary tradition, including his striking portrait “Afghan Girl” which first appeared in National Geographic magazine. (We saw this recently at an exhibition “Drawn by Light” in London’s Science Museum).

Steve McCurry Exhibition, Spello

Steve McCurry Exhibition, Spello

“Even in the most forgotten and hidden areas of the country you will come across massive amounts of elegance and poetry, architecture and art. In Italy I like to explore the old and new and see how they intersect. And…if I had to recommend a place to visit in the world I would not hesitate: it’s Italy.” Steve McCurry

Family Lunch, Perugia. Copyright Steve McCurry

Family Lunch, Perugia. Copyright Steve McCurry

Steve McCurry’s photographs were beautifully presented, lit from behind in a darkened room. They are full of life, full of colour and display a real empathy for the people he portrays. This photo of a horse rider taken near Castellucio di Norcia – an area known as the Tibet of Italy – could almost be a painting….

Castellucio Di Norcia. Copyright Steve McCurry

Castellucio Di Norcia. Copyright Steve McCurry

In Bevagna at the medieval market of the Gaite held each June, he captured this recreation of an ancient craft, lit like a Vermeer painting….

Bevagna Medieval Market of the Gaite. Copyright Steve McCurry

Bevagna Medieval Market of the Gaite. Copyright Steve McCurry

His photos are inspirational; it is easy to see why he is considered to be a master of his craft.

“If you wait, people will forget your camera and the soul will drift up into view.” Steve McCurry

Monk, Spello. Copyright Steve McCurry

Monk, Spello. Copyright Steve McCurry

 

Advertisements

Morning Glory

image

You have to be up early to beat the crowds on the feast of Corpus Christi. The population of the small town of Spello is around 8,000, but on this day it swells to around 80,000. Droves of people arrive in coaches and cars or on foot to see the spectacular displays of pictures created with flowers. Spello’s biggest festival, the Infiorata, is underway.

image

Around 2 kilometres of floral carpets cover Spello’s winding streets, alleyways and squares. Those in the tiny alleys are long and narrow….

image

They follow the contours of the streets….

image

This one was clearly inspired by Matisse….

image

In the squares, the pictures were spread over a larger area….

image

It is hard to believe that these detailed flower carpets are created using only leaves, flower petals, herbs and seeds. But they are; last year we were fortunate enough to be involved with the production of one of these masterpieces, picking flowers out in the fields and on the mountainside.

image

When you look closely you can see how the layers of colour are built up.

image

Here ballet dancers pirouette across the street, under a scroll of musical notes….

image

Saint Francis of Assisi was a popular subject this year; Assisi is just a few miles away and, in addition, the Pope adopted the name of Francis in remembrance of this Saint who was dedicated to the poor. See how Saint Francis’ beard has been created, texture added with tiny twigs….

image

Most of the pictures have a religious theme. One of my favourites showed the Archangel Michael smiting the devil. Look at the devil’s face – the detail is incredible.

image

Pictures are created by teams of people, largely from Spello. For weeks before the event, they pick flowers, grind dried petals and collect seeds and herbs. In the final hours, fresh flower petals are gathered. The designs are kept secret until the last possible moment as there is a competitive element. There are several different categories, including one for the under 14 age group. Just look at what they produced….

image

image

Designs are either drawn in chalk on the road surface or sketched on a paper sheet which is then stuck to the ground. Other than that, no glue is allowed – all of the flowers and seeds are placed directly onto the surface. The way in which faces are portrayed is particularly fascinating. See how this eye seems to look straight at you….

image

This entwined couple had eyes only for each other….

image

A colourful tree had three dimensional leaves and butterflies….

image

In this depiction of the Garden of Gethsemane, the leaves of the olive tree were placed right side up and then inverted to look like leaves rippling in the breeze….

image

The work on the pictures starts on Saturday afternoon. People work all night under arc lamps swung across the streets. By 8 o’clock the following morning, everything is completed. Crowds had already started to arrive as the final touches were added.

A limited colour palette did not impede the finished design…

image

This peacock was pleased as punch with his colourful feathers….

image

….whilst these sleeping beauties were oblivious to the noise of the crowds!

image

There were three-dimensional towers….

image

….and towers bathed in moonlight….

image

Tiny people gathered under arches….

image

image

Even the local digger was decorated for the celebrations!

image

At around 11 o’clock on Sunday morning there was a procession through the streets.

image

image

By Sunday evening, all of the flowers have been washed from the streets. The transient nature of the wonderful floral creations only adds to their interest. Spello’s Infiorata is a truly unique experience.

For more details of the preparations for the festival and photos of last year’s creations, click on the link below.

Daisy Petal Picking

Nothing But Flowers

image

Spello’s biggest festival – the Infiorata – takes place this weekend. It marks the celebration of the Catholic feast of Corpus Christi which this year falls on June 22. The link below will take you to my post a year ago which described the preparations for the festival and had lots of photos of last year’s event.

Daisy Petal Picking

image

I will write about this year’s Infiorata after the weekend. But now every window box, every alleyway and every corner is bright with flowers in preparation for the celebration.

image

Walk with me around the streets and enjoy some of the beautiful flowers, rainbow bright….

image

….shades of green….

image

….stylish window boxes….

image

….huge cacti flowers bursting into bloom, reaching for the sunlight….

image

….bowls of tiny blossoms, a mass of colours….

image

….and vibrant purple against a green palm….

image

Let’s hope the sun keeps shining as the beautiful carpets of flowers are laid in Spello’s streets, squares and alleyways. Prepare yourself to be amazed by these exquisite creations in my next post.

Daisy Petal Pickin’

IMG_1209

Spello’s most important festival, the Infiorata, takes place on the feast of Corpus Christi when Catholics celebrate the tradition of the body and blood of Christ. The citizens of Spello gather together to create magnificent pictures along the streets and squares of the old town, using only flower petals, leaves and herbs. Spello’s festival is the biggest of its kind in the whole of Italy.

The tradition of floral celebrations may have its origins in Roman times when large numbers of scented petals were strewn before conquering generals. The feast of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, was also celebrated in May, when wreaths of flowers were worn in the hair.

Spello Corpus Christi Procession

Spello Corpus Christi Procession

Records of floral carpets in Spello can be traced back to the early 19th century. A painting by Benvenuto Crispoldi, artist and mayor of the town, depicts the Corpus Christi procession walking over flower carpets. The form of the modern Infiorata came about when in 1930 a woman drew a figure in the street and decorated it with flowers and vegetables. Since then, the people of Spello have challenged themselves to create more and more spectacular floral pictures.

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet, “Noah’s Ark”

Around 2 kilometers of floral carpets are created by more than 40 groups of 5 or more residents in the streets and piazzas of the old town. There is a competitive element, so designs are kept strictly within the individual groups. There is a special category for under 14s, meaning that the tradition is passed down through the generations.

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet, Under 14s

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet, Under 14s – “The Creation”

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet, Under 14s, detail

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet, Under 14s, detail “The Creation”

Spello Infiorata, under 14s

Spello Infiorata, Flower Carpet, under 14s

Mio marito and I were keen to take part in the event and to contribute in a small way to our local group, the Piazzetta della Foglie, named after the tiny piazza where the group’s activities were based.

Collecting wild flowers to be dried was the first job. For several evenings we joined other colleagues to gather baskets of flowers from the surrounding countryside. On our first outing we drove around the local area searching for roses of a particular colour. When the right roses were spotted, we screeched to a halt and asked the owners if we could take their blown roses for the Infiorata. Armed with thick gloves and secateurs it felt as though we were going equipped to steal, but without exception people welcomed us into their gardens to raid their rose petals.

We picked bright yellow broom on the mountain slopes amid stunning scenery; we could see snow on the distant mountain tops.

Spello Infiorata: Collecting Broom

Spello Infiorata: Collecting Broom

Spello Infiorata: Broom

Spello Infiorata: Broom

Spello Infiorata: Snow-capped mountains.Spello Infiorata: Snow-capped mountains.

Spello Infiorata: Tired Flower Pickers!

Spello Infiorata: Tired Flower Pickers!

Spello Infiorata: Show us your pickings!

Spello Infiorata: Show us your flowers!

We picked margaritas with their snow white petals in sun-kissed meadows……

Spello Infiorata: Margarita Meadow

Spello Infiorata: Margarita Meadow – Daisy Petal Pickin’

Spello Infiorata: Margaritas and passenger!

Spello Infiorata: Margaritas and passenger!

Spello Infiorata: Margeritas

Spello Infiorata: Margaritas

….and splendid electric blue cornflowers on the great expanse of the high plains of Collefiorito in wet and muddy conditions.

Spello Infiorata: Cornflowers

Spello Infiorata: Cornflowers

Spello Infiorata: Wild Flower Meadow - Cornflower Collection

Spello Infiorata: Wild Flower Meadow – Cornflower Collection

Others picked green foliage, seeds and herbs. As the big day approached, fresh cornflowers and margaritas, foliage and fennel fronds were gathered, as fresh petals are brighter in colour than dried ones and produce a more pleasing design.

Groups of people picked the individual petals and separated the leaves, fronds and seeds.

Spello Infiorata: Picking Petals

Spello Infiorata: Picking Petals

Spello Infiorata: Fennel Fronds

Spello Infiorata: Fennel Fronds

Petals were dried in the sun…..

Spello Infiorata: Drying Petals

Spello Infiorata: Drying Petals

…and then ground, producing an eye-catching display reminiscent of the spice markets of Marrakech.

Spello Infiorata: Ready for Action

Spello Infiorata: Ready for Action

The Infiorati – those creating the carpets of flowers – either lay a paper design on the street or simply draw an outline in chalk.

Spello Infiorata: The Design

Spello Infiorata: The Design

Spello Infiorata: The Design

Spello Infiorata: The Plan, showing the colours

Spello Infiorata: A chalked design

Spello Infiorata: A chalked design

The Infiorati fill in the designs with their petals, leaves, seeds and herbs.

Spello Infiorata: Filling in the design

Spello Infiorata: Filling in the design

Spello Infiorata: Filling in the design

Spello Infiorata: Filling in the design

Groups start on Saturday afternoon and have to complete by 8am on Sunday morning so they work throughout the night. For the larger areas, canopies and lighting are erected to protect the delicate work. Unfortunately the designs in the narrow streets have no such protection.

Spello Infiorata: Detail

Spello Infiorata: cherub detail

Spello Infiorata, cherub detail

Spello Infiorata, cherub detail

In the early hours of Sunday morning there was a torrential downpour of rain and many of the flowers were washed away. Most groups managed to restart their work, and in recognition of the weather conditions they were allowed an extra hour to finish. The enthusiasm and passion of everyone involved in preparing for and producing these sophisticated, scented masterpieces was really impressive.

We rose before dawn to see the sunrise and to watch the final touches being added.

Spello Infiorata: Sunrise

Spello Infiorata: Sunrise

The themes are largely religious……

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet - Pope Francis, St Francis of Assisi and St Peter's Basilica, Rome

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet – Pope Francis, St Francis of Assisi and St Peter’s Basilica, Rome

Look at how the effect of grey hair and the realistic skin tones are achieved.

Spello Infiorata: The Holy Family. Look at the grey hair effect!

Spello Infiorata: The Holy Family.

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet detail

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet detail

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet, Jesus with crown of thorns

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet, Jesus with crown of thorns

……although there are also colourful geometric designs.

Spello Infiorata: A geometric patterned carpet winds up and around a narrow alley

Spello Infiorata: A geometric patterned carpet winds up and around a narrow alley

Spello Infiorata: A narrow carpet in a narrow alley

Spello Infiorata: A narrow carpet in a narrow street

Spello Infiorata: Floral Carpet

Spello Infiorata: Floral Carpet

There are strict rules to be followed: large designs must cover 24 square metres whilst those in the narrow streets must be 12 square metres. Flower petals – fresh or dried – foliage, herbs and seeds are the only materials. No glue is allowed. They prayed it would not be windy!

This was the carpet that mio marito and I made a small contribution to. Laid in our narrow street, it was in the form of a watch. Individual segments illustrated points during the day and the watch face at the centre showed the face of Jesus in shadow. The message was one of prayer throughout the course of the ordinary day.

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet

The technical difficulty is apparent when you look at the detail of, for example, the clock on the wall and the filing cabinets.

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet, detail

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet, detail

One of my favourites used the contours of the small square to wonderful effect. Even the water fountain was covered with flowers.

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet, “Never Lose Hope”

DSC_0317

Different effects were produced by layering petals, giving pictures depth and texture.

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet

Bright colours and exquisite designs were all around the old town.

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet

Spello Infiorata, detail

Spello Infiorata, detail

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet showing the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi

It is hard to believe that these pictures are created entirely with flowers; they look like beautiful paintings. But look closely and you will see the individual petals.

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet

As well as the extravagant floral carpet displays, there are a number of other concurrent events, such as musical performances, competitions for the best floral cake design and the best flower-themed needlework and competitions for the most attractive window-boxes, balconies and alleyways. Even the restaurants serve food inspired by flowers.

Spello Infiorata: Balcony Display

Spello Infiorata: Balcony Display

Spello Infiorata: Alley with strewn petals

Spello Infiorata: Alley with strewn petals

Despite the forecast, the weather was brilliant for the entire day. In 2012 there were 80,000 visitors to the Infiorata. I have no idea how many turned up this year, but turn up they did – in their droves. Tiny Spello hummed with their chatter and exclamations of delight!

Spello Infiorata: Here comes the crowd!

Spello Infiorata: Here comes the crowd!

Coaches disgorged streams of happy visitors, cars queued to get in at the outskirts of the town and the people of Spello welcomed them all, free of charge. Bars that had stayed open throughout Saturday night to feed the Infiorati were still open on Sunday to refresh the travellers.

Following the celebration of a religious service to mark Corpus Christi, there is a flamboyant procession through the old town across the floral carpets led by the local bishop and his entourage.

Spello Infiorata: Corpus Christi Procession

Spello Infiorata: Corpus Christi Procession

Spello Infiorata: Corpus Christi Procession

Spello Infiorata: Corpus Christi Procession

The skills of the Infiorati are highly prized and they have been called upon previously to create floral masterpieces in Rome and Venice. The latest commission is to provide a carpet of flowers to celebrate the visit of Pope Francis to Assisi in October. The flower gathering has already begun.

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet detail

Spello Infiorata: Flower Carpet detail

Rise

Easter Sunday dawned with church bells ringing and torrential rain, but nothing was going to dampen our spirits as we set off to town in search of a coffee. Bar Tullia has delicious coffee and pastries and a friendly clientele. The lovely Antonio and Paola were quick to introduce themselves and curious as to why we had chosen Spello for our extended stay. Everyone is so friendly and welcoming; a true community.

Back at the apartment we prepared the typical Umbrian Easter Sunday breakfast.

Traditional Umbrian Easter Sunday Breakfast

Traditional Umbrian Easter Sunday Breakfast

Traditionally, this is eaten at 9 o’clock in the morning, but to be honest we just couldn’t face wine at that hour, so we modified our plan and held out to midday.  The wine is an exquisite Vernaccia, made from half-dried grapes aged in small wooden barrels. Not quite a port; closer to a Madeira perhaps, slightly sweet but rounded and delicious. The wine was accompanied by Torte Pasquinale, savoury bread with pecorino cheese and salume, dried sausage with wild boar and mule. It was delicious.

The big event of the day was “running Jesus through the streets”, when a large statue of Jesus is carried at speed by several strong men, from the church of Santa Maria Maggiore to the Oratorio of Saint John the Baptist. The heavy rain of the morning had by now matured into a raging storm, and it raged on with lightening, thunder and sheet rain threatening to drown out the traditional celebration of the risen Christ. Mio marito declared that he was not, under any circumstances, risking drowning, being struck by lightening or by a heavy statue, but he relented when he saw me swathed in waterproofs and ready to go! So off we went.

Spello - Easter Sunday. The brass band leads the procession.

Spello – Easter Sunday. The brass band leads the procession.

I saw the procession approaching from afar. “There’s Jesus!” I squealed, a little too loudly and a little too enthusiastically, as if I had just spotted Elvis. A lone trumpeter ran towards the procession, clearly late on parade. On they came, until we could clearly see the pain on the faces of the men carrying Jesus.

Nearly there...

Nearly there…

Jesus returns in triumph to the Oratorio.

Jesus returns in triumph to the Oratorio.

Finally, Jesus was returned to his home in the Oratorio and after a few prayers and votes of thanks, the crowd dispersed. Inevitably the number of people attending was reduced due to the foul weather, but bravo to those brave souls who stayed the course.

Mary Don’t You Weep

Italy is a Catholic country. Around 90% of the population – so about 57 million people – describe themselves as Catholic, although not all practice their faith. Good Friday (Venerdi Santo) is marked throughout Italy by parades to remember the Passion of Christ. Spello is no exception, so the streets of the old town were closed to traffic (a blessing in itself!) and candles were lit throughout the streets. Our entrance looked enchanting.

Entrance to the Nunnery by candlelight.

Entrance to the Nunnery by candlelight.

The  historic centre exhibited large paintings of each of the 14 Stations of the Cross, and this formed the route for the evening procession (Via Crucis d’Autore). The crowds (hundreds of people) followed behind the group of priests and church officials. The local mayor and polizia were also present.

One of the Stations of the Cross, Spello

One of the Stations of the Cross, Spello

The Leaders of the Good Friday Procession

The Leaders of the Good Friday Procession

At each Station of the Cross the procession halted and extracts from the Gospel were read. Then the main priest – with his microphone in hand – led the followers in prayers and singing as they walked to the next Station.

We are not religious, but we are keen to experience the local traditions, and so we joined in with the procession (though not the prayers and singing!) around the steep streets in the shadow of churches and other buildings; those stones have overseen processions like this for hundreds of years, and hopefully will continue to do so for many more. A moving evening.