Catch the Sun: Italy’s Midsummer Festival

Midsummer festivals abound in Italy. La Festa di San Giovanni, Infiorata and the sunlight glowing in the Pantheon. It’s a magical time to visit.

Catch the Sun: Italy's Midsummer FestivalImage from Shutterstock Copyright Botond Horvath

Midsummer, or the Summer Solstice, is a great time to visit Italy. Festivals abound and celebrations are plentiful. And, if you arrive in time, you can witness Italy’s yearly “miracle” when the sun strikes the exact same spot in the Pantheon in Rome, and Brunelleschi’s Dome in Florence, each year. It’s just one of the many festivals and celebrations going on in Italy this time of year.

Catholicism has always been at the heart of many Italian festivals, but The Feast of St. John the Baptist (La Festa di San Giovanni) seems to be when old Pagan traditions start to show up in a modern, Catholic feast day. The night of the Summer Solstice is still considered magical and celebrated with rites of water and fire that can be traced back to pre-christian times. During this night, bonfires are lit to burn the herbs collected the previous year. It’s even considered good luck to jump over these bonfires! Just be careful if you do attempt such a stunt. Otherwise, leave it to the locals.

Image from Shutterstock Copyright Banet

Since St. John the Baptist is the patron saint of Florence, Genoa and Turin, the festival hits a much higher pitch in these cities. In Florence, a parade traditionally occurs at the city center, followed by a grand fireworks show over the Arno River in the evening. In both Turin and Genoa, events span over 2 days, June 23-24, and include parades, music, sporting events and fireworks, in addition to the traditional bonfires. Be sure to visit during this time to fully experience old traditions meeting new ones. Just be aware of larger-than-normal crowds when looking for hotels or restaurants.

A unique summertime tradition in Italy is the infiorata: large, colorful murals made up of flower petals, buds and herbs. Infiorata are designed and constructed by specific groups during the midsummer festival. Their bright colors and intricate designs make for a wonderful photo and are quite the sight to be seen in person. Each infiorata is unique to each town; or even each church! It makes for some wonderful sights to tour and experience.

shutterstock_96756310Image from Shutterstock Copyright PerseoMedusa

Perhaps one of the most interesting sights to witness is the seemingly mechanical precision of Italy’s ancient architecture. Both the Pantheon in Rome and Brunelleschi’s Dome in Florence have the same yearly phenomena during the Summer Solstice. Sunlight, entering through an opening at the top of the dome, strikes the same spot on the ground at the same time, on the same day. It’s so precise, that the spots are marked out on the floor with a marble circle. It’s quite the sight to see for visitors and results in some spectacular photography. Be prepared to get to these sites early to not only avoid large crowds, but to also get the perfect picture of this solar phenomena.

This is a great time to visit Italy. The Summer Solstice marks the start of many outdoor summer festivals throughout the country. While specific festivals don’t have a particular dish or special food to denote the day, street festivals, vendors and restaurants are all open and awaiting the massive influx of customers. In fact, street vendors and other such stalls will offer quick, and affordable lunches to allow visitors and festival goers the chance to eat while exploring the city. Be wary, as the crowds will surly be larger and the weather gets notoriously warm this time of year. Be sure to plan around such circumstances and keep an eye out for changing public transportation schedules, restaurant hours and hotel reservations.

Andrew Asistin

Combining a love of writing and food, Andrew’s culinary journey has walked many paths. From university, to the Culinary Institute of America, to the restaurants of NYC. Now finally settled in as an editorial intern at Alimentari, the next step of his journey can begin.

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