Thursday, March 22, 2012

Wine Flows from the Fountains

Game at Marostica chess festival
By Patricia Winton

Choosing a topic for this week’s theme was an almost insurmountable task for me. Italy loves festivals. Every church and every town has a patron saint (except Rome, which has two), and each of these is celebrated with a festival. There are highly specialized festivals like the Battle of the Oranges in Ivrea (where people throw oranges at each other) or the Chess Festival of Marostica (where people and horses represent chess pieces on a giant board).

Then there are the festivals celebrating food. Frequently these focus on local dishes like polenta or gnocchi. Or they can highlight the harvest of local delicacies like chestnuts or porcini. One joyous harvest festival is the Sagra dell’uva di Marino (the Marino grape festival).

Marino lies in the Castelli, the Alban hills just south of Rome. The Castelli have been a favorite summer retreat from Rome’s oppressive summer heat since ancient times. Even the Pope has a summer home in the nearby Castel Gandolfo. These hills are wrapped in vines producing a good white wine.

Celebrated the first weekend in October, the Marino grape festival combines the secular with the religious, as do most Italian sagre (festivals). Its origins date back to October 7, 1571, when Marino native Marcantonio Colonna led forces that defeated the Turks in the Battle of Lepanto, effectively protecting the Italian peninsula from an Ottoman invasion.

The Madonna del Rosario and the Fraternity
This battle pitted Christian states against Muslim ones, and the Christian warriors were under the protection of the Madonna del Rosario (rosary). When Marcantonio debarked in Gaeta following the battle, he went to the cathedral to give thanks to the Madonna for the victory. Pope Pius V proclaimed the Madonna del Rosario to be the protector of all within his domain and ordered a celebration in her honor on October 7. The religious side of Marino’s festival dates from that time. When Marcantonio returned to Marino in November, the city honored him with a great dinner, a tradition that continues.

The secular side began much later, in 1925, when savvy business leaders saw the potential of tacking on a celebration of the local wine to the existing religious holiday which, as fate would have it, coincides with the grape harvest.

Today, the festival lasts four or five days encompassing the first weekend in October. The event officially opens on Saturday evening around 6 p.m. with 16th century costumed figures parading along the city’s main streets, accompanied by period music and flag twirlers. Marcantonio’s triumphant return is re-enacted with the reading of a proclamation giving him keys to the city, and he in turn reads one announcing the victory at Lepanto.

A wine fountain decorated with grapes
On Sunday, all the fountains in Marino flow with wine instead of water, and one can fill a plastic cup (or even a small water bottle) with wine from the fountains. A few years ago, a glitch in the waterworks sent plain water into the fountains and wine into the faucets of surrounding homes. People ran to their windows shouting, “It’s a miracle. The water has turned into wine.” A red-faced mayor soon got that sorted, but the “Miracle of Marino” lives in legend.

Sunday morning, the local bishop celebrates mass at the cathedral with the mayor (wearing the traditional tri-color sash), military leaders (in dress uniform), and representatives from nearby towns and Marino’s sister-cities as prominent worshipers. Following the mass, a procession with the Fraternity of the Holiest Rosary bearing a statue of the Madonna, accompanied by the dignitaries at the mass, walks through the town’s main streets.

As the festival draws to a close, people dance in the street, munch a local sandwich made from porchetta (roast pig, a Castelli specialty), and, of course, drink wine. Like most other festivals in Italy, it all ends with fireworks at midnight.

Porchetta sandwiches

I blog each Monday at Italian Intrigues. I hope you’ll drop by and join the conversation.


  1. I love reading your posts, Pat. They are always informative and lively. Hope all is going well with you. On a similar note, Tennessee is allowing some people to bottle and sell moonshine now. It is not a miracle, but they do turn corn into liquor.

  2. Steve, that's so funny. Does that mean I can bring a bottle of moonshine back to Italy? With a legal tax stamp? Oh, I can't wait. What a party I can have!! Thanks, brother.

  3. Fun post, Patricia! I find festivals in Latin and Mediterranean countries that last the better part of a week appealing as well as the custom of the siesta. Too bad that stuff would never fly with the American work ethic.

  4. Oh, Suzanne, can you imagine wine flowing from fountains in America?

  5. You had me hooked from the title Patricia!! The Italians sure do know how to celebrate!!!

  6. Geets, oh yes, there's a festival every day!

  7. What fun! I can just imagine refilling my cup with fountain wine. Sounds like you are truly living the good life in Italy, Patricia.

    We're in the midst of festival season here in coastal Ga. Our first festival is a late St. Paddy's day celebration to earn money for our firefighters. The second one, which happens next month, is the blessing of our shrimp fleet, which I believe is a tradition that originated in Italy.

    It is a small world, isn't it?

    Enjoyed your post. Maggie

  8. Oh, I'm glad you have lots of festivals, too. They do cement a community. The blessing of the fleet certainly had its origins in the Mediterranean, probably in Italy because of its Catholic roots. Many fishing communities have this festival here, too, and there is one to bless animals where people bring their pets to church!

    But please don't imagine that I go out and fill my cup with wine at will!

  9. Not to get too hung up on the "miracle" aspect of your wonderful piece, but talk about a lush life! This is the stuff of grownup fairy tales. Spielberg and Pixar are probably headed to Marino for location scouting now.

  10. I thought about including some video, but the best ones were in Italian. It is quite remarkable. Hope if Spielberg and Pixar come this way, they'll let me do comentary!

  11. Hi Patricia,
    Wow, Thanks for sharing this exciting bit of wine related information !. What a fabulous way for a town to celebrate a festival --wine through fountains ( and tap :),,
    I dont know about Spielberg and Pixar, Thanks to Supriya who sent me the URL.. " Castelli and Marino grape fest " has now entered my bucket list as must see place and event !
    Darby Raju
    Soma vineyards Bangalore.India.

  12. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. It's a lively celebration. Hope you do make it. First weekend in October.