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|
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.
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