Spring in Italy 2000: Rome, Florence and Venice

In Italy, quoting from Italian proverbs – you say April makes your sleep sweeter; probably this drowsy atmosphere has infected me too! Besides being the month of Morpheus, April also marks the beginning of spring. Hills are covered by flowers, the air is full of fragrances, and the Italian cities are more beautiful than ever. Perhaps if you could choose a month to visit them, this is would be the best one!

Cultural Events in Italy

Florence This year, Easter falls in April. Florence will be celebrating this event with a unique and very scenic festival, the so-called Scoppio del Carro that will be held in the Cathedral Square at 11 a.m. on Easter morning. This year, on April 23rd. The festival has very ancient origins. It was established by Pazzino, a noble youth of the De’ Pazzi family, who had left for the crusades and returned with some stones he claimed he had taken from the Holy Sepulchre. Since 1500, the priests of the church of Ss. Apostoli, rub the stones together and light the Easter candle, which in turn is used to light the coal placed in a special “fire holder”. The coal is then handed over to the municipal authorities and to the archbishop who celebrates a solemn mass on the high altar of S. Maria del Fiore. During the Gloria, the archbishop lights a rocket inside a dove-shaped box, that ‘flies’ across the church and the square facing it and hits the carriage of holy fire or Brindellone, as it is called by the Florentines, lighting it. This is an enormous carriage decorated and adorned with firecrackers. It is driven by Chianina oxes to this location from Porta a Prato where it is stored behind a door during the rest of the year. The explosion of the carriage is linked to a peasant superstition. If the dove reaches the carriage and this explodes without problems, it augurs for a good harvest. If problems arise, the year will definitely be one of the worst. To avoid this, a fireman hides inside the carriage and uses a match to finish off the work that may have been left incomplete by the dove! Entrance is free and the show is wonderful.

The celebrations held on April 21st in Rome, Rome’s Christmas, are entirely different. According to tradition, Rome was founded on April 21st 753 BC, when Romolus traced a furrow with his plough on the Palatine Hill. The Capitoline She-Wolf, quoted by the legend, is exhibited to the public after two years of restoration work. She was supposed to have fed Romulus and his twin brother Remus. This bronze statue, sculpted in the early 5th century BC by artists from Magna Grecia, has been the symbol of Rome from the 15th century. The exhibition arranged inside the Musei Capitolini, reconstructs the history and the symbols attributed to the work over the centuries. Drawings, sketches, engravings and medallions document the change of this image throughout history.

You should also make a point not to miss the five concerts of classical music organised by the association Athena Arte Eventi in some of the most important historical palaces of the city. Every concert is dedicated to a century, starting from the 16th. The event ends in Piazza del Campidoglio with the exhibition of the youth orchestra of the Choir of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia.

I recommend a different itinerary that will lead you to discover the Ghetto of Venice. Here you will have the opportunity of admiring the five synagogues built between the 16th and 17th centuries by the different ethnic groups who established their abode in the lagoon, in addition to old houses, pawnshops and spaces dedicated to the interpretation and reading of Holy Books. This lively and animated neighbourhood is still the centre of the Jewish community, as it was from 1516, when the Republic of Venice decided that Jews were to reside all together, to 1797 when Napoleon abolished it. Today is no longer a place of segregation but a neighbourhood active in several public activities, that has a museum, a home for elderly people and a recreational centre aimed at maintaining and promoting Jewish traditions, language and culture. The neighbourhood has increasingly developed a tourist vocation both for the beauty of its monuments and for the interest aroused by Jewish history and tradition. You shouldn’t underestimate the numerous restaurants where you can taste couscous, falafel and other typical gastronomic specialities.

For more information on the Italian Jewish communities:
www.menorah.it – the site is in Italian only.

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