Easter in Italy

Church bells are silent from the day before Good Friday to Easter Sunday when they ring out again. The bells are said to go to Rome to see the Pope, and then return with Easter eggs, which are hidden in houses and gardens for children to find. Other traditional Easter foods include lamb, goat and special Easter breads such as Panettone, Colomba Pasquale, Fugazza Vicentina, Pizza di Pasqua and Fiadoni.

Religious processions are held in many Italian towns and cities on Good Friday, Easter Saturday and sometimes on Easter Sunday. They often involve statues of Mary or Jesus being paraded through the streets by people dressed in medieval costumes while olive branches or palm fronds are waved by the spectators, and are used to decorate the churches.

In Florence’s historic centre (centro storico) the Easter celebrations, known as Scoppio del Carro (explosion of the cart), involves a large 17th century cart being pulled through the streets by a team of white oxen, which are decorated with garlands. The precession goes to the square outside the Basilica di S. Maria del Fiore, where they hold mass. After the service the Archbishop lights a dove-shaped rocket which goes down a wire and hits the cart in the square, setting off fireworks. The idea is that the loud explosions will ensure a good harvest. Following on from that is a parade of people dressed in medieval costumes.

Processions are held all over Sicily to celebrate Easter. For example, in the Sicilian town of Enna a procession of two thousand friars dressed in medieval costumes is held on Good Friday, while in Trapani, statues made by local guilds are carried through the streets in a procession that lasts 24 hours. In Prizzi, south of Palermo, some of the people dress up as devils with red and black masks, horns and grotesque noses and they go through the streets trying to persuade spectators to buy them drinks. At the same time other people dress as angels and stage a symbolic struggle with the devils, who are defeated and have to buy drinks for everyone.

In Sulmona in the Abruzzo region people dress in green and white on Easter Sunday and gather in the main piazza. The woman playing the Virgin Mary is dressed in black at first, but after she goes to the fountain and doves are released, her outfit changes to colour to green. After this there is music and much eating and drinking.

In Rome on Good Friday the Pope celebrates the Via Crucis in Rome near the Colosseum. A huge cross with burning torches lights the sky as the stations of the cross are described in several languages, and the Pope gives a blessing after this. On Easter Sunday the Pope celebrates mass at St Peter’s Basilica.

On Easter Monday (La Pasquetta), there are dances, free concerts and games, often involving eggs. One game, Ruzzolone, is played in Panicale, a small town in Umbria, and involves rolling large cheeses are the walls of the village. The winner is the person who gets their cheese around the walls using the fewest strokes from a stick.

Cactus Language offer a variety of Italian language courses in the UK, New York and Italy.


Top 5 Spring festivals in Italy

Easter Week, Rome & Florence: 29th March-1st April

If you can be in Italy during Easter Week you will be treated to splendid traditions, poignant rituals and abundant food as Lent reaches its end. While Easter Mass is held across the country in every church, it’s the one led by the Pope at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome that tops the agenda. He also blesses the Via Crucis on Good Friday, where a huge cross is lit with burning torches near the Colosseum. Alternatively, head for Florence where the Scoppio del Carro, or explosion of the cart, provides a spectacular display of fireworks and parades in medieval costume on Easter morning. Wherever you are, Easter Monday, or La Pasquetta, is a day of festivity, fun and social gatherings – to say nothing of fine food and wine, which goes without saying.

Italian courses in Rome

Festa di San Marco, Venice: 11th-12th May

All you romantics out there, head for Venice on 25th April. As well as being Liberation Day in Italy, celebrating the anniversary of Italy’s liberation by the Allies in WWII, it is also the feast day of Venice’s patron saint, San Marco. And it is during this Festa de San Marco that Venetian men traditionally present the woman they love with a red rosebud, or bocolo. Enjoy the parades in St Mark’s Square and woo your beloved in one of Italy’s most beautiful cities – guys, this one will win you brownie points with your loved one.

Italian courses in Venice

Sagra del Pesce, Camogli: 12th May

It would be impossible to talk of festivals in Italy without bringing up food at some point. The Sagra del Pesce (Fish Feast) Festival in Camogli, just south of Genoa, is a must for anyone who likes fish as, every year on the second Sunday of May, this small and pretty fishing village perched on the Italian Riviera hosts a massive, jovial and free feast of freshly caught fish. And it really does have to be seen to be believed. For the entire day, fishermen swap their nets for aprons and devote the day to frying their produce in a giant saucepan that’s 5 metres wide (that’s over 16 feet) with a 7 metre handle – possibly even more impressive than the fish that comes out of it. Whatever the case, it’s fish for everyone – it’s delicious, and it’s free!

Italian courses in Genoa

Infiorata di Noto, Sicily: 12th May-20th June

Spring is a time for flowers, and there’s nowhere better to get your fill of colour and scent than in the picturesque Baroque town of Noto in southeast Sicily. On the third weekend in May the pavements of Noto are covered with intricate ‘carpets’ of flower petals that form stunning mosaic patterns and pictures. Local artists go to town with their designs which are all made out the most natural materials possible – in addition to flower petals, they use earth, wood cuttings, seeds and more. The artists begin their creations on Friday, for all to enjoy over the weekend, and then on Monday children are let loose with delight to run through the flowers and destroy the designs. But, at least for one weekend, locals and visitors to Noto look down rather than up, as usually it is the beautiful balconies overhead that catch the eye, not the pavement underfoot.

Italian courses in Taormina

Festival dei Due Mondi, Spoleto: 28th June-14th July

The pretty hill town of Spoleto in southern Umbria plays host to the Festival dei Due Mondi, one of Italy’s most famous performing arts festivals. So-called as its founder, composer Gian Carlo Menotti, hoped to bring together the old and new worlds of Europe and America, it is a packed programme of music, opera, theatre, art and sculpture, and each year draws in first-class artists from around the world. As can be expected, Spoleto gets very busy during the festival, but Orvieto is about 90 minutes away and makes a perfect place to escape the crowds whilst still staying within easy distance of the festivities.

Italian courses in Orvieto

What makes Orvieto a great Italian study destination?

1. Beautiful buildings and stunning views

Orvieto is a medieval town and as such still has an array of beautiful, cobbled streets and historic buildings for visitors to enjoy. Its location on top of a cliff amidst the rolling Umbrian countryside is simply stunning, and means that you can enjoy fantastic views that stretch for miles.

2. Good accessibility and affordable travel options

Although Orvieto doesn’t have its own airport, it is located close to Perugia, which has an airport with regular flights to and from the UK. It also enjoys good rail links to the cities of Rome and Florence – the journey from Rome takes just over an hour and from Florence around an hour and a half.

Orvieto is of course smaller and less well-known than Rome and Florence, but this gives it a laid-back atmosphere and a lower cost of living.

3. A fascinating history and lots of interesting sights

Orvieto’s origins date back to the Etruscan era, when the city was actually known as ‘Velzna’. It was a flourishing settlement, which based its economy on ceramics production and bronze manufacture.

In the third century BC the city was invaded by the Romans, who deported the inhabitants to the shores of Lake of Bolsena, where the city of Novi Volsinii was founded. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Orvieto was conquered by the Goths, then by the Byzantines and lastly by the Longobards of the Duchy of Spoleto. During this period Orvieto rivalled Rome in glory and military power but after a while civil and religious battles between the noble families of Orvieto broke out and this situation helped Cardinal Albornoz seize Orvieto in 1364. In 1449 Orvieto finally became part of the Church State and remained so until 1860, the year in which the Kingdom of Italy was created.

There are lots of sights to explore in your free time in Orvieto, including the medieval Duomo (cathedral), the Albornz fortress, a castle on the site of a former Etruscan temple and St Patrick’s Well, whose double spiral staircases date back to the 16th century and run along the sides of the well (62 metres deep) without meeting. Another must-see for any visitor is the underground passages that were dug into the tufa below the city and have been in use since Etruscan times.

4. A mild climate

Orvieto is blessed with a pleasant climate all year round. It enjoys warm, long summers and mild winters with plenty of sunshine – perfect for outdoor drinking and dining, and of course, for enjoying outdoor pursuits such as hiking and biking in the surrounding area.

5. A good range of courses and accommodation options

Course-wise, students can currently choose from General Italian, Individual Italian, Combined Italian and Intensive Italian in Orvieto. The school also offers an Italian and Pizza course or CILS Preparation Course (Certificazione di Italiano come Lingua Straniera) on request. The courses are available from beginner-advanced level, and for however long you wish. Accommodation is offered with local host families, in a shared apartment or in a student residence to cater for all tastes and requirements.

Cactus offers a wide range of Italian language courses in Italy and its islands. Please visit the Cactus Language website for full details and to book.