Anything goes during Carnevale - Carnival season in Italy

Carnevale, from the latin for ‘putting away meat’, denotes the festive season running up to the beginning of lent on Ash Wednesday. It’s celebrated all over Italy (and the world) and is a great time to party as the locals really let their hair down and have fun. The most famous carnivals in Italy are those held in Venice, Viareggio, Ivrea and Acireale. However, everywhere in Italy celebrates in some way, so there's no need to change your plans if you're not near one of these towns and cities.

In Rome, Carnevale gained popularity in the 17th century.  Until the 1880's Carnevale was celebrated with a riderless horse race down the Via del Corso. However, after a series of accidents Rome’s festivities were stopped, being deemed a danger to the public (and yet people still drive in Rome...). Recently, thankfully, Rome has been celebrating Carnevale once again! Having said that, if you want to escape the hustle and bustle of Rome, and perhaps experience a more 'authentic' carnevale, there are loads of carnival celebrations going on in pretty much every town and village in Lazio. I’ll mention the few I've heard of, but click here for a list of some of the others in Tuscia (which is essentially the province of Viterbo).

All Carnival celebrations include some kind of procession, with allegoric floats, usually based on news or TV events , shows etc., along with carnival sweets such as frappe, scroccafusi and ravioli, usually all deep fried in pork fat (it is meant to be a feast before Lent afterall!) Most parades are on the two Sundays before Lent (i.e starting this Sunday) and there is often a ‘Carnevale dei Bambini’ on the Thursday before (i.e. the 3rd of March this year), with processions from various schools and youth groups, before the final events on Martedi` Grasso (Fat Tuesday, or Shrove Tuesday, if you like). At the end of the carnevale, the carnival king (or puccio in civitonico, which means puppet) is burnt. This isn't as barbaric as it sounds, as the carnival king is simply a big mascot, usually resembling someone important or comical that they want to poke mild fun at (e.g. there may be lots of Berlusconi-like kings around this year). The burning of the carnival king marks the death of carnival and the beginning of Lent (so out go the moreish frappe, crepes etc....)

My picks for Carnevale in Lazio:

Carnevale Civitonico – Civita Castellana
Carnevale Civitonico is a massive carnival that engulfs the town of Civita Castellana for a few days. Over 3000 people get involved (making it one of the biggest in Lazio) with masked parades and celebrations and the whole town comes out for a big party. This year, Carnevale Civitonico starts on Sunday 27th February and ends on Martedi Grasso, the 8th of March. A band called ‘La Rustica’, who formed way back in 1956, are opening the parade on Sunday 27th Feb by playing music through instruments made out of everyday objects. The poster, containing the full programme, can be found here.  On the 3rd of March there is a ‘carnevale dei bambini', with a traditional Sagra dei Frittelloni (Pancake festival!), where you can get a pancake (well, they are more like crepes than pancakes, for those that can tell the difference), covered with sugar or, more traditionally (and weirdly, if you ask me) with plenty of pecorino cheese (made from sheeps milk). It's a great day out for all the family and I'm gutted I'm going to be missing it this year.

Carnevale Ronciglione
The riderless horse race (from
Ronciglione is famous for its Carnival, one of the oldest in central Italy. Along with the usual Carnevale parades of allegoric floats and majorettes, Carnevale Ronciglione is characterized by a riderless horse race. This fantastic (and amazingly dangerous) tradition has an ancient history, and is one of the few surviving "corsa a vuoto" left in Italy. Carnevale Ronciglione is also uniquely famous for the nasi rossi, who are masked bearers of pasta who simply charge around offering people a small portion of pasta and tomato sauce from a chamber pot! I have no idea where this custom comes from! More information (in Italian) can be found on the local ProLoco website or on my recent guest post for

Wherever you go, every town and village will have something on for carnival, so get out there and get involved. The main thing about Carnevale is to have fun, after all a Carnevale ogni scherzo vale!*

*Anything goes at carnival!

Rome Day Trip: Caprarola and Ronciglione

This is just a quick note to link to my guest post on the Arttrav website. In the post, I cover a day trip in the two cities of Caprarola and Ronciglione, taking in Palazzo Farnese and the Ronciglione Carnevale.

The post starts...

You could be forgiven for thinking that outside the main tourist sights, Rome, Viterbo, perhaps Tivoli, there isn’t much to see in Lazio. You’d be wrong. Northern Lazio, in between Rome and Florence, is an area mostly ignored by tourists and yet, for me, it’s one of the most interesting and beautiful regions you could visit. Infused by culture and history, firmly situated in the Etruscan, Roman, medieval, renaissance and modern heartland of Italy, Northern Lazio is more layered and complex than you could imagine. In this article, I’m going to describe a day out in Northern Lazio, taking in two cities, a palazzo, an agriturismo, and possibly a carnival or two.

Click here to link through to the full post.

Italy approves Unification day holiday!

This year, Unification day - March the 17th (St Patrick's to the rest of us), will be a special day-off in Italy, to mark the 150th anniversary of Italian unification. You'd think everyone would be happy right? Well, rather predictably, the Northern League (Lega Nord) is against it, along with Luis Durnwalder, the governor of the German-speaking northern region of Alto Adige, and Confindustria (the General Confederation of Italian Industry). The Education Minister, Mariastella Gelmini, the villain of my last news post 'voiced reservations', but ultimately backed the day off. The full story can be found (in English) on the ANSA news-site here.

So Italian's get an extra day off? Well, not exactly. They have scrapped the normal day off for the national unity and armed forces day, on November 4th. Guess you can't make everyone happy, right?

Translate Tuesday - Nessun Dorma

May I present to you a song made famous by football and Luciano Pavarotti, ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding for 'Nessun dorma'!

As I'm a guy of a certain age, this song first came to my world in 1990, with Italia 90, the first FIFA World Cup that I truly watched. This song was used for the opening sequences of the football coverage by the BBC (video here) and even now, some 21 years later, I still get emotional when I hear it start.

The song, of course, had a life long before someone needed an Italian song for a football intro. It comes from Puccini's opera Turandot, which had it's first performance at La Scala in Milan in 1926. Pavarotti sang Nessun Dorma as one of "The Three Tenors" (along with Plácido Domingo and José Carreras) in their famed first concert held on the eve of the tournament's final match, added a certain level of class to proceedings that, in my opinion hasn't been matched since. The song has been quoted as 'intellectualizing football' in the UK, depicting it in an operatic fashion, rather than just 22 men running around a field. Pavarotti sang the song publicly for the last time at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, about a year and a half before his death in 2007.

The words are actually quite easy, but to quote a friend whose name I won't mention here, 'if in doubt, plagiarize', so this translation is courtesy of Wikipedia.

Nessun dorma! Nessun dorma! Tu pure, o Principessa, nella tua fredda stanza, guardi le stelle.. che tremano d'amore, e di speranza!

English translation: None shall sleep! None shall sleep! Even you, O Princess, in your cold bedroom, watch the stars.. that tremble with love and with hope!

Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me; il nome mio nessun saprà! No, No! Sulla tua bocca lo dirò quando la luce splenderà!

But my secret is hidden within me; none will know my name! No, no! On your mouth I will say it when the light shines!

Ed il mio bacio scioglierà il silenzio che ti fa mia!

And my kiss will dissolve the silence and make you mine!

Just before the climactic end of the aria, a chorus of women is heard singing in the distance: 

Il nome suo nessun saprà... E noi dovrem, ahimè, morir, morir!

No one will know his name... and we will have to, alas, die, die!

Calaf (Pavarotti in this instance), now certain of victory, sings: 

Dilegua, o notte! Tramontate, stelle! Tramontate, stelle! All'alba vincerò! Vincerò! Vincerò!

Vanish, O night! Set, stars! Set, stars! At dawn, I will win! I will win! I will win!

Beautiful. Simply beautiful. Perfect for the football as well, in my opinion :-)

Gelmini Wants Schools to Stay Open on Unification Holiday

I'm constantly told that nothing is ever easy in Italy. That nothing is ever as it seems. Most countries, you would imagine, would be more than happy to give everyone a day off to celebrate their Unification Day. Italy however, is often not so much a country as a collection of countries within another younger country (in European terms), and it seems they can't decide whether everyone should have the day off or not.
I think schools should stay open on 17 March”. Mariastella Gelmini (the same lady who is restructuring the university system in Italy, resulting in all the student protests) chose the meeting of the Council of Ministers to make her announcement. She's not alone.  Confindustria (the General Confederation of Italian Industry) along with the Northern League are also calling for a working 150th anniversary of national unity. Ms Gelmini has reportedly said: “The anniversary can be celebrated in class during normal school hours by focusing special attention on this very important moment in history. It’s a way of adding value to a date that otherwise might be considered just another holiday”.

They go on to argue that the economy couldn't take an extra day off and that Italian's don't really care about the unification day anyway, as they are more attached to their region rather than their country (I know Francesco Totti definitely falls into that camp). I'm not sure I agree (the economy thing sounds like scaremongering) and it's a slippery slope, either everyone has it as a holiday, or no one. Why should kids and their teachers have to go to work if no one else is? Click here for the full story (on corriere della sera).

I've been reading the English section of Corriere della sera quite a lot recently. They are getting quite quick at translating important aspects of the latest Italian news. I know it doesn't help me improve my Italian, but it certainly helps me understand a little better how the country works! 

Now, if only I could understand that one about the showgirl and the minister...

Rome Day Trip - Civita Castellana

Civita Castellana is perched astride a deep ravine about 71km (44 miles) outside of Rome, in the rugged province of Viterbo. It's perhaps not your classic tourist town, but if you want to see the real Lazio, you could combine a trip here with nearby Nepi or as part of a tour up to Viterbo or Florence. 

'Civita' commands stunning views over both a deep ravine and the surrounding countryside, with the only land higher than that of Civita being Monte Soratte to the south, where the small town of Sant'Oreste is based, and the towns of Ronciglione and Caprarola to the north, on the edge of volcanic Lago di Vico.

An 1844 painting of Civita Castellana by Edward Lear (from