Thankfully here in Italy Spring tends to come earlier than back home in the UK. It had been generally a mild but somewhat wet and windy winter so we were eagerly awaiting the first signs of spring. By mid February our almond trees were erupting into pale pink bloom as the days became warmer and the sky bluer and the days longer and more optimistic.
To follow this theme …. Each 19th March, around the time of the vernal equinox, an ancient auspicious tradition of building bonfires is celebrated in Itri. The Fuochi di San Giuseppe mark the closing days of winter, the welcoming of Spring and the hope for a good year’s harvest. Originally before the Middle Ages this was a Pagan ritual to scare away bad spirits, however it was later adapted into a Christian festival to correspond with the feast of St Joseph, or San Giuseppe the Patron Saint of Carpenters. In Italy this day is also celebrated as Fathers Day.
In the days leading up to this festival large piles of branches, donated by the local Forestry, are prepared in the squares of ten various districts of Itri, both in the higher and lower quarters of the town.
We and Kay, who was visiting us at the time (yes again !!! we just can’t keep her away !!!) and other towns-folk gathered around the bonfire erected right in the centre of town in Piazza Incoronazione.
This was very conveniently situated just opposite Kay’s favourite place in Itri, the Fiocco di Neve Gelateria.
The girls there are always pleased to see us and especially Kay.
They offered us all ice-creams on the house !!! Thank you so very much !!!
Kay was once again in Ice-cream Heaven !!!
Next to the ice-cream shop a stall selling cakes and sweets was setting up. They looked absolutely delicious.
There was even a chocolate fountain.
Finally at 8 pm a booming firework signaled the simultaneous lighting of the bonfires across the town.
After a few seconds of minor crackling the fire suddenly took off with a whoosh and the vicious flames soon licked hungrily around the effigy which represented the fading winter.
Bright orange sparks spiraled high up into the black night sky and then showered back down on us.
Indeed the town was aglow.
Children ran around throwing more branches onto the fires their faces rosy and glowing from the radiating heat.
During the evening each area of the town served an array of typical local foods and delicacies, such as traditional Itri sausages with “Scarola”, “Pasta e Fagiole”, Itri olives and Itri Extra Virgin Olive Oil. We wandered along the old original Roman Via Appia and passed a stall selling pork cheeks served with lemon and salt.
We were tempted to try some of the freshly prepared “zeppole“, traditional fritters made of sugar, eggs and honey.
In addition there were numerous street venders selling sweets, toys and balloons.
Also some colourful street entertainers.
There was music to suit all tastes ranging from traditional folk groups to modern hip hop.
An delightful evening of food, wine, dancing and festivity – something for everyone, young and old.
All photos by me © Louise Shapcott
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