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CULTURE

The best events and festivals in Italy in 2022

With the obvious caveat that much depends on the health situation and Covid-related rules in place, Italy has an outstanding variety of events on offer in 2022 for tourists and residents alike.

Boats move down the grand canal in Venice as part of the carnevale festivities.
Venice's carnival, held every February-March, is one of the highlights of Italy's cultural calendar. Marco Bertorello/AFP

Italy has an incredibly rich cultural calendar – one of the many factors that routinely make it one of the most visited countries in the world.

Here’s an overview of some of the top events coming up around the country, so you can start planning your year.

February

  • The Feast of Sant’Agata, Catania (February 3rd – 5th)

This three-day long festival in Catania, Sicily involves processions, firework displays, and some… unusual-looking desserts.

According to lore, Sant’Agata was a young girl from a noble family who found herself the object of desire of a governor. Legend has it that she cut off her breasts and ultimately martyred herself to escape his advances.

Alongside some raucous celebrations, those who attend will find cassatelle or minne di Sant’Agata – ricotta-filled sponges designed to look like the saint’s amputated bosoms.

  • Carnevale (February 12th – March 1st)

February in Italy is carnival season, and the most famous carnival is of course in held in Venice.

Participants can ride a gondola down the Grand Canal to attend the Grand Masquerade Ball at Palazzo Pisani Moretta and stuff themselves with fried treats like frittelle Veneziane.

Tickets for various events are available here.

READ ALSO: 13 of the best photos from this year’s Venice carnival

Masked revellers pose for a photo during Venice's carnival celebrations.
Masked revellers pose for a photo during Venice’s carnival celebrations. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP
  • Carnevale di Viareggio (February 12th – March 5th)

While it might not be as well known internationally, Viareggio’s carnival has nothing to envy to Venice’s festivities.

Every year this small town on the Tuscan coast sees masked participants carry hundreds of papier-mâché floats along the seafront to music and dancing.

Because of the event’s popularity, tickets must be bought in advance here.

  • Honorable mention: Ivrea’s ‘Battle of the Oranges’

Sadly, the health situation has led this year’s organisers to cancel Ivrea’s Battle of the Oranges, a three-day event in which attendees pummel each other with oranges to commemorate a popular uprising against a tyrannical ruler. 

Look out for it in future years, as it’s a highlight of Italy’s cultural calendar.

READ ALSO: IN PHOTOS: Italy’s annual orange fight

March

  • Rome Marathon (March 27th)

If you fancy panting your way around one of the world’s most scenic marathon routes, sign up now for the Rome Marathon.

This annual event takes runners along the river Tiber and past numerous historic Roman and Medieval sites. It starts and ends at the Colosseum, which means you’ll be able to celebrate with a spritz in the fashionable nearby Monti district.

April

  • Scoppio del Carro, Florence (April 17th, 2022 – Easter Sunday)

All Italy will of course be celebrating Easter Sunday, but only Florence does so by setting off explosions from a cart.

Every year, Italy’s Renaissance capital puts on a midday fireworks display in the Piazza del Duomo. A wooden wagon several hundred years is pulled into the square by garlanded oxen, surrounded a procession of people dressed as Roman soldiers or in 15th century garb.

Onlookers admire Florence's theatrical Easter celebrations.
Onlookers admire Florence’s theatrical Easter celebrations. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

The cart comes to a rest outside the cathedral, where a service is given; afterwards, as Gloria in excelsis Deo is being sung, Florence’s cardinal lights a fuse on a model dove which then speeds down a cable through the church and onto the cart outside, setting off firecrackers and pinwheels and generating long smoke plumes.

  • Annual festival of classical theatre, Syracuse (May – July, dates tbc)

Built by ancient Greeks, the amphitheatre of Syracuse is returned to its original purpose once a year when it hosts its annual festival of classical theatre.

Dates haven’t yet been announced, but Italy’s National Institute of Ancient Drama, which runs the festival, has said the 2022 season will open with Agamemnon by Aeschylus and Oedipus Rex by Sophocles. 

May

  • Serie A finals (March 22, 2022)

Italian football fans will be fixed to their TV screens (or if they’re lucky, their stadium seats) on May 22nd, which is when Italy’s finest football teams in the countries Serie A play the final matches that decide who gets the scudetto.

June

  • Infiorata, nationwide

June sees towns and villages across Italy burst into colour with what’s known as the infiorata, or flowering, as piazzas are decorated with mosaics made from flower petals.

The tradition started with the Vatican in the 17th century, and every year Rome’s patron saint’s day of June 29th sees the walkway that leads from St Peter’s Square down to Via della Conciliazione and the River Tiber carpeted in a spectacular patchwork of flowers.

Other places especially well known for their June flower displays are Spello (June 18th-19th), Genzano (dates tbc) and Noto, which actually puts on its infiorata a little earlier than the rest of the country (May 13th-15th).

Infiorata flower displays leading up to the Vatican in Rome.
Infiorata flower displays leading up to the Vatican in Rome. Vincenzo Pinto/AFP
  • Verona Opera Festival (June 17th – September 4th)

June is also the month when Verona’s annual opera festival, which lasts until September, starts to get underway.

Fans of opera are in for an experience unlike any other, as performances are held in the city’s Roman amphitheatre. This year’s festival will feature Carmen, Aida, Nabucco, La Traviata, and Turandot; as well as three dance galas.

READ ALSO: Travel: Why Verona should be the next Italian city you visit

July 

  • Umbria Jazz Festival, Perugia (July 8th – 17th)

The annual Umbria jazz festival in Perugia is another highlight for any music-lover’s calendar.

Since 1973, when the festival first began, the city has played host to the likes of Chet Baker, James Brown, Tony Bennett, Elton John, Alicia Keys, Van Morrison, and Prince. The event sees Perugia’s piazzas, streets, concert halls and churches filled with musicians playing up a storm.

August

  • Palio di Siena (July 2nd and August 16th)

Dating back centuries, the Palio di Siena is a twice-annual festival that sees Siena’s various districts compete in a bareback horse race.

READ ALSO: IN PICTURES: The Siena Palio, Italy’s historic horse race

The Palio di Provenzano is the first race held on July 2nd in honour of the Madonna of Provenzano, while the Palio held on 16 August is named Palio dell’Assunta, in honour of the Assumption of Mary.

The events see representatives from different districts or ‘contrade’ compete to win the race, and there’s fierce rivalry. Each contrada is named for an animal or symbol and has its own colours, as well its historic allies and rivals among the other contrade.

IN PICTURES: The Siena Palio, Italy's historic horse race
Riders compete in Siena’s historic palio. Photo: Claudio Giovannini/AFP

September

  • Venice regatta (September 4th) and film festival (August 31st-September 10th)

If you want to rub shoulders with the stars in Italy, there’s no better time and place than Venice in early September.

Founded in 1932, the Venice film festival is the oldest in the world. It forms part of the Venice Biennale art exhibition, which dates all the way back to 1893 and features art, architecture, dance, music, theatre, and cinema from around the world.

If you’re in town for the film festival, you’ll be lucky enough to witness Venice’s historic regatta boat race. The race is open to anyone, but you don’t need to participate to enjoy the spectacle, which includes a procession of reenactors in period costume going down the Grand Canal on special bissone rowing boats.

READ ALSO: Seven reasons autumn is the best time to visit Italy

  • Feast of San Gennaro (September 19th)

If you’ve been waiting to witness a miracle, look no further than Naples’ Feast of San Gennaro.

Three times a year – September 19th, December 16th, and the first Sunday in May – the faithful gather to witness a ceremony in which the city’s archbishop holds up a vial of its patron saint’s congealed blood and watch as it liquefies.

It’s the September 19th event, however, that really counts: that’s when Naples celebrates its patron saint, and it kicks off three days of festivities.

October

  • International White Truffle Festival, Alba (October 9th – December 5th)

Gourmands from around the world flock to this annual festival in Alba, Piedmont to sample rare white truffles from the nearby Langhe, Roero and Monferrato woods.

While truffles are the main event, visitors to the fair will also have access to art exhibitions, concerts, theatre performances, farmers markets, and historic and cultural events including parades and a donkey race; and as a bonus, Alba is home to some of the best wine in Italy.

READ ALSO: Hunting gastronomic gold in Italy’s truffle country

December

  • Presepi, nationwide

Italy’s Christmas markets are nothing to be sniffed at, but where the country really shines is in its presepe nativity scenes.

In the southern Italian city of Matera, known for its ancient cave houses and magical landscape, a ‘live presepe’ with actors attracts tourists from around the world.

The town of Manarola in the tourist hotspot of Cinque Terre puts on the world’s largest nativity display, featuring 150 statues illuminated with over 15,000 lights, while the Vatican always sets up an impressive scene that contains everything except for baby Jesus (it’s tradition for the Pope to place him in his manger on Christmas Eve).

READ ALSO: Ten Christmas nativity scenes you’ll only see in Italy

The Manarola nativity scene in Italy’s Cinque Terre.
The Manarola nativity scene in Italy’s Cinque Terre. Photo: Marco Bertorello / AFP

The port town Cesenatico, Emilia-Romagna has a ‘floating nativity’ composed of around 50 life-size statues throughout December, and in Naples you’ll want to head to Via San Gregorio Armeno, the city’s “Christmas Alley”, for a glimpse into the workshops that turn out many of the crib figures displayed all over Italy.

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OPINION & ANALYSIS

How Italy has changed in two years of the Covid-19 pandemic

It's been two years since the first Covid-19 lockdowns were declared in Italy and life was irrevocably altered in a range of ways; some obvious, some subtle. The Local's journalists look at what's changed about life in the country since late February 2020.

How Italy has changed in two years of the Covid-19 pandemic

It may be hard to believe, but two full years have now passed since Italy began to lock down towns in northern Italy after Europe’s first known outbreaks of coronavirus were confirmed.

By early March 2020, Italy had become the first Western country to declare a nationwide lockdown.

In the intervening two years, Italy has been through a lot – and we think it’s fair to say that the country will never be quite the same again.

Not all of the changes are negative, however.

As we look ahead to the gradual easing of Italy’s remaining restrictions and the return of a more normal life in the coming weeks and months, here’s a look at some of the ways in which Italian culture and society has changed.

Less kissing, more personal space

Is the famous Italian two-kiss greeting gone for good?

While you might still give a close friend or a family member a little peck on the cheek, gone are the days where you’d stand in a circle knocking jowls with people you’d met just moments before.

In fact, the concept of personal space in general is now better understood and more widely practiced in Italy than it ever was in the past – whether it concerns touching between acquaintances, or crowding at the post office.

READ ALSO: Eight things the Covid crisis has taught us about Italy

That’s not to say people are now keeping their distance at all times. But generally speaking, in public spaces most people are still keen to avoid pressing up against one another even in situations where social distancing is no longer really monitored.

This means ticketing systems have in many areas replaced queues – and where they do exist, lines are far more likely to be respected, with healthy gaps maintained between the people forming them.

A sign reminds people to observe distancing measures at a cinema in Rome – The sight of people forming an orderly, distanced queue is no longer unusual in Italy. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

This new awareness of and respect for personal space will be a striking difference for anyone returning to Italy for the first time since the pandemic began.

If you weren’t a fan of touchy-feely Italian behaviour before, no doubt this will come as a relief – while those who enjoyed these affectionate customs may find this a sad development.

Life in Italy is becoming (a bit) more digital.

We wouldn’t go as far as to describe it as a digital revolution, but the pandemic has certainly accelerated Italy’s adoption of online processes.

This is still Italy we’re talking about, and digital is by no means king – but it’s made some noticeable strides in the last two years.

If you need a document from your comune, or town hall, you can now in most cases access it for free online rather than having to block out an entire afternoon to go in person to collect a copy.

People are also much more amenable to the idea of checking – and answering – emails than was the case pre-pandemic, when nothing less than a phone call (ideally followed up by an in-person meeting) would get you any attention.

READ ALSO: How Italy has made it easier to access essential paperwork online

Similarly, more information is also now made available online, whereas before you may have been expected to go to an office in person to get even the most mundane questions answered.

You’re also more likely now to be offered the option of paying by contactless card, even for smaller sums, where cash is traditionally preferred.

This is not only due to people preferring card transactions amid the pandemic for hygiene reasons: the Italian government has introduced a number of measures within the past two years to encourage (and in some cases require) electronic payments, as part of a push to crack down on widespread tax evasion.

Take-out is much more widely available

While a good number of restaurants in Italy’s major towns and cities offered takeaway food and drinks before the pandemic, this is now standard all over the country.

Some places even got creative, offering to deliver pre-packaged, par-cooked box meals you could easily finish at home with the help of online videos.

Realising that the big delivery companies were taking a significant chunk of their profit, a few establishments set up their own delivery systems (if you want to order from somewhere, it’s worth calling them directly first to check whether they offer this).

It’s not just restaurants that have expanded their take-out offering; home delivery in general is more of an option these days.

If you need to order groceries to your house, for example, more supermarkets now let you book a slot online without too much hassle.

This has been a major change for people in smaller towns and more rural parts of the country, where ordering food and drink – particularly coffee – to take away was previously seen as somewhat unusual and undesirable.

Getting your cappuccino to go is now commonplace, even in parts of Italy where this was previously unheard of, and you might even be asked which you prefer when you make your order.

Although whether or not your coffee tastes just as good from a takeout cup is another question – one we know many Italians will have an opinion on.

E-scooter and e-bike craze

Foreign visitors coming to any Italian city after a two-year hiatus are liable to be immediately struck by one thing: Italy has whole-heartedly climbed aboard the monopattino (scooter) revolution wagon.

When the country started to reopen after the first wave of Covid, people looked for ways to travel around their city without being crammed into poorly-ventilated buses and trams, and app-controlled motorised scooters (and bikes) offered themselves up as the answer.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Italy’s electric scooter craze

Electric scooters have become a common sight on the streets of Rome since 2020. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

While a switch to bikes and scooters were already fairly popular in other parts of Europe, Italy had remained stubbornly reliant on cars as the main mode of transportation, including in large cities.

The sudden onset of Italy’s electric scooter fever was fueled in 2020 by the government’s offer (now expired) of up to 500 euros towards the purchase price of a brand new e-bike or scooter for residents of Italian cities.

Street corners quickly became littered with discarded scooters, and pedestrians were suddenly imperiled by riders whizzing by on pavements at 25 km/h – problems which the government has since tried to resolve (with varying degrees of success) by introducing new laws to regulate this brave new mode of transportation.

Returning visitors might also notice that additional bike and scooter lanes have popped up in some cities to accommodate this extra traffic.

Construction and renovation boom

Policies brought in to support Italy’s economic recovery from the pandemic have prompted a (small-scale) construction boom.

It’s not the kind you’ll notice wandering the streets, however, as we’re talking less about erecting skyscrapers than about private homeowners earthquake-proofing their walls and putting solar panels on their roofs, as well as in some cases embarking upon rebuilding and renovation projects.

In May 2020, the government launched its ‘superbonus‘ home improvement and renovations scheme, which promised homeowners a tax deduction of up to 110 percent of the cost of making energy upgrades and reducing seismic risk. 

Unsurprisingly, this prompted a surge in demand that Italy’s building companies have been unable to meet.

READ ALSO: Which of Italy’s building bonuses have been extended into 2022?

Construction firms, engineers and surveyors reported being overwhelmed by the sheer number of enquiries about the offer – many of which come to nothing once homeowners discovered that few people are eligible for the full 110 percent rebate.

Significant savings are still possible, though, and many property owners did go ahead with renovations – often only to face long delays to their projects.

Despite these problems, the policy has had the desired effect of boosting the country’s sluggish economy, with its construction sector recording investments of more than €9 billion under the scheme by November 2021.

The building ‘superbonus’ and ‘ecobonus’ schemes are still available in 2022, along with various other tax incentives for homeowners planning a renovation.

And despite the pandemic’s shake-up of the property market, house prices in Italy actually rose during 2021 overall, while a government scheme (that runs until June 30th, 2022) to help first-time buyers under the age of 36 purchase a house enabled many young Italians to leave their parental home for the first time.

Italy’s population crisis has worsened

Italy has long had one of the lowest birth rates in Europe, and the situation has only been worsened by the coronavirus crisis.

In 2020 the Italian population shrank by almost 400,000 — roughly the size of the city of Florence — as deaths peaked, births fell to a new record low, and immigration slowed.

Many blame the ongoing birthrate crisis at least partially on the sluggish economy, the rising cost of living, and lack of financial support available for new parents.

In response, the Italian government has vowed to give more support to women and families and has since begun offering various forms of child support for the first time. In 2022, the government  introduced a universal single allowance.

Have you noticed any other changes to life in Italy which are not mentioned in this article? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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