Calcio storico. Photo credit: Lorenzo Noccioli

Visiting Italy is always a treat, whether you are looking for culture, sports or gastronomy. Yet, there is one thing that can make your visit even more special: participating in a historical festival, one of those special occasions that occur once a year and yet are capable to create memories that last a lifetime. 2016 will see, throughout Italy, a number of amazing festivals, perfect for those who want to get to know the local culture in a unique and different way.  

Living chess match: Every other September, and September 2016 being one of them, Marostica (in the Veneto region) hosts an amazing human chess game, played in the town square. The tradition dates back to 1454, when Marostica belonged to the Venetian Republic: two rivals, in love with the same damsel, played a chess game, using real archers and soldiers as chess pieces: the lady, Lionora, would take the winner as her husband. This event is repeated today just like the first time, a galore of sumptuous costumes, colorful banners, and parades of exquisite elegance. Chess enthusiasts will definitely enjoy the game, while others can still enjoy the party and the great food and drinks served around the square.

Game of the bridge: On the last Sunday of June, Pisa celebrates The Game of the Bridge, an ancient tradition dating back to 1568, when opposing teams from different areas of the city fought for the ownership of the bridge over the Arno river. Today, before the battle, visitors can admire a parade of people dressed up in wonderful historical costumes and armors marching along the banks of the river. The battle itself, although definitely less violent than in the past, is still incredibly entertaining to watch and worth a stop while visiting Tuscany.

La corsa dei ceri: On May 15th the city of Gubbio celebrates La Corsa Dei Ceri, an ancient procession marking the eve of the death of Bishop Ubaldo Baldassini, Protector of Gubbio. Ceri is the Italian word for candles and, during this procession, the ceri are large and sculpted in wood, carried by three teams from the Palazzo dei Consoli to the Piazza Grande, each team representing Saint George, Saint Anthony and Saint Ubaldo. At 6 p.m. the ceri are raced up 900 feet of mountainside into the mountainside basilica and once inside, winners have to try and keep the runners-up out. The goal of the race is not to drop the candle: the team that drops the candle the least wins. And rumor has it that the Saint Ubaldo team always wins.

Infiorata Festivals: If you love flowers don’t miss the Infiorata Festivals that take place in late spring in Italy. The cities of Noto, Spello and Genzano are only some of the most famous places where you can enjoy a these spectacular flower art festivals, during which millions of petals are used to create breath-taking works of street art. One of the most famous Infiorata festivals is held in Noto (Sicily) in May, but you could also check out the festival in Genzano (Lazio), Spello (Umbria), Brugnato (Liguria) and Bolsena (Lazio).

Giostra della Quintana: La Quintana is an amazing medieval festival held in Ascoli Piceno, in the Marche region, on the first Sunday of August, sure to be a hit with history buffs.  During the Quintana local residents dress up in historical costumes and take part at a big parade through the city streets, along with musicians, drummers, flag-wavers and a cheering crowd. The jousting tournament amongst the town’s quarters is the crowning jewel of the festival: riders must hit a target fitted on a rotating dummy, the Saracen, and they have to get past him before he swings round and throws the rider off his horse.

Calcio Fiorentino: Everyone knows how much Italians love soccer or, as they call it, calico. But do you know the origins of this cherished Italian pastime? Calcio fiorentino, also known as historic football, is an early form of soccer that originated in the 16th century. Every year in Florence, during the third week of June, three matches are played in Piazza Santa Croce. After playing each other in two opening games, the two overall winners go into the final, which takes place on June 24, on Saint John’s Day, the Patron Saint of Florence. A must-see for every sport enthusiast!

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