February in Italy means that just about every city on the Peninsula is invaded with masks, confetti, colors and lights that make for a very exciting and unique atmosphere: it’s Carnival! It is a party with ancient roots, and today has become a folkloristic rite in which traditions and fun work together to bring enormous life to this unique celebration.
Of course the protagonist of Carnival is the costume or disguise, the mask that allows those who don it to transform themselves into whomever they wish to be – at least for a few days. The origins of Carnival date back to the Roman Saturnalia festival that rang in the new year (Julian calendar) – similarly to the Lupercalia and Dionysian feasts. The actual term “carnevale” however derives from the Latin “carnem levare” for “take away the meat”: indeed, in Antiquity the term indicated the banquet held the last day before the period of abstinence from meat, i.e. the Christian Lent. Carnival, according to the Roman Catholic Liturgical Calendar, is set for between Epiphany (January 6th) and the start of Lent.
Initially a feast characterized by unrestrained enjoyment of food, drink and sensual pleasures, and granted as a temporary escape for the lower classes – an opportunity to upend and subvert norms, especially in the way of social order – through the arc of time Carnival spread throughout the world and took on ever-novel shades and nuances, mutating into a singular form of entertainment and merrymaking. From north to south, Italy marks Carnival with long standing traditions that are internationally-known, and that attract thousands of visitors from around the world this time every year.
Luciano Pavarotti (12 October 1935 – 6 September 2007) was an Italian operatic tenor who also crossed over into popular music, eventually becoming one of the most commercially successful tenors of all time. He made numerous recordings of complete operas and individual arias, gaining worldwide fame for the quality of his tone, and eventually established himself as one of the finest tenors of the 20th century.
As one of the Three Tenors, Pavarotti became well known for his televised concerts and media appearances. From the beginning of his professional career as a tenor in 1961 in Italy to his final performance of “Nessun dorma” at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin,
Pavarotti was at his best in bel canto operas, pre-Aida Verdi roles, and Puccini works such as La bohème, Tosca, and Madama Butterfly. Pavarotti was also noted for his charity work on behalf of refugees and the Red Cross, amongst others. He died from pancreatic cancer on 6 September 2007.
Ferragosto is an Italian and Sammarinese public holiday celebrated on 15 August, coinciding with the major Catholic feast of the Assumption of Mary.
The Feriae Augusti (“Festivals [Holidays] of the Emperor Augustus”) were introduced by the emperor Augustus in 18 BC. This was an addition to earlier ancient Roman festivals which fell in the same month, such as the Vinalia rustica or the Consualia, which celebrated the harvest and the end of a long period of intense agricultural labor. The Feriae Augusti, in addition to its propaganda function, linked the various August festivals to provide a longer period of rest, called Augustali, which was felt necessary after the hard labour of the previous weeks.
During these celebrations, horse races were organised across the Empire, and beasts of burden (including oxen, donkeys and mules), were released from their work duties and decorated with flowers. Such ancient traditions are still alive today, virtually unchanged in their form and level of participation during the Palio dell’Assunta which takes place on 16 August in Siena. Indeed, the name “Palio” comes from the pallium, a piece of precious fabric which was the usual prize given to winners of the horse races in ancient Rome.
During the festival, workers greeted their masters, who in return would give them a tip. The custom became so strongly rooted that in the Renaissance it was made compulsory in the Papal States.
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