In the ancient Roman calendar March, or Martius, marked the end of winter and start of spring. Named after Mars, the god of war and legendary father of Rome’s founders Romulus and Remus, March signaled the beginning of the farming season, the opening salvos of military campaigns and favourable weather to set sail on expeditions. And just like today it was packed full of religious festivities, although back in the day the celebrations were pagan to mark the Roman new year rather than the Christian festivals of today. So as the plants begin to burst into life and we start planning our spring breaks, let’s have a look at what’s on in Italy in March!
March to June 2016 – Piero della Francesca exhibition in Museo di San Domenico, Forlì, Emilia-Romagna
Forlì is well-known for hosting high calibre art exhibitions and has excellent gallery space in which to display them. One of this year’s main attractions is a retrospective of Piero della Francesco, a talented Renaissance painter, nicknamed the “king of painting” who was a contemporary of Michelangelo and Da Vinci. His paintings are allegorical and symbolic, offering many messages if you know how to read them.
The exhibition opened on 13th February and runs to 26 June 2016. For more information check out the official exhibition website here
1st & 5th March – Celebrating Venetian New Year
Back in Medieval times, before its unification in 1870, Italy was an assortment of independent states governed by feudal families, the Vatican, France or Austria, each operating different calendars. The Republic of Venice was independent of them all, following its own agricultural almanac and celebrating the start of the new year on the equivalent of 1st March.
Venice eventually moved to the standard Gregorian calendar in 1797 but a growing number of Venetians are keen to remember their old traditions. This year Venetian New Year falls on Tuesday 1st March with music and refreshments planned for Saturday 5th March at the Rialto Market so everyone can let their hair down! For more info check the event FB page here
5th – 6th March – Spirit of Scotland, Rome Whisky Festival
OK, OK, so I know that whisky isn’t Italian but I thought I’d shake things up a bit this month as I know several Italianos and others who like the odd tipple! The event is devoted to malt whisky and a perfect stop for whisky lovers!
The festival takes place in the Salone Delle Fontane in Rome’s EUR district. Tickets cost €10 online for 1 day entry and entitle you to a tasting glass, glass holder, festival guide and discounts. For more info check out the website here or here for directions to the venue
Sunday 6th March – Free entry to over 300 Italian state museums, galleries & gardens
Don’t forget, over 300 Italian state museums are free this Sunday and the first Sunday of EVERY month so before you travel always check which museums, galleries, gardens and monuments participate in your destination – it’s a fabulous way to explore more of Italy’s cultural heritage for free! #Domenicalmuseo
Sunday 6th March – Corteo delle Donne, water parade down Venice’s Grand Canal
Venetians love to row and there is nothing quite like seeing a flotilla of traditional boats coming down the Grand Canal. So if you’re in Venice in early March why not check out the Corteo delle Donne or Procession of Women, a regatta in celebration of International Women’s Day (more of which in a minute!)
The procession of decorated Venetian boats rowed by women (and a few men) departs from the San Marcuola vaporetto stop on the Grand Canal at 9.30am. Music and Venetian songs will accompany the corteo as it parades past the Rialto Market, under the Rialto and Accademia Bridges arriving at the Church of the Salute around 10am.
All are welcome so make sure you find a good vantage point along the canal or at the Salute and give the ladies a cheer as they keep the centuries old Venetian rowing tradition alive!
Sunday 6th, 13th & 20th March – Primavera dei Vini, Wine in the Springtime festival, Rovescala, Lombardy
The Primavera dei Vini festival takes place over 3 weekends in March in Rovescala, near Pavia in Lombardy. Festivities obviously include lots of wine tasting and there’s also street food with music and parades as entertainment. Further info on what’s on in March is available via the event’s Facebook page
Tuesday 8th March – La Festa delle Donne or International Women’s Day
The United Nations International Women’s Day originated from equal rights campaigns in the US and Russia in support of better pay, voting rights and an end to poverty. Italian celebrations of the Festa delle Donne date back to 1946 when two activists handed out branches of yellow mimosa to other women as a sign of respect and equality. And since then Mimosa has become the everlasting symbol of the festa as despite its delicate puffs of flowers it’s a strong, resilient plant that flourishes across Italy.
If you’re in Italy around March 8th expect to see Mimosa sprigs in markets and florists everywhere as its traditional to give the women in your life a bunch as a sign of respect and love. Why not join in and celebrate too. Oh and watch out for free or reduced admission for women to museums or heritage sites or local festivals like the Corteo delle Donne in Venice as Italians love to celebrate!
15th March – Commemoration of Emperor Julius Caesar’s Death, Rome
Julius Caesar is one of the best-known Roman emperors but he wasn’t well liked by his fellow senators who started to plot against him within a year of him coming to power. And despite several warnings that the impending Ides of March, or March 15th, would bring his death, Caesar defiantly headed out to a Senate meeting only to be confronted by the conspirators who piled on top and stabbed him to death in a frenzy.
Today Caesar is still remembered in Rome on March 15th with flowers left on his statue in the Forum. And a Roman historic group holds a full re-enactment of Caesar’s death in the Largo di Torre Argentina, the exact location of his 44 BC murder. This year’s performance starts at 4pm running till 7pm and more information is available on Facebook.
17th March – L’Unità d’Italia or the Unification of Italy
We all know that Italy’s history stretches back thousands of years but did you realise that the country itself is less than 200 years old?
In the past the Italian peninsula was made up of many different city-states and principalities but it wasn’t until the 1800s that campaigners including two Giuseppes – Garibaldi and Manzini – began to talk of nationalism or a united Italy. The peninsula finally united on 17th March 1861 and usually Italians mark the anniversary with various official ceremonies and exhibitions. Key locations are Rome and the 2 previous capitals of Italy – Turin and Florence so watch this space for updates.
Friday 18th & Sunday 20th March – Venice Music Project’s “A Venetian Affair” at Palazzo Rota Ivancich
“A Venetian Affair” is a true story of star-crossed lovers and impossible love, set in Venice at the peak of its mid-1700s extravagance and put to music.
Using the actual love letters between nobleman Andrea Memmo and Giustiniana Wynne, the illegitimate daughter of an English baronet, author Andrea di Robilant and the Venice Music Project bring the tragic lovers’ voices to life intertwining passionate penned passages with baroque opera music of the era.
Get set for some magnificent arias from Soprano Liesl Odenweiler and the Venice Music Project musicians as Di Robilant tugs at your heartstrings with his moving narrative. It’s the perfect Venetian evening with Venice’s very own Romeo and Juliet!
Performances will be on Friday, 18 March at 7pm and Sunday, 20 March at 4pm at Palazzo Rota Ivancich, famous for its association with American writer Ernest Hemingway, near Campo Santa Maria Formosa.
18th – 20th March – Mercatino dell’Antiquariato, Campo San Maurizio, Venice
And if you’re in Venice for the Venetian Affair evening, why not check out the vintage and antiques fair in Campo San Maurizio, 10 minutes walk from St Mark’s Square. Stalls sell everything from gorgeous vintage Murano glass, to antique beads & jewellery, paintings and furniture. Its great for a rummage and an authentic Venetian souvenir! The market takes place in March, June, September, October and December. For details check out the website here.
19th March – Feast of San Giuseppe (St Joseph, Mary’s husband) & Father’s Day
Italians celebrate Saint Joseph, or San Giuseppe, husband of Mary on March 19th with an age-old tradition called St Joseph’s table. To give thanks the community donates food, piling it high on a cross shaped table, a bit like at harvest festival, and then distributes it to the needy.
Father’s Day celebrations are more of a recent import and very much family affairs so although you might see kids with pictures for their Dads, you probably won’t see much in the shops.
19th March – Palio dei Somari, Torrita di Siena, Tuscany
When the words Palio and Siena are in the same sentence it usually conjurs up thoughts of Siena’s world famous horse race in July and August. But the Palio dei Somari is a slightly more low-key and decidedly slower affair!
Taking place in the village of Torrita di Siena, near its famous neighbour, this is a donkey race in honour of St Joseph and is a chance for the various contradas or neighbourhoods to dress up and have a bit of fun! Its definitely one to check out!
19th, 20th & 21st March – Festa della Primavera, Spring Festival & Giornate FAI
Just as with their Roman ancestors Italians still celebrate the arrival of Spring on 21st March with local Spring festival events often centred around seasonal regional food and drink.
The weekend nearest to 21st March also sees national heritage organisation Fondo Ambiente Italiano, similar to the National Trust in the UK, holding open days at its sites around the country Look out for Giornate FAI openings as it’s a chance to take a peek inside many historical buildings normally closed to the public. This year open days will be on 19th and 20th March and details will be on the official website here.
Friday 25th March – Monday 28th March – Easter
Easter is a big deal in Italy and arguably a bigger religious festival than Christmas.
In Rome Good Friday sees the Pope process round the stations of cross at the Colosseum before taking mass from the top of the Palatine Hill. Meanwhile in Enna in Sicily more than 2000 friars process through the streets carrying a large statue of Jesus or the Virgin Mary. Its one of the most popular processions in Sicily and draws worshippers from far and wide.
And Easter Sunday sees fireworks in Florence as an elaborate wagon is pulled through town by 2 oxen towards the square between the Duomo and Baptistry. The Scoppio del Carro, or the “Explosion of the Cart”, dates back over 350 years and involves fire, religion and a little bit of theatre! Mass in the Duomo follows the parade with the priest sending a fiery dove from the altar to light the fireworks. And legend has it that if all of the fireworks go off smoothly, good luck is ensured for a good harvest as well as for the city and its citizens. Prepare for big crowds and keep your fingers crossed for a wonderful explosion of the cart this Easter!
At home families celebrate with traditional Easter cuisine including large decorated chocolate eggs, Colomba cakes, and a traditional lunch of roast lamb on Easter Sunday. But not everyone spends Easter with their families as Italians have a popular saying – “Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi,” meaning Christmas with your family, Easter with whoever you choose. It sounds like a great idea to me and if you want to know how to say Happy Easter in Italian, here’s how!
27th March – Mercatone dell’Antiquariato del Naviglio Grande monthly antiques market, Milan
Milan in north-west Italy is famous for its designer fashion houses, but if you prefer something a bit more vintage check out the monthly antiques market down by the Naviglio canal. Its perfect for a Sunday morning’s shopping as over 2km of canal path is packed with 400 stalls laden with collectibles, antiques and all manner of vintage treasures including books, paintings, nic-nacs and furniture.
Open from 9am to 6pm on the last Sunday of every month (except July) this is one market not to miss. And if you need a snack or lunch to keep you going why not pop into the Mercato Metropolitano for a tasty pause!
29th March 2016 – Venice Ghetto celebrates the 500th anniversary of its founding
Throughout the Middle Ages, Europe was a difficult place to live for people of Jewish faith as many Christians saw them as enemies after the crusades. Jews were forbidden to live in many towns and cities and prohibited from owning land but gradually a few began to settle in Venice where the Venetian Republic was more tolerant than most.
By 1516 Venice had a large number of Jewish refuges and needed to find somewhere to house them without causing too much opposition from locals or the church. So on 29th March 1516 the Venetian Senate passed laws to house all the families on a small, disused island in the district of Cannaregio, well away from the main centre of the city. The island had once been an artillery foundry or geto in Venetian and over the years the word became synonymous with the Jewish quarter – creating the world’s first ghetto or place of segregation.
But whilst the word ghetto has very negative conotations today, the first residents of the Venetian ghetto saw it in a more positive light as they could live there with freedom to worship and to work as doctors or money lenders, which was more liberty than they had in many other cities. Consequently, although the gates and bridges to the island were locked and patrolled at night, many Jews felt that Venice was a decent place to live and the community thrived.
This year marks the 500th anniversary of the creation of the ghetto with plans to restore, refurbish and open up many areas of the Jewish quarter to visitors. The main events will also include a concert at the Fenice Opera House on March 29th 2016 (by invitation only), an exhibition on “Venice, the Jews and Europe” at the Palazzo Ducale from June to November and a relaunch of the Jewish Museum in order to encourage more visitors to discover the ghetto’s history.
So now you know what’s on in Italy in March, its time to get packing!
So there you have it! If you thought February was busy with carnival and Valentine’s, then March has even more to offer for a Spring break or weekend away. It’s a perfect time to get away as the weather is warming up nicely, but peak season hasn’t kicked in yet. Why not check out what’s on in Italy and book yourselves a nice treat! And if you find more events than I have listed whilst you’re exploring, please make sure to leave me a comment so I can add it to the calendar! Buona Pasqua e Buon Viaggio, Happy Easter and happy travels!