We might have celebrations and fireworks in the U.S.on the 4th of July, but good old Rapallo celebrates for three full days, and at almost the same time. July 1, 2 and 3 are the days of the Feste in Rapallo which commemorate the appearance of the Virgin Mary at Montallegro, 452 years ago. (You can read about that event here). Because the holidays are mid-week this year, they have run over a bit into the following weekend as well. The schedule of events is daunting – it would be impossible to do everything that is taking place.
It all starts the Sunday before the 1st of July, which is the first night the Pilgrims walk (yes, walk) from Rapallo up the mountain to Montallegro. Singing. At about 2 a.m. In torchlight. It’s a spooky thing to hear because the sound is not singing exactly, nor is it exactly chanting. It’s something in between, which has monotonal parts accented by occasional semi-octave exclamations. The sound carries, and the nearby hills send it back in echo, and the whole effect is mystical and a little scary, an effect that is, I imagine, accentuated by the flickering lights of the torches.
Throughout the feste days there are many masses celebrated, both at Montallegro and at the main cathedral of Rapallo, the Basilica of the Saints Gervasio and Protasio (an entertainingly translated link).
Things really get underway on the 1st, with the “Saluto alle Madonna” and the “Spettacoli pirotecnici ‘a giorno’ ” The Saluto, which is repeated daily, is simply big cannon Booms which shake the ground under your feet. The fireworks instead is a one and a half hour extravaganza that starts at 8 a.m. (8 a.m.??) and is sponsored by the Sestieri Borzoli and Costaguta. It seems like an odd hour for fireworks to me, but that’s how it’s done. There’s no worry if you don’t make it to this early show, though, there are plenty more fireworks to come, each one sponsored by pairs of the Sestieri of Rapallo.
Wikipedia tells us: “a sestiere is a subdivision of certain Italian towns and cities. The word is from sesto, or sixth; and is thus used only for towns divided into six districts. The best-known example are the sestieri of Venice, but Ascoli Piceno, Genoa and Rapallo, for example, are also divided into sestieri. Sestierei are no longer administrative divisions of these towns, but historical and traditional communities, most often seen in their sharpest relief in the town’s annual palio.” ( A ‘palio’ is usually an atheletic competition of some sort; Siena’s famous Palio is a horse race; Rapallo’s competition is in fireworks displays.) Borzoli and Costaguta also sponsor fireworks on the night of July 1st. On the night of the 2nd the Sestieri San Michele and Cappelletta take over, and on the night of the 3rd it is the turn of Seglio and Crisola, this one with music. The highlight of this display, which features a battle between sea and Fort, is the famous Lighting of the Castello, in which the whole edifice seems to be ablaze.
On the night of the 3rd, before the fireworks, there is a Solemn Procession of the Silver Arc of the Madonna, a parade through the center of the town in which all the parade crucifixes from the Rapallo churches are brought out and displayed. The Silver Arc usually resides at Montallegro, but is brought down annually to much fanfare. Bishops put on their best lace and the politicians are all in Armani.
The crucifixes are large and look quite heavy, though all the tinsely decorations at the top give to each an airy, celestial feel. Some of the Crucifieds are black and some are white. Each is carried by one man who has a leather pouch at his waist that cradles the base of the cross. The tricky part is that he must carry his burden without using his hands, which are firmly clasped behind his back.
There is a support team for each cross, and when one bearer gets tired there is frenzied activity while the cross is passed to the next. The whole effect is heightened by the costumes they wear, something between Middle Ages and Bakery.
It’s a terrific event. I can’t begin to imagine the planning and all the hours and hours of work it takes to carry it all off. If you ever have a chance to be in Rapallo on the 1, 2 or 3 of July, jump on it – it’s an experience you’ll never forget. There are some more photos here. They’re not as good as I’d like, but they’ll give you the flavor of the event. If nothing else, you’ll enjoy the portrait of the Very Strong Man.