Every year, throughout May and June, the streets of Italian towns transform into beautiful, colorful pageants of flowers. During Infiorata, Italian streets are carpeted with flower petals in displays of incredible artistry. Literally meaning “decorated with flowers,” Infiorata allows artists, who use only what Mother Nature provides, to create these magnificent works of art.
While this breathtaking custom began in the 13th century, the Infiorata festival as we know it today traces back to the day of Saint Peter and Saint Paul’s (the patron saints of Rome) feast on June 29, 1625. It was on this day that the head florist of the Vatican, Benedetto Drei, created mosaics of flower petals to decorate the basilica. The idea caught on and was spread throughout the area of Rome by architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini who was famous for organizing baroque festivals. While the custom faded away in Rome by the end of the 17th century, the locals of Castelli Romani adored it so much that they kept it alive.
The grand celebrations of Infiorata take up to a year of preparation. Artists must first choose the flowers for their “street carpets.” Once they are ready to create, a chalk sketch is drawn on the ground. Then, each line is marked with soil or coffee grounds and the lines are filled in with flower petals. Flowers with various nuances of color create both simple and elaborate designs on the city streets leading up to their churches and abbeys. Just as a painter uses paint, these artists use petals as their color palette. Dyer’s broom for yellow, goat’s rue for blue, wild fennel for green, and carnation for red are just a few examples of the earth’s bounty used in these flowery art pieces, many of which are constructed in the styles of Renaissance paintings or stained-glass windows.
Notable festivals include Infiorata di Genzano, Infiorato di Noto and Spello’s Infiorata. Genzano’s celebration dates back to 1778 and is held every year in June on the Sunday of Corpus Domini. Approximately 500,000 flowers, blooms and seeds are used to create the floral blankets that cover the town’s grounds. The festival’s exciting finish, the spallamento, comes after the Corpus Domini procession that passes down the center of the large flower panels. Children rush down the staircase from the church of Santa Maria undoing the flower panels.
The Infiorata di Noto is held mid-May. Noto’s, a baroque city in southeast Sicily, exquisite floral carpets have been a feast for the eyes and nose since 1980. The entire town, including the local prisoners, takes part in the designs that have a maximum lifespan of 48 hours. The main showcase is in Via Nicolaci where people can look down to enjoy the flowery images and up to admire the baroque balconies.
Spello’s Infiorata began in the 1930s and takes place every year on the ninth Sunday after Easter, on the day of the Corpus Domini feast. On that night, almost 1,000 people work strenuously to create the floral carpets that cover their streets. Spello’s creations are constructed by artists who procure their flowers in the wild. The gathering and processing of these natural materials begins months in advance of their actual use, meaning this festival is a year-long effort in order to take full advantage of the variety of seasonal floral species the Umbrian countryside offers.
These festivals highlight not only the skill of local artists but the abundance and beauty of the local landscapes. Each festival is special in its own way and much worth seeing on your next spring visit to Italy.