Spello Flower Festival
After 6 years of waiting, I finally managed to visit Spello during the L’infiorata and it was honestly well worth the wait. This event takes place every year, on the Sunday after Corpus Domini which falls on a Thursday. Corpus Domini or Corpus Christi is a festival in honor of the Eucharist, the body of Christ symbolized with bread. It has been celebrated 60 days after Easter Sunday on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday since the XIII century. The L’infiorata takes place every year on the Sunday after Corpus Domini and on this day, the narrow winding streets of Spello are decorated in amazingly intricate carpets designed with a religious theme, and all made with flower petals used to “paint” their creations onto the street.
Corpus Domini, is a movable feast that occurs in the late spring was introduced in 1264. It is a religious holiday that is celebrated in a variety of ways across Italy, but Spello’s flower festival, or “L’infiorata is the one celebration I have hoped to attend for a long time. It is said the L’infiorata began in the 1930′s with the inspiration of an elderly woman who composed an homage to Christ using just flower petals on the street in front of her house. As years past, more and more neighbors joined her in celebrating this religious date with her by creating larger and more elaborate flower carpets until the festival has grown into what it is today. At this time, many months of planning go into every design which is first sketched out and color coded in preparation. Once the design is in place the collection of flowers begins. Although fresh flowers are preferred, some dried flowers petals are sometimes used in some of the designs. The petals are simply laid, not glued or affixed in any way onto the design, which is first drawn onto the street thereby “painting” a picture.
The entire town of Spello gets involved in the L’infiorata from the youngest to the elderly, and people divide into groups or teams to work together to try and create a winning design. Children as young as 6 join in by helping to collect the flowers, which are then taken apart and sorted in color shades by older members of the team. The first time I learned about the L’infiorata we had been staying at a farmhouse in Tuscany and drove to Spello to have lunch with an Italian friend. We arrived early so strolled through the street and noticed folks throughout gathered in their cantinas tearing apart flowers and sorting them into boxes. After spying a number of folks doing this same activity I had my husband ask what they were doing. Apparently it was just a week before that year’s L’infiorata and everyone was busy assembling their flowers. It turned out that the old man my husband spoke with had been on the winning team the year before and after inviting us into his cantina, he proudly explained what the L’infiorata was all about and showed us his photo album which held the photos of the many designs his family had created over the years. From that minute on I vowed I would some day return to see the L’infiorata with my own eyes, and although it took 6 years I finally can say I was there.
The festival in Spello actually lasts a few days with the main action taking place from 7pm Saturday when the teams begin to arrange their petals until 7am Sunday when work is to be completed. The larger designs erect large tents or canopies over their area to protect their delicate designs from wind or rain. The next morning when work on the design has been completed these tents are removed to allow public viewing and judging. The folks of Spello work feverishly throughout the long night, and everyone on the team helps out from the very youngest to the eldest. Teenagers keep track of the numbered boxes containing the various shades of petals and run them back and forth to the artisans laying out the designs. Older women bring steaming cups of espresso and snacks to help keep everyone alert, and the older men walk up and down the designs with spray machines with water to keep the designs fresh. Although the monetary prize may be minimal when divided between dozens of folks that may belong to a team, great pride is taken if a team manages a win, and it is said that the L’infiorata is a time when the entire town comes together despite previous differences.
Once work has been completed and the awnings come down the streets of Spello fill with people admiring the colorful spectacle. I can honestly say that I was amazed at just how many people Spello could hold at one time, as the streets were jam packed with people all vying to get closer looks at the various flower designs. Some of the larger designs even set up raised platforms to allow folks to get a better photo of their work and these too had long lines of people who were all anxious to get great photos to take home with them. Unfortunately though, the viewing time is all too short, as once the noon bells toll a procession emerges from the church and walks through the streets of Spello. As the religious leaders walk from street to street onlookers fall in behind them creating a large procession that walks right over all the flower “paintings”, destroying the delicate works of art. Having arrived at 8am, we had managed to see all of the designs by 10am at which time the crowds along some of the streets were packed so tight they were barely moving. Not particularly liking crowds myself, at one point when I was packed like a sardine amongst a number of warm, moist strangers I decided it best to leave Spello and forsake the final procession for another year. Although it took me 6 long years to finally see Spello’s L’infiorata, it was an experience I will always remember and I will certainly make a point to attend this event yearly if possible.
Tips for Attending Spello’s L’infiorita – We were uncertain exactly what time viewing would be allowed and arrived in Spello at 8am. The streets at that time were packed and parking difficult. I would certainly try to be in Spello by 7am on the Sunday, but much earlier and I believe the large canopies would still be up not allowing much of a view of the larger designs as they were just removing them when we arrived. Be prepared for heavy crowds along the narrow streets and dress comfortably. I spotted a number of tourists wearing very uncomfortable looking high heeled sandals having great difficulty handling the uneven cobblestone streets. The crowded atmosphere would be a pickpocket’s dream environment, so keep valuables in either a fanny pack worn in front, in a purse worn across your chest in front, or in some other safe fashion. As well, the crowds were so thick in some areas that I really could not imagine pushing a stroller through Spello with infants or young children. I noticed some folks with infants in backpacks which would certainly be preferred over a stroller in this situation. If you are in Umbria on the Sunday after Corpus Domini do make an effort to travel to Spello for this event as it really is worth seeing.
I am including a LOT of photos below which are just a small sample of what we saw in Spello.