Spello, found in the province of Perugia in east central Umbria, on the lower southern flank of Mt. Subasio. always been one of my favorite Umbrian hill towns. It is 6 km NW of Foligno and 10 km SE of Assisi. Spello may be smaller than some of the other more famous hill towns, but has its own unique look with pink stoned buildings and winding, narrow cobblestone streets.
The folks of Spello take great pride in their town, and throughout the town, flowers hang in window boxes and are arranged in pots grouped together along every narrow street. The town has many stores selling the local products of Umbria, and also has a number of really good restaurants we enjoy frequenting.
One of my favorite festivals that takes place in Spello each June is the L’infiorata, where large works of art are created by simply laying flower petals onto canvases. We’ve had such a cool, wet, and windy month, that I was worried the weather might hinder the festival, and although they did have some rain during the night, the more intricate designs were protected.
I have been fighting the flu, so I wasn’t sure I was going to make it this year, but decided we would go early before the crowds and would stay as long as I felt up to it. We have learned that you really need to arrive in Spello by 7am to beat the crowds, and the only problem with arriving that early is that most of the larger works of art are still enclosed in their metal and plastic enclosures.
The L’infiorata 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.
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 my favorite celebration. 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 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 eager 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. This is such a unique experience, and though very crowded, it is one that I would recommend that everyone adds a visit to Spello’s L’infiorata to their bucket list.
Spello Nestled On Top Of The Hill
Not Even 9Am And The Crowds Are Heavy
Using Different Shades Of Petals To Get A Realistic Look To The Skin
One Of My Favorite Works – Contained St. Francis and The New Pope!
As Well As The Large Canvases, The Streets Are Decorated With Carpets Of Flowers Which Are Also Judged
Another Carpet Running Down The Center Of The Narrow Streets
Vibrant Colors And Intricate Designs Seemed To Be The Theme This Year
The Design In Front, You Can See The Workers Disassembling The Enclosure At The Back
Gorgeous Color Combination!
Difficult to Believe This Was Completed Simply With Flower Petals Laid Out On Top Of A Canvas!
The Work Is Finished And A Huge Cheer Is Shared By Workers & Unlookers