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While staying in Foligno, Gary and I hopped on the train for a 5-minute ride to Spello. It was a whoppin’ €2,20 round trip per person. “We can afford to go twice,” I said to Gary – – and we did!
Spello is one of the most beautiful towns in Italy; ask anyone. As I mentioned, it is a fast train ride from Foligno and about (18.5 miles) or 30km south of Perugia, the capital of Umbria.
The Beautiful Portas
Spello has one of the best-preserved walls of Roman origin in Italy. Most of all, there are three entranceways to the historic center. From the train station, we entered Consolare which dates back to the 1st Century BC. This entry actually has three entrances to it. It is easily recognized by the olive tree on top of the tower, a symbol of the famous local product. Porta Venere is recognized with the Towers of Propezio on both sides, and was at one time, the main gateway to Spello. The name comes from a bust of Venus found in the nearby temple of Fidelia. Also, when going through this porta, you will see the remains of a Roman amphitheater dating from the 1st Century AD. The last entryway is Urbica which is part of the ancient city wall and has a small watchtower on one side.
Good thing I have a digital camera because I took almost 130 photos of doors and probably just as much of the streets in Spello. This town is a photographer’s dream. If you have ever seen a photo of Spello, it probably depicted an alley, street, or flower-covered balcony as it is known as the Capital of Flowers.
The Main Event
Infiorata del Corpus Domini
Every year, the Infiorata del Corpus Domini is held in June (the 9th Sunday after Easter). People come from all over Italy to see the medieval streets transformed into spectacular works of art with carpets of flowers. These flower petals create designs and “paintings” of sacred art.
Adequate lighting systems and rain and windproof structures are installed in the areas of concern in the town. Hence, to prevent any unforeseeable adverse weather conditions that might occur from disturbing the flower makers’ work.
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The preparation of the Infiorate takes about three months and almost 1,500,00 flowers. About 65 floral species, 90 shades of color, and plant material are gathered. As a result, the citizens spend evenings separating the petals according to colors and finely chopping the fragrant herbs. The preparation participants consist of about 2,000 residents with almost 500 youth under the age of 14. Most noteworthy, it takes between 12-14 consecutive hours of work by the flower makers who lay hundreds of millions of petals and herbs on the road surface creating the flower carpet.
Most of the drawings are done on large pieces of paper and then taped down to the street and numbered. Each number corresponds to a certain flower color or herb. Strategically, they lay the petals from the inside out for ease of creating the design.
The infiorate (flower carpet) can’t be less than 39 feet (12 meters) long and must be at least 3 feet (1 meter) from the edges of the road, to facilitate a walkway for visitors. On average, a single design is about 39-49 feet long (12-15 meters) while large designs range from 269-753 square feet (25-70 square meters).
What is Used?
Furthermore, the numerous species used in the flower decorations are cornflower, rose, carnation, poppy, fennel, vetch, iris, broom, elder, daisy, dandelion, thistle, serputello, planzago, viscaria, sage, linaria, calendula, anemone, cicirilli, magnolia, spring onion, Gaggia, fig, oak, walnut, cypress, pine, wild orchid. Furthermore, wood in any form and any type of non-plant material is prohibited.
Notte dei Fiori
Numerous music shows take place during the night before Corpus Domini Sunday, or what the residents call the “Night of the Flowers.” Every year Spello records between 80-100,000 people flocking the streets on the Notte dei Fiori and during the Corpus Domini procession. Stores and restaurants remain open until the early morning hours during this event. There are approximately 85 volunteers from Saturday to Sunday, providing information and regulating visitor traffic.
The intricate work lasts the entire night and by 9:00 am the streets are covered by breathtaking perfumed carpets.
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There are four categories in the infiorate competition:
|Category||#of Awards Given|
|Under Age 14||5|
There are 9 special prizes awarded by their own jury. The overall winner is awarded the Properzio Trophy (bronze statuette), which will keep and deliver to the new winner of the following year’s competition!
Sunday Morning Procession
On Sunday morning when the competition is complete and after the jury evaluations are finished, the Corpus Domini procession led by the Bishop will begin. Carrying the Holy Sacrament, the Bishop leads the procession, trampling the flower carpets, recalling the ephemeral sense of their beauty. This experience of the highest human, artistic and religious value is shared by all in the community; together as one. Consequently, after the Bishop’s passage, anyone is allowed to trample the carpets.
During this same time, the entire town competes for the Windows, Balconies, and Flowered Alleys event. Fifty balconies and windowsills are embellished with flowers for this competition. Each category is judged and given a number. When walking through the streets, you can still find some of the numbers proudly displayed.
The local association, Pro Loco promotes this event. Per their Facebook page, “They are a territorial voluntary association of public interest, democratic and non-partisan, non-profit aimed at promoting and protecting the municipality of Spello, both to conserve and enhance environmental and cultural resources and to improve the characteristics and conditions for tourism and social development.”