I visited Spello for the first time in 2008. Until that hot August day I knew nothing of this village. I chose to visit it just because it was mentioned in my guidebook of Umbria. Matteo and I were staying in Assisi for summer holidays. As soon as Matteo and I started wandering around the village, I fell in love. The place was quieter than Assisi, smaller, and basically every balcony, alley or corner was full of plants and flowers. Visiting the village, we spotted a tiny (one room) museum dedicated to the Infiorata di Spello.
It was the first time that I heard of it. After seeing a couple of photos, my mind was already set: one day I’ll come back and I will see this. And here I am, after almost 10 years. I made it. And the festival was as beautiful and compelling as I had imagined.
What is the Infiorata di Spello?
The Infiorata is a event, consisting in making carpets with flowers on the occasion of the Catholic feast of Corpus Domini (in the month of June). Corpus Domini takes place the Sunday after Pentecost.
More than 60 groups, composed of about 2.000 infioratori (flowers placers), work to realize wonderful flowers carpets.
First the participants prepare the drawings: the drawings presents many sectors. Each sector corresponds to a different flower. I saw two methods: some groups wrote the names of the flowers directly on the sectors: daisies, roses, pansies, etc; others wrote just a number, referring to a legend.
The participants trace the lines with chalk directly on the ground or they can draw on paper and than attach it to the ground. The subjects are inspired to religious themes. They must also respect some dimensions: at least 12 metres long (carpets) or 24 square meters (pictures).
The collection of the flowers starts months earlier. Many of them in fact are used when dried. No chemicals are used to fix the petals, only plant origin materials. But, on the days close to the Infiorata di Spello you can spot here and there people cutting petals from fresh flowers. How many flowers are used for this? The number is huge: 15 million flowers of 65 different species. Dried and fresh flowers imply different shades of color, so that the creations are more colorful and beautiful.
The day before
Around and about Spello, on the day before Corpus Domini, we could spot people of all ages busy with flowers: someone was preparing petals, others were putting petals on baskets, some were fixing the drawings.
Around 6pm, people started placing the first petals. The work goes on all night long until dawn. It is called la Notte dei Fiori, the Night of the Flowers.
On Corpus Domini Sunday
On a suggestion made by our B&B’s owner, signora Rossana, we woke up at 6am on Sunday, in order to reach the floral tapestries before the crowds of visitors. But at 7 am there were many people already. We managed to take pictures without problems anyway. If you’re a morning person, maybe better to arrive even earlier.
The colorful creations must be all set by 8 am on Sunday, in order to be judged by the jury in time for the 11 procession. Sadly, the masterpieces’ destiny is in fact to be stepped on by the procession, taking place after the 10 o’ clock Mass at the Duomo. Since the cathedral is currently under restoration, this time the Mass was in San Lorenzo church. The short life of the works is meant to remember the ephemerality of beauty and life.
As soon as I spotted an external staircase in a good position to attend the procession, I stopped and waited. At some point an old lady came out of the house and started speaking. At first I thought she was angry at us, for sitting on her staircase. On the contrary, she was asking information about the event. And she remained with us.
We had a hard time understanding her, cause she had a strong toothache and plus she spoke with a strong dialectal inflection. But her name was Sandra. Sandra Mondaini, added she. But it was a joke, since Sandra Mondaini was a famous italian comedy actress and TV presenter.
The floral trail
We walked along the main street from the bottom of the village up to the hill, along a 2 km long floral trail. Being the groups 60, 60 are the creations. But, here and there, you can see also spontaneous works made by kids or ladies, willing to enhance the final effect.
I must say, it was great to walk along that path, made of red, yellow, purple petals, to see the incredible accuracy of the carpets, to sense the pride of the creators and to get caught up by the joyful atmosphere of the village.
At every corner, shops sold flowers coronets. Women of all ages, from 1 to 100, were getting around the village wearing them, including me of course. At first I stopped at a shop who sold elastic coronets, but they were too tight for me. Then luckily I bumped into a lovely boutique where I found an adjustable coronet. Yay!
It was so thrilling to see many people admiring the works, smiling, taking pictures, proudly wearing the coronets and participate to the village event.
The clean up
Don’t even think of arriving late to avoid the crowds! Sadly, sanitation operators start cleaning up on Sunday evening already, erasing in a few minutes the beautiful tapestries, that required hours of work. Many carpets were still pretty intact even after the procession, mainly because only the bishop, holding the Cross, can actually step on the flowers. Yet, life must go on, and, to avoid petals flying everywhere for days, a clean up is required. 🙁
Around 6pm, in a small piazza behind St. Andrea church, with a magnificent panorama on the surrounding hills, the prizegiving takes place, among people clapping, shouting and hugging. While I watched the winners cheering, I was already thinking: on which occasion can I possibly wear my beautiful roses coronet again?
And this was the winner:
Soon the post about Spello: what to see, where to eat and all 😉
In the meantime you can watch my video:
Infiorata di Spello
More info at facebook.com/InfiorateSpello