Festivals & events in Naples

Parades, processions and… liquefying blood?

Festivals & events in Naples La Partenope, Napoli Teatro Festival Italia 2009 - © Luciano Romano/Archivio Napoli Teatro Festival Italia
By Jeffrey Kennedy & Janice Fuscoe

Naples loves to party – and it has festivals with religious roots that blossom most extravagantly in this ancient, deeply faith-driven city. Easter and the period between Christmas and Epiphany are hugely important events, as are the thrice-yearly ritual involving what is said to be the liquefaction of the blood of San Gennaro, the city’s patron saint, and the commemoration of the miracle of Santa Maria del Carmine.

Secular events range from the annual Pizzafest to more highbrow gatherings, such as the Napoli Teatro Festival Italia and Galassia Gutenberg Book Fair. The Maggio dei Monumenti, held each May, has gone from strength to strength, opening the city’s secrets to curious visitors.

Events of all types tend to come and go in this anarchic city, so confirm as close as possible to the scheduled dates.

Performing arts festivals

In July and August, the lack of air-conditioning in the city’s theatres generally makes them too hot to bear. Instead, performances are held out of doors (and out of town) in spectacular alternative venues. The most spectacular of all the region’s outdoor summer events is Ravello’s Festival Musicale di Villa Rufolo  which runs from June to August. The Concerti al Tramonto on Anacapri are another chance to hear music in a sublime setting.

Music festivals

As well as the Neapolis Festival (see Summer below), keep an eye on the programme for the Parco dei Quartieri Spagnoli on Corso Vittorio Emanuele, which hosts various events from July through to September.

Other festivals to look out for include the Ethnos Festival (081 882 3978, www.festivalethnos.it), with its great line-up of world music acts, and the Sguardo di Ulisse (www.sigbloom.it), which organises double bills of a film and a band). The venues for both festivals change from year to year, but are generally in the city centre.

From July to September, the city holds a number of music and film events as part of the Mezzonotte nei Parchi festival (www.comune.napoli.it). Another biggie is the Cornetto (www.cornettoalgida.com), which is held in Piazza Plebiscito in June or July and has seen performances by the likes of Sting and Santana.

Jazz festivals take place in the Parco Urbano Virgiliano on Posillipo Hill, at the Mostra d’Oltremare, and in the nearby towns of Pomigliano d’Arco (081 803 2810, www.pomiglianojazz.com) and Nocera Inferiore (www.jazzinparco.it).

The Notte Bianca (www.nottebiancanapoli.com), or ‘white night’, is an all-night festival of music, shows and performances in every available space in the city, held in autumn.

Streets and squares are packed with revelers, and mobility between events is nearly impossible (the 2006 event attracted two million people). Although it’s great fun for punters, city officials invariably grumble about the cost; for a start, the clean-up operation afterwards doesn’t come cheap. Check ahead if you’re planning to go, in case the event is cancelled.

Spring

Settimana Santa

Where various locations
When: late Mar-Apr
Tel & website: 081 557 4111/081 449711, www.chiesadinapoli.it
Easter week means processions and passion plays in the streets and piazzas.

Settimana della Cultura

Where: museums across Italy
When: 1wk in Apr
Tel & website: 800 991199, www.beniculturali.it
Italy’s publicly owned museums offer free entry (and many stay open late) for this week of culture.

Emozioni Pasqua

Where: various venues
When: Easter week
Tel & website: 081 410 7211
A series of free concerts in central venues, some by famous performers. Admission free.

Napoli Marathon

When: mid Apr
Website: www.napolimarathon.it
Runners take to the streets for a full marathon, half-marathon, 4km fun run or leisurely walk.

Festa della Liberazione (Liberation Day)

Where: various locations
When: 25 Apr
Concerts and gatherings celebrate the date when the Italian Resistance chased the Nazis out of Italy.

Festa di San Gennaro

Where: Duomo
When: 1st Sat in May (also 19 Sept and 16 Dec)
Tel & website: 081 542 2090/081 557 4111, www.chiesadinapoli.it
The first of three dates each year when the patron saint’s preserved blood is said to liquefy. Vast crowds gather to witness the phenomenon.

Maggio dei Monumenti

Where: various locations
When: May
Tel & website: 081 542 2090, www.comune.napoli.it
An impressive calendar of free events kicks off in late April, with concerts, exhibitions and access to monuments in the city that are normally closed to the public.

Galassia Gutenberg

Where: Stazione Marittima, Molo Angioino, Piazza Municipio
When: late May-June
Tel & website: 081 554 8911, www.galassia.org
The largest book fair in southern Italy is a four-day event, held at the end of May.

Summer

Napoli Film Festival

Where: Warner Village, Via Chiaia 149
When: June
Tel & website: 081 558 5688, www.napolifilmfestival.com
This ten-day festival takes place in June, with screenings at the Filangeri and in the auditorium of the Castel Sant’Elmo. Launched in 1995, when it was called Modfest, the event has gradually evolved, building up a strong rapport with Hollywood. Stars such as Harvey Keitel, Sigourney Weaver, Cate Blanchett and Milos Forman have attended, and every year the festival programme is duplicated in New York. The film festival’s venue and duration varies from year to year; check online for the latest information. Tickets are modestly priced, ranging from €4 for a single film to €20 for a festival pass.

Napoli Teatro Festival Italia

Where: Teatro San Carlo, Real Albergo dei Poveri and Piazza Carlo III, along with theatres, museums and archaeological sites.
When: June-July
Tel & website: 081 1956 0383, www.napoliteatrofestival.it
Theatrical and musical events starring local and international performers take place in venues across town; tickets cost €15.

Open Estate a Napoli

Where: various locations
When: June-Sept
Tel & website: 081 542 2090, www.comune.napoli.it
Open-air films, theatre and music are on the agenda for the ‘Summer in Naples’ season; around 100 free events are staged throughout greater Naples.

Giffoni Film Festival

Where: various locations in Giffoni Valle Piana
When: July-Aug
Tel & website: 089 802 3001, www.giffonifilmfestival.it
The second most important film festival in Italy after Venice was founded in 1971 by Claudio Gubitosi, who is still its director. The festival takes place between July and August in Giffoni Valle Piana, a tiny town near Salerno with streets named after directors and actors. What makes the festival unique is that it concerns itself with children’s cinema; even the jury is composed of kids. The festival has a US branch in Los Angeles, run by actor Jon Voight, and an Australian counterpart. French director François Truffaut declared it ‘the most necessary of all festivals’. Numerous directors and actors have participated over the years, including Robert de Niro, Oliver Stone, Meryl Streep, Anthony Quinn, Roman Polanski and Meg Ryan.

Brividi d’Estate

Where: Orto Botanico
When: 081 542 2088, www.ilpozzoeilpendolo.it
Tel & website: July
Outdoor musical theatre performances, usually on a mystery or thriller theme, are held in the Botanical Gardens most nights at 9pm. Tickets are €12-€16.

Carpisa Neapolis Festival

Where: Mostra d’Oltremare, Fuorigrotta
When: mid July
Tel & website: 081 725 8025, www.neapolis.it
An international line-up of rock groups appears at the largest musical event in southern Italy; in 2009, the Prodigy and the Virgins performed here. It’s generally a two-day event.

Santa Maria del Carmine

Where: Piazza del Carmine 2
When: 16 July
Tel & website: 081 557 4111, www.chiesadinapoli.it
Santa Maria del Carmine’s well-attended feast day is celebrated with fireworks festooning the belltower of her church.

Ferragosto

Where: various locations
When: 15 Aug
Tel & website: 081 557 4111, www.chiesadinapoli.it
The Feast of the Assumption is celebrated across the region; in Pozzuoli there’s a slippery pole contest, followed by fireworks.

Autumn

Festa di Piedigrotta

Where: various locations in the Piedigrotta area
When: 10 days, early-mid Sept
Tel & website: 081 214 0813, www.festadipiedigrotta.it
September 7 each year is the feast day of the Madonna of Piedigrotta. The festival was born in the Middle Ages from the ashes of pagan fertility rites that took place at the foot (piedi) of Posillipo Hill, which was pierced as early as the first century AD by a tunnel (grotta), connecting Naples with points west. The spot now has a much expanded modern tunnel, as well as the Basilica of Piedigrotta.

Always celebrated with song and dance, the festival entered its golden age from the late 1800s to the 1960s. In 1853, a singing contest was introduced to the programme, and became hugely popular, spawning internationally acclaimed songs such as ‘Te Voglio Bene Assaje’ and ‘O Sole Mio’ (reinvented for Elvis Presley as ‘It’s Now or Never’). Tens of thousands of Neapolitans thronged the streets to listen to the singers and gawp at the elaborate allegorical floats.

After a lengthy hiatus, the tradition was reintroduced in 2007, featuring a concert in Piazza Plebiscito by Bryan Ferry, along with exponents of traditional Neapolitan song. Singer Nino d’Angelo became the artistic director in 2008, scoring a coup by persuading Pozzuoli native Sophia Loren to act as the festival’s patron that year.

The festival will now comprise three parts: a huge concert in Piazza Plebiscito, featuring international stars; a grand parade of allegorical floats going from the Palazzo Reale to the basilica; and the Audizioni competition, showcasing new songs, which will go on for a week in piazze around the city.

Pizzafest

Where: Mostra d’Oltremare, Fuorigrotta
When: 10 days mid Sept
Tel & website: 081 420 1205, www.pizzafest.info
Naples celebrates its most famous dish with visiting chefs, pizza-making workshops and shows.

Independent Film Show

Where: Fondazione Morra, Palazzo Ruffo di Bagnara, Piazza Dante 89
When: 5 days mid Nov
Tel & website: 081 414306, www.em-arts.org
This international avant-garde event showcases some three dozen films and videos. 

Winter

Festa di San Gennaro

Where: Duomo
When: 16 Dec (also 1st Sat in May and 19 Sept)
Tel & website: 081 542 2090/081 557 4111, www.chiesadinapoli.it
The blood of Naples’ patron saint allegedly liquefies three times a year. Vast crowds gather to witness the phenomenon.

Natale a Napoli

Where: various locations
When: 081 557 4111, www.chiesadinapoli.it
Tel & website: Nov-Dec
Christmas is celebrated with a vast programme of free events, ranging from concerts and exhibitions to plays and parades. Few churches are without a crib; the 18th-century examples in the Certosa-Museo di San Martino and the Palazzo Reale are particularly fine.

Expect a seasonal shopping frenzy in the streets around San Gregorio Armeno as everyone stocks up on traditional nativity figures.

Capodanno (New Year’s Eve)

Where: Piazza del Plebiscito
When: 31 Dec
Tel & website: 081 542 2090, www.comune.napoli.it
A concert of classical, traditional and rock music welcomes in the New Year, lasting well into the morning. There are fireworks over Castel dell’Ovo.

La Befana (Epiphany)

Where: Piazza del Plebiscito
When: 6 Jan
Tel & website: 081 542 2090, www.comune.napoli.it
The old hag who brings gifts to good children and leaves charcoal in the shoes of bad ones descends from the sky to distribute her presents in Piazza del Plebiscito. There’s also a free concert, held in a different venue each year.

’O Cippo di Sant’Antonio

Where: various locations
When: 17 Jan
In many quarters, Neapolitans clear out all their unwanted belongings, pile them in the streets and piazzas and set them on fire (a cippo is a bonfire).

Carnevale

Where: various locations
When: Feb
Tel & website: 081 542 2090, www.comune.napoli.it
This masked celebration before the start of Lent is a mere shadow of its formerly riotous self, although children still don fancy dress and proudly parade around town.

Around Naples

Feast days and classical concerts fill the cultural calendar.

The Amalfi Coast

On the first Sunday in June, the Regata Storica delle Antiche Repubbliche Marinare (www.amalfinet.it) is a spectacular boat race hosted annually, in turn, by the original four Italian Maritime Republics: Amalfi, Genoa, Pisa and Venice.

On 25-27 June, processions and fireworks mark the Festa di Sant’Andrea; the fishing fleet is blessed by local priests.

Celebrations for Byzantine New Year start at around 11pm on 31 August with drums and trumpets for the Byzantine Palio; medieval tournaments take place in Amalfi’s port.

Just east of Amalfi, Atrani celebrates the Feast of Maria Maddalena on 22 July with fireworks and a procession. In the last week in August, stalls selling seafood and local wine are set up around the main square and on the beach for the Sagra del Pesce Azzurro festival.

In Positano, a procession and fireworks on 15 August mark the Feast of the Assumption. Two days later (17-19 Aug), there are sunset re-enactments of the Saracen landing of 15 August 1558.

Ravello Concert Society (089 858149, www.ravelloarts.org) holds classical concerts from March to early November at the Villa Rufolo and venues along the coast. Look out for the concerti all’alba, in which an orchestra welcomes the sunrise in a breathtaking spectacle that begins at 4am.

Held from June to September, Ravello Festival (www.ravellofestival.com) is Italy’s oldest music festival, with classical concerts inspired by the artists who stayed in Ravello.

Capri A statue of the town’s patron saint, San Costanzo, is carried to the sea on 14 May, and participants are blessed. At the end of May, the Three Gulfs Regatta (www.tregolfi.it) starts in Naples at midnight, and ends in Capri the following day.

Summer in Anacapri brings the Concerti al tramonto (‘concerts at dusk’), with performances from June to August in the Villa San Michele. On 13 June, a statue of the town’s patron saint, Antonio di Padova, is carried around the town.

Mid June brings the three-day Capri Tango Festival (www.capritangofestival.com).

Ischia

In Lacco Ameno, a procession and fireworks honour the town’s patron saint, Santa Restituta, on 16-18 May.

The Easter Procession in Forio is even more dramatic, sometimes halting traffic for miles around. On 26 July, fireworks mark the Festa di Sant’Anna (www.festadisantanna.it), and torchlit boats sail around Ischia Ponte.

Secular celebrations include the Ischia Film Festival (www.ischiafilmfestival.it), in early July; summer classical concerts and chamber recitals at La Mortella are another cultural draw.

August’s Expo Ischia (www.expo-ischia.blogspot.com) summer fair is a far brasher affair, with appearances by ‘sexy bombas’ and the winner of Italy’s Big Brother.

In early September, Ischia Jazz Festival (www.ischiajazz.com) attracts big names such as Archie Shepp and Billy Cobham.

Pompeii & Vesuvius

For July’s Festival delle Ville Vesuviane (081 732 2134, www.villevesuviane.net), classical concerts are held in stately neoclassical villas in Ercolano.

In Torre Annunziata, 22 October brings a procession for the feast of the town’s patron saint, the Madonna della Neve (Our Lady of the Snow).

Read more about Pompeii & Vesuvius

Sorrento

On Holy Thursday in Easter Week, white-hooded penitents carry a veiled Madonna through town. On Good Friday, black-hooded penitents file through town. The 16 July is the Festa di Madonna del Carmine, and the Festa di Sant’Anna (26 July-3 Aug), is a week-long celebration with music, food and wine, taking place at the Marina Grande.

In early July, the Lemon Festival in Massa Lubrense is a celebration of Sorrento’s most important fruit, with ice-cream, lemon babà and limoncello.

On 26-29 July, the Sea Festival is held on the seafront at Sant’Agnello. Expect food stalls, music, walking tours and trips to Punta Campanella Marine Reserve.

The Incontri Musicali Sorrentini (081 807 4033, www.sorrentotourism.com) music festival takes place in late summer in the Chiostro della Chiesa di San Francesco.

For more, visit www.in-campania.com.

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