I brought with me a little sachet of salt, a time-honored remedy to ward off evil spirits, when visiting two Medieval borghi on La Riviera dei Fiori...
Years ago I awoke in a hotel in Rome on a sunny morning to the sound of bands playing and troops marching through the city. When I turned on the television, I saw crowds massed along the streets, flags fluttering in the sky and scores of uniformed soldiers. Rushing to the concierge, I asked what was going on.
“Signora, è il due di giugno!” he exclaimed. “La festa della Repubblica d’Italia!” (the Feast of the Italian Republic). When I looked baffled, he compared it to the most American of celebrations: “il vostro Quattro Luglio” (your Fourth of July). This year marks the Republic’s 70th anniversary. By comparison, America’s Independence Day, which commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, seems an old holiday.
After the end of World War II and the fall of Fascism, the Italian people went to the ballot boxes to choose which type of government they wanted: monarchy or republic. On June 2 and 3, 1946, they voted to end the monarchy that had ruled their country for 85 years. The final tally: 12,717,923 votes for the Republic and 10,719,284 against. King Umberto II of the royal house of Savoy was deposed, and the male descendants of the family were exiled. A new nation—la Repubblica d’Italia—was born.
In 1948 the first military parade honoring the young Republic marched along the historic Via dei Fori Imperiali (Street of the Imperial Forums). When Italy entered NATO in 1950, there were ten simultaneous parades across the country. The parade has been cancelled in times of crisis—in 1963, for instance, when Pope John XXIII was dying, and in 1976, after a disastrous earthquake in Friuli.
Each year the parade begins with a rousing rendition of the national anthem, Il canto degli italiani—better known as Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) from its opening line—and “La Fedelissima” (The Most Faithful), the official march of the Carabinieri Central Band. Members of the Italian Armed Forces, Red Cross (Croce Rossa), police, firefighting brigades and other units stride through the streets. The unique Bersaglieri, marksmen famed for their speed, jog briskly in formation.
There is a ceremonial laying of a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at l’Altare della Patria a Roma (better known as the Vittoriano). Chiefs of other countries and members of the diplomatic corps pay their respects at the Quirinale, home of the Presidente d’Italia.
The day’s dramatic highlight is a flyover by the Frecce Tricolori. Nine Italian Air Force planes, officially known as the Pattuglia Acrobatica Nazionale (National Acrobatic Patrol), fly over the Vittoriano in tight formation, trailing green, white and red smoke. The evening ends as all Italian festivals do—with a grand display of fireworks.
All of Italy commemorates il due di giugno with fanfare, but our adopted seaside town of Porto Ercole on the western coast of Tuscany has a double reason to celebrate. June 2 is also la festa di Sant’Erasmo, the patron saint of the ancient fishing port and of all mariners. The highlight is an evening traditional procession of lighted boats that carry a statue of Sant’Erasmo out to sea and back, followed by a dazzling spettacolo pirotecnico (display of fireworks) you can watch from the town or the nearby hills. If you will be nearby, I highly recommend it.