When spring comes to Assisi, the town has a special way of welcoming it. Related to various May Day celebrations of the millennia, the entire city goes crazy with exuberance over the rebirth of the earth – real spring fever.
It seems that in his youth Saint Francis himself excelled in composing and performing dances and songs for this event, called Calendimaggio. In his time, these compositions were called “May” songs, carried out by brigades of young people who roved around the city. At this time, the city was politically divided – in somewhat the same way Italy is still split – into the “Noble Parte de Sopra” and the “Magnificent Parte de Sotto,” meaning the upper and the lower parts.
The partisanship between upper and lower is symbolic now, but it was bloody in the 14th century. Today, it is about competing in the pageantry of a four-day festival which pits the two levels of the town against each other: best costumes, music, poetry, prettiest girls, strongest archers, loudest drummers – that kind of thing.
We had the good fortune to be staying right next to the cathedral, the staging area for the Parte de Sopra, which we naturally supported. Yesterday, before the start of the festivities, it was fun watching the girls getting dressed and seeing everyone getting used to their new identities as 14th century ladies and gentlemen. Of course, cigarettes and cell phones stayed in use till the very last moment of preparation.
When the city hall bells rang at 3:00, each group went into their church to have their banners blessed, hoping for that extra winning edge, presumably.
And then the fun really began. We had seats in the grandstand in front of the main area and were in place when the dignitaries took their place on the stand in front of the 2,000-year-old Temple of Minerva, now known as Santa Maria Sopra Minerva Church.
After the normal rounds of mentions of current civic leaders and awards for various stars of the event’s planning, the fun commenced. Our team took the stage first, and swooped out of the street leading from our church to stage a wonderful spectacle of music, poetry, pageantry and fetching damsels. Our guys had two great drum bands and wonderful costumes.