In Italy, September is a time of cooling temperatures, dissipating crowds, and historic festivals. From long-running regattas to harvest festivals, horse races, medieval fairs, and small-town celebrations of patron saints, making time to attend one of these unique festivals can help you find a closer connection to Italian culture during your visit in Italy.
Many of these festivals may be canceled or postponed in 2020. Be sure to check the official websites of the organizers for the latest updates.
Venice's historic boat race takes place the first Sunday in September with four race categories—children, women, and men in six-oar boats, plus the champions' race in two-oar boats. The races will be preceded by a parade of decorated 16th century-style boats with costumed oarsmen filling the canals. At this time, gondoliers in period costume carry the Doge, the Doge's wife, and other high-ranking Venetian officials along the Grand Canal.
Motorboats and gondolas carrying photographers and visitors line the canals watching all this pageantry and many Venice hotels have special boats scheduled to transport their guests up the canals to see the parade and races. Be sure to arrive in time for the Campioni su Gondolini race, when the fastest gondoliers will speed down the Grand Canal to the finish line.
In early September, Venice is abuzz as the film industry arrives at Lido Island for the annual film premieres. This star-studded event is the oldest film festival in the world and one of the "Big Three" film festivals along with the Cannes Film Festival and Berlin International Film Festival. Premiering both the year's most-anticipated films and up-and-coming ones by underdog directors from all over the world, the festival, which runs from September 2 to 12, 2020, also takes the time to pay tribute to important figures in the history of cinema.
In September, you can travel between the cities of Milan and Torino for MITO, formerly known as SettembreMusica, to attend a series of classical concerts. Performances range in size from grand assemblies in churches and concert halls to smaller ensembles in the cities' piazzas. From September 4 to 19, 2020, you'll find nightly programming in both cities, which will feature works by Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, and other classic composers.
This event has been canceled for 2020.
Held in Figline Valdarno, about 30 kilometers southeast of Florence, the Palio di San Rocco is said to be one of the first horse races in Tuscany. The festival starts at the end of August but continues into the first week of September. After five days of medieval competitions like jousting and archery, the horse race is the finale. There will also be a farmer's markets and live music.
This event has been canceled for 2020.
This big festival in Viterbo, 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Rome, is typically held on September 3. On this day, the Macchina, a tower covered in lights and topped by a statue of Santa Maria Rosa is paraded through the streets. The tower weighs nearly five tons, is almost a hundred feet tall, and takes more than 100 porters to carry. It's quite a sight to see and if you arrive a day early, you can also watch another procession which carries a reliquary, said to contain the heart of their patron saint Santa Maria Rosa.
Saint Vito Day Ciminna, Sicily
In the small Sicilian town of Ciminna, the first Sunday of September is always a celebration of the city's patron saint, Saint Vito. On this day, there's a huge parade recalling the life of Saint Vito with townspeople dressed in colorful period costumes. There will also be a livestock fair and the main church, which dates back to the Middle Ages and has a lovely gothic rose window, is the epicenter of the religious processions.
La Festa Della Madonna Degli Ammalati, or the Festival of the Madonna of the Sick, is celebrated the first weekend of September in the Sicilian town of Misterbianco. The festival commemorates the miracle of the sanctuary being saved from destruction during Mt. Etna's eruption in 1669 when the rest of the town was covered with lava. Festivities run for five days starting Thursday evening and ending with a fireworks display.
The town of Cordovado, an hour northeast of Venice, recreates the renaissance over the first weekend in September. During this historical reenactment, you can time travel back 500 years in this medieval town for a fun-filled weekend of performances, ancient games, jesters, and falconry presentations. Festivities include a procession followed by an archery competition and other tournaments where the districts of the town compete.
A historic donkey race in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia town of Fagagna, 87 miles (140 kilometers) northeast of Venice, has taken place the first Sunday in September since 1861. Teams from four regional hamlets compete with their racing donkeys and carts on an oval course set up in the town square. The race is preceded by a "grand entry" with donkeys and teams in their town colors, marching units, and event "royalty."
The Paper Lantern Festival is believed to be one of the oldest festivals in Florence. You'll find outdoor festivities from September 6 to 8. The tradition relates to the celebration of the birth of the Virgin Mary. A festival in Florence was held to commemorate her birth, and farmers from surrounding towns and farms trekked to Florence with their produce and goods for the occasion. To arrive for the religious services on time, many started their journey before the break of dawn and needed lanterns to light their way.
The lantern tradition continues today and on the evening of September 8, Florentines and others representing the farmer-pilgrims carry colorful paper lanterns at the end of a stick through the streets of Florence. A speech and blessing are made in the piazza, followed by a party.
Festival of the Madonna of the Sea in Patti, Sicily
The Festival of the Madonna of the Sea is celebrated the second Sunday of September in Sicily in the village of Patti, Mesina province. During the event, the Golden Madonna statue is carried to the sea in a procession, then put on an illuminated boat to lead a boat procession. Dancing, music, food, and wine will follow.
In fair Verona, you can celebrate the birthday of one of Shakespeare's most famous characters, Juliet Capulet. Here, it's possible to visit the building thought to be the original home of the real Capulet family and the very popular Juliet balcony. Her birthday is celebrated on the first weekend of September. During the birthday celebration, partiers roam the streets of Verona dressed in romantic period costumes to celebrate the young love-struck heroine’s birthday. Festivities include parades of the infamous Courts of the Montagues and Capulets, dances, and street entertainment.
The Illumination of the Holy Cross is a religious procession that takes place on September 13 in the Tuscan city of Lucca. In a celebration dating back to the 8th century, the city is illuminated with thousands of candles on this night as the procession goes through Lucca's historic center. The procession leaves from the Basilica of San Frediano and proceeds through the town to the Cathedral to pay homage to the Holy Wooden Cross—participants hold candles or lamps and the procession route is illuminated with tiny votives containing candles.
The festival of the patron saint of Naples celebrates the miracle of the liquefying of San Gennaro's blood in Naples Cathedral on September 19, followed by eight days of processions and celebrations. On the morning of September 19, thousands fill the Naples Cathedral and Piazza del Duomo, hoping to see the saint's blood liquefy in what's known as the miracle of San Gennaro. Afterward, the festivities begin with vendors selling toys, candy, and food.
This bareback horse race dates back to the 13th century and is held in the Piemonte town of Asti, about an hour's drive southeast of Torino. The race is preceded by a parade with participants in period costume, and special events are also held on the days leading up to the actual event, usually the third Sunday of September. Since 1988, the race has been held in the Piazza Vittorio Alfieri in the heart of the city, a very scenic venue.
Feast of Saint Cipriano and Saint Cornelio in Dorgali, Sardinia
The patron saints of the Sardinian town of Dorgali are celebrated for eight days in September, with traditional dancing in period-costume and parades. The festivities typically begin in mid-September, commemorating the arrival of Autumn. At night, live music and dancing tend to draw the crowds into the city's main piazzas.
Similar to Venice's historic regatta, this one takes place off the island of Burano, near Venice, on the third weekend of September. Venetian-style rowing in Burano is a centuries-old tradition, as was the best way to transport fish to nearby islands and Venice before motorboats. Some racers consider this regatta a "rematch" after the larger race on Venice's Grand Canal that happens a few weeks earlier.
Italy's favorite monk is celebrated with a torchlight procession and religious ceremonies on September 23 in San Giovanni Rotondo in Puglia, the site of the monk's friary. The first priest in history to allegedly bear the wounds, also known as stigmata, of Christ, Padre Pio was dedicated to continuing Jesus’ work of redemption and is beloved by Italians. Besides being devoted to God, he was known for taking care of the sick and was officially declared a saint in 2002.
Saint Greca Festival in Decimomannu, Sardinia
The Santa Greca Festival, which celebrates a Sardinian saint of is held the last Sunday in September in the Sardinian town of Decimomannu near Cagliari. This food-centric festival includes a five-day barbecue where they roast hundreds of suckling pigs and serve food like eel shish kababs and stuffed tripe. The celebration lasts five days with parades, music, poetry, and dialect competitions.
Feast Day of San Michele
On September 29, this popular saint's day is celebrated in many places all over Italy. The most important celebration of San Michele, or Saint Michael, is at the Sanctuary of the Archangel Michael on the Gargano Promontory of Puglia, where you can visit the crypt and museum. As Saint Michael was known as the leader of the heavenly armies combatting Satan, the celebration of all angels was incorporated into his feast day.
Potato Festival in Bologna
A week-long Potato Festival is held in Bologna, a top culinary city, near the end of the month. Bologna knows how to cook potatoes Italian-style and the event is an opportunity to taste local gastronomic specialties such as tortelloni (stuffed egg pasta) with potatoes, gnocchi, which is made with wheat flour and potatoes, and even potato ice cream. Live music adds to the fun and a traditional food market with food stalls serves the potato-related foods.