The Acireale Carnival has grown over the years amid the splendor of its Baroque architecture that is the setting for allegorical-grotesque papier-mâché floats, flower floats and groups dressed up in costumes, which all parade through the streets of the town centre. Considered as “the most beautiful Carnival of Sicily” and among the most important carnivals of Italy, it is one of the most authentic and engaging expressions of Sicilian folklore that draws much of its lifeblood from the enthusiasm of the public, transported into an alternative reality filled with the sounds and colours of a festive town. Its origins are ancient; the first records date back to the sixteenth century and describe it as a party started as a spontaneous public event. Not tied to any constraint, during the time of the year when everything is allowed, citizens could make fun of the most powerful people, with satire and mockery. In the seventeenth century it was common practice to fight by throwing citrus fruits and rotten eggs. Despite the enthusiastic participation of the crowd, in 1612 the Criminal Court was forced to ban the event because of too much damage caused to belongings and people. At the end of the seventeenth century the earthquake that shook eastern Sicily also marked a period of mourning and for several years the traditional carnival did not take place. However, by the early eighteenth century the event started anew under the pressure of post-earthquake reconstruction. During the nineteenth century the event was structured and delivered as an organised party. In 1880 the float parades started to take place. Initially preceded by the decorated carriages of the nobles, then they were deviced as papier-mâché floats, skillfully made by local craftsmen. Over time, the papier-mâché masks of small proportions changed until they reached their present big size. The floats are characterised by subjects dealing with satire and social mores, colours, effects and movements of parts of them. In 1930 the “macchine infiorate” (flowered cars) were introduced and today they have become big floats made of thousands of flowers, with movements and lights. Over the past few years Carnival celebrations have redoubled in view of the warm season. During the summer Carnival, the papier-mâché giants crowd the streets of the town centre again. In addition, the summer event serves as a prestigious showcase for local handicraft and producers.
Feast of St. Sebastian
The feast of the patron saint of the town, St. Sebastian Martyr, is the most relevant to the locals. Being the expression of a popular devotion extended over more than 450 years, the celebrations for the Saint are held each year on 20th January and are undoubtedly the most awaited religious event in town. The first morning lights have not yet fully lit the splendid façade of the big basilica devoted to the saint that the square outside becomes crowded with devotees eagerly waiting to get to the chapel where the saint has been kept, preserved and hidden from their sight throughout the whole year. In the middle of the morning the statue of the Martyr appears “naked whilst undergoing the martyrdom of the arrows” on the artistic eighteenth carriage, greeted by peals and glittering fireworks that light up the sky. The manoeuvre by which the statue comes out of the church is particularly spectacular as the devotees, traditionally barefoot, pull it with all speed right in the middle of the square. During the procession the Saint runs through the streets and squares of the town until it reaches the Bishop’s House. The return to the Basilica is suggestive as it culminated in a backwards run late at night.
Festa di Santa Venera
St. Venera is the main patron saint of Acireale. She is solemnly celebrated on 26th July, according to an ancient protocol similar to that of St. Agatha’s Feast in Catania. The half-bust of the saint, made by Mario D’Angelo from Messina and painted by Giacinto Platania, is kept in one of the most beautiful Sicilian chapels. The statue is covered with ex-votos with the Gospel in one hand and a crucifix in the other. At the base there is a sword, a gift from the city of Catania to seal peace after the long-standing rivalry between Catania and Acireale. The statue of the Virgin and Martyr is carried in procession through the streets on a silvery carriage, built in 1659. It is pulled by devotees dressed in white and accompanied by the five artistic “candelore”, colorful wooden carved candles, carried on the shoulders of skillful men representing the guilds of Arts and Crafts (shoemakers, bakers, fishmongers, bricklayers and craftsmen). Candelore sway and dance to the rhythm of a festive march in front of the procession.
The carriage is taken out of and into the Church by running in the midst of an excited crowd. The celebration ends at nightfall when the people, gathered on the square, greets the return of the Saint and the sky of Acireale is lit with spectacular fireworks, to the joyful sound of the cathedral bells.
On 14th November a ceremony in the church commemorates the removal of the Saint’s relics from Ascoli Piceno.
Magma – mostra di cinema breve
Magma is one of the best short film festivals in Italy. Every year it offers a wide selection of short films coming from all over the world. Started in 2002, the festival focuses on the short film, considering it as a separate art form, as a format allowing the experimentation of new styles and the creation of new trends, the presentation of works from both first-time amateurs and established directors. Alongside the international competition, the programme offers special sections aimed at enhancing the value of the short film.
Over the years, Magma has successfully created and intensified inspiring collaborations with other distinctive international film festivals, as well as producers or distributors of the short film.
The festival devoted to Sicilian Granita. Since 2012 the event has promoted the artisanship, the raw ingredients and the territory which give life to this delicious produce. Over the days dedicated to the “ritual of Sicilian Granita”, the public will be able to sample and vote experimental granitas specifically created by master gelato makers coming from around the world.
Villa Pennisi in Musica
Over the past few years MAR (Music, Architecture, Performing Arts) has organised a summer festival in the beautiful setting of Villa Pennisi. The event connects music to architecture in collaboration with the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and the architecture project W – SOUND. In 2012 the programme of music masterclasses and concerts was enriched with an architectural workshop aimed at the creation of ReS (Resonant String Shell), an innovative structure devised to amplify and perform outdoor music with highly-reduced environmental impacts.