Festival Friday is back! Today we would like to share with you a photo story of one of the best festivals we’ve been to; la Festa dei Ceri di Gubbio, a beautiful town in Central Italy. 

Imagine one of those picturesque Italian villages, cobbled streets and winding roads on a hillside. Green hills and pastures, cypress-lined roads and a church on top of a hill. Throw into the mix a street festival unlike any other, a show of skill and precision, the culmination of years of planning and practise. And, of course, copious amounts of wine and merriment. Sounds great, right?

Ceri Di Gubbio Top of the Hill

A view of Gubbio and St Ubaldo Church on top of the hill

Ceri di Gubbio – what’s that about?

La Festa dei Ceri takes place in Gubbio, every year on May 15th, the day of Gubbio’s patron, St Ubaldo. The ceri are three octagonal-shaped wooden structures, each of them dedicated to a different saint. Teams of young men, dubbed ceraioli, carry the structures on their shoulders. Citizens and ceraioli don a uniform for the day; white trousers, a red kerchief and sash, shirts of different colours, depending on the cero they support. Yellow is St Ubaldo’s colour, blue is St George’s and black is St Anthony’s.

Ceri Di Gubbio Blue Cero Entrance

A cero surrounded by a colourful crowd

The celebration begins with the alzata, the moment in which the ceri are raised from horizontal to vertical position. A spectacular feat, considering that the ceri are raised by hand, despite being 200 years old and weighing more than 400 kilos.

We watched the event in the public square, surrounded by thousands of locals and supporters. The captain of each team threw a big terracotta jug into the floor, smashing it into pieces.

Ceri Di Gubbio Passing the Jug Through the Crowd

Passing the jug in the crowd

Then, like giants waking from a year’s slumber, the ceri were raised. The sequence of movements was precisely calculated; a minor mistake could cause irreparable damage. When the ceri were finally up, the crowd erupted with cheers.

Ceri Di Gubbio Raising the Ceri

The alzata: raising the ceri

After a morning parade, and a few hours of post-lunch drowsiness, it was time for the Corsa dei Ceri. The teams of ceraioli, ceri on their shoulders, ran from Gubbio’s main square all the way to the church of St Ubaldo, overlooking the city on top of a hill.

It was a race that wasn’t a race at the same time: the teams ran at top speed through narrow alleyways and hairpin bends, one switchback after another; but the ceri weren’t competing against one another. The order of arrival is set; the first cero to enter the church is always St Ubaldo, followed by the blue banners of St George and St Anthony in black.

Ceri Di Gubbio Blue Bend

Running all the way to the top

The tradition dates back to the XII century, when Ubaldo was the Bishop of Gubbio. Every year, carrying the ceri up Mount Ingino, the citizens of Gubbio repeat the pilgrimage undertaken for the first time on May 15th, 1160, when they climbed to the Church on top of the mountain carrying candles, to be close to their Bishop in the moment of his death.

Ceri in Italian means ‘candles’; nobody knows when they were replaced with octagonal wooden pillars. After the bishop became a Saint, no year has gone past in Gubbio without ceri. Women carried them in wartime; men carried them in the trenches of World War I and the battlefields of Libya. Since 1909, there is even a ceri celebration in Pennsylvania, started by immigrants from Gubbio who brought with them the pride for their traditions and a bond with the motherland.

Ceri di Gubbio Main Square with Crowd

Waving hands, waiting for the ceri

Ceri di Gubbio Practical Info

The Festa dei Ceri takes place every year on May 15th. It is advisable to book accommodation well in advance, as the festival is very popular and rooms fill quickly.

The alzata takes place at 11am in Gubbio’s main square. Get there by 9 to secure a spot. After, follow the morning parade and take a rest, but make sure to be back in town for the corsa, starting at 5pm. Ask locals or the tourist info office for the best vantage point to watch the race. 

Scroll down for more Ceri di Gubbio pics!

Ceri Di Gubbio Yellow Team Carrying

Carrying the yellow cero of St Ubaldo

Ceri Di Gubbio Yellow Cero Around the Pole

St Ubaldo surveying the crowd from the top

Ceri Di Gubbio Throwing the Jugs into the Crowd

Throwing the jugs into the crowd

Ceri Di Gubbio Street Decorations

St George’s banners decorating a building

Ceri Di Gubbio Saluting the Crowd

The ceri saluting the crowd

Ceri Di Gubbio On Horse Back

A horseback rider joins the parade

Ceri Di Gubbio Man Who Looks Like Papa Smurf

Supporters old…

Ceri Di Gubbio Child Clapping

…and young!

Ceri Di Gubbio Fixing the Clothes in the Main Square

Getting ready in the main square

Ceri di Gubbio Alpini

An Alpino veteran attending the festival

Ceri Di Gubbio Main Square Night

Gubbio’s main square at night

 

25 Responses

  1. Lindsay

    Super cool! I love festivals, so I’m adding this to my wish list! Great photos!!

    • Margherita

      Thanks Lindsay! Do visit Gubbio if you can, it’s great!

  2. Franca

    I loved going trough your amazing photos, it brought me back on when years ago I went to see this festival. I was living in Perugia at that time whilst at university and we went to Gubbuio for the day to see this craziness. Such a cool festival, I still haven’t seen anything quite like this.

    • Margherita

      Thanks Franca! We loved this festival so much, we’re happy to share it and hopefully inspire more people to visit!

  3. Marta Kulesza

    really cool photos! Festivals are one of my favorite things to photograph, just after landscapes 🙂

    • Margherita

      Same here, totally agree! Thanks for your comment!

    • Margherita

      It was indeed, really good fun! Thanks for your comment!

  4. Emma

    What a fantastic festival to witness! Such a brilliant set of pics too! 🙂

    • Margherita

      Thanks for your comment! Glad you liked the pics.

  5. Margherita

    It was really good fun, but there was a lot more wine than beer… I agree with you though, a beer festival like this would definitely be good, not for those who carry the ceri perhaps!

  6. frankaboutcroatia

    Great photos! They really captured the atmosphere of la Festa dei Ceri. Gubbio seems like a nice place to visit. And why would anybody replace a candle with a wooden pillar (OK, I am really imagining people carrying a small candle uphill)?! Is there any particular food traditionally served at this festival?

    • Margherita

      Hey Frank! Nobody was able to tell me when the candles became pillars, apparently it’s a mystery. The food associated with the celebration is baccalà alla ceraiola, salted cod cooked with a secret recipe that only two people know how to prepare, then pass on before they die. I had a taste and it was pretty good, amazing I wouldn’t say. Cool story though!

  7. Corinne

    Margherita, I have never heard of this festival, but oh does it look colorful and fun. Your photos are stunning! I have to put this on my list. thanks.

    • Margherita

      It is amazing Corinne! You should definitely go!

  8. Adelina | PackMeTo

    What a cool festival! I’ve never heard of it or the city in which it takes place in. The crowds are massive and so colourful. Thanks for sharing!

    • Margherita

      Hey Adelina! It’s really lovely, and the city is really pretty all year round! Thanks for your comment!

  9. Mary {The World Is A Book}

    This looks so fun and neat to see and experience. Lucky you! I love how you captured the colors and the people in your beautiful photos. What great dedication and such wonderful history.

    • Margherita

      Thanks Mary! It was a great day, and it sparked our love for festivals!

  10. Jempi

    Very nice review of a festival I’ve never heard of before. Looks like a lot of fun with all these enthusiastic Italians! Great pictures too.

    • Margherita

      It was great fun Jempi! Thanks for your comment!

  11. Ashley @ A Southern Gypsy

    I’ve never heard of this festival but it looks like a lot of fun. Great photos – the last one is gorgeous! Thanks for linking up to the #SundayTraveler!

    • Margherita

      Thanks Ashley! Glad you liked the pics. Thanks for your comment!

  12. Marcelo

    Sono stato a questo festival. E’ incredibile la pazzia e l’allegria di tutta la gente, e la fatica dei portatori di cero, che dopo una giornata allegra e leggera, fanno una corsa sfrenata per le strade della città e della montagna, portandosi sulle spalle quintali e quintali di legno, e fanno una gara senza vincitori, una guerra senza sconfitti, e poi tutti insieme in gioia e in allegria, con tanto vino. Fantastico e unico. Ci tornerò.

    • Margherita

      Grazie Marcelo! Anche per noi è stato bellissimo… veramente un’esperienza emozionante!