"Calendimaggio" of Assisi
2-3-4-5 May 2018

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Araldo CalendimaggioLost in the mists of time, the origins of May Day are linked to pagan customs that celebrated with joyful ceremonies the return of the spring season and therefore the renewal of the cycle of life. A hymn to love and the newfound joy of living after the harsh and cold winter, the festivities that marked May Day were full of dancing, singing, drinking, and reciting of poems dedicated to the season of flowers. Such celebrations were a clear indication of the Umbrian spirit, and all would take part. Indeed, ancient chronicles and documents concerning the life of St. Francis attest that in his youth he too excelled in the composition of poems and songs.
There is no doubt that during this period the French and Provencal influence was decisive, especially in the field of music, but it is interesting to note that these compositions were called "May songs" and performed at the beginning of the month by groups of young people moving around various districts of the city.
According to ancient chronicles, Assisi reached its golden age at the beginning of the 1300s, exemplified by the extension of the city walls, by the castles in its possession, by the magnificence of its churches, and by the presence of some of the greatest painters of the time including Giotto, Cimabue, Simone Martini, the Lorenzetti brothers, etc... However, it is more or less in this period that the city was divided – as were others in Italy – in "Parte de Sotto" (Lower City) and "Parte de Sopra" (Upper City), ruled respectively by the rival families of the Fiumi and the Nepis. This situation gave rise to ambition on the part of each family, to hatred between them, and to the political factions of the Guelphs and Ghibellines. Measures taken by the magistrates, criticism from the Church, the exile of the heads of the families – all to no avail: first one, then the other family overtook the land of its rival, even thanks to soldiers from other cities. Any victory was short-lived, however, as the spirit of the losers was never tamed and soon they sought revenge. According to A. Fortini, the first bloody clash dates back to November 14th, 1376, when, screaming “To death! To death!”, the “Parte de Sotto” attacked its rivals in their sleep. However, this was only the first in a long series of skirmishes and battles.
Regardless of these periods of civil strife, however, people maintained the custom of celebrating the arrival of spring, which took the name of “Calendimaggio”, May Day. For one day a year, therefore, song, music, and serenades under maidens’ windows replaced the clashing of swords, a May King was elected, and people spent the night in the street listening to minstrels playing instead of returning home within two hours after Hail Mary was celebrated. This custom went on for centuries.
In 1954 the “Calendimaggio” changed and became more similar to the modern one, with a playful rivalry between the two parts of the city that recalls the wars of old and such participation on the part of all inhabitants that Assisi relives the atmosphere that characterized it over the centuries.

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