Palio della Balestra: what if the weather is bad?
Gubbio is a hill town, situated at the foot of the Apennines. And where there are mountains there is always a certain unreliability in the weather. On my first visit, to see the Palio della Balestra in 2012, the day of the event was warm and sunny; on my second, a year later, it was anything but. The day before the Palio, a Saturday, it rained almost constantly and everyone began to fear that the next day might be as bad. If so, there was a risk that the whole event would have to be cancelled!
As it turned out, the weather on the actual day was poor, but not so awful. True, the morning Lettura del Bando, the herald’s proclamation of the impending contest, was either curtailed or non-existent, as we saw nothing of it, but most of the afternoon’s events went off as scheduled. Indeed, it was warm and sunny for the first part of the afternoon, when the Corteo Storico wound its way through the ancient streets. But dark clouds loomed again just as the contestants, their entourages and all of the spectators started to gather on the Piazza Grande, and before the proceedings could begin the heavens opened and we were deluged with heavy rain and hail. The balestrieri, the sbandieratori and all those in costume ran for the shelter of the Palazzo dei Consoli, while the rest of us took what cover we could. We were cheered a little by the sight of brighter skies above the hills across the valley, and even more so when one of the balestrieri, with his local knowledge, declared that he expected that we would be able to carry on in about ten minutes. His prediction proved pretty accurate, and although the afternoon remained chilly, there were no further interruptions. The balestrieri took their places and the contest started immediately, without the customary prelude of the display by the sbandieratori of Sansepulcro, but they were to get their chance later when both they and their Gubbio counterparts performed as we awaited the results. As on my previous visit, a contestant from Gubbio took the Palio, and we left happy if chilled.
But let this be something of a warning. Had the weather on the Sunday been as poor as that on the previous day it seems likely that we would have had no Palio della Balestra at all. If you are travelling to Gubbio specifically to see that do bear this in mind and be prepared for disappointment – or, perhaps better, be prepared to make the best of things and enjoy Gubbio with or without the Palio!
~~ next tip: the (very small) downside to those wonderful bells!
Park outside the town centre, or be fined :)
Among the old Umbrian (or maybe even generally Italian) cities, Gubbio sticks out with a very much narrow and steep old centre. Parking spaces are very rare and must be left for the locals. We visitors should, in case we come by car, leave our cars outside of the centre or, in case we have booked a hotel with parking space, use this. Although as far as I believe there is no parking for hotel guests inside Gubbio’s city walls, even not for Relais Ducale, the most expensive hotel. Often, the parking spaces in the town centre have signs for residents only. Then it is even more important to respect these. In the meantime, Gubbio's centre has ZTL signs and will soon have cameras controlling this (there was an article in the local magazine in March 2012).
During Festa dei Ceri and Palio della Balestra, the events when cortei storici (parades) will take place, the town centre is closed anyhow, including for the locals.
There is enough parking at the big parking space at the south-eastern end of Piazza Quaranta Martiri, approx. 9 Euro per day (as of June 2010) or around the oval part for 0,80 Euro per hour (from 8:00 to 20:00).
But all cars must be removed around Piazza 40 Martiri from late Monday until Tuesday 14:00.
Tuesday is Gubbio’s market day and the stalls are spread around this piazza.
Near the old Roman theatre parking is even free of charge and the car is safe there (I park my car there all the time and never anything happened).
Location of free of charge parking at Teatro Romano on Goolge maps
© Ingrid D., February 2009 (So please do not copy my text or photos without my permission.), major updates March 2012.
continue with next review => Tuesday is market day
- Road Trip
- Historical Travel
- Castles and Palaces
Festa di Ceri - GET OUT OF THE WAY!
Festa di Ceri is famous throughout Italia and definitely the most important event for every Eugubino (Gubbio’s locals). But unlike many other Italian festivals (especially in Venezia, Firenze and other cities which are overrun by tourists) it is very much authentic and no set-up for visitors (and it will never be one). The Eugubini are celebrating to the fullest, this is all in their blood since birth.
Anyone who is in Gubbio during this time and has never seen or attended this festa before should keep in mind some very simple rules. Although Eugubini are certainly welcoming to visitors 364 days of the year, don’t expect them to do this on May 15. They just don’t have the time to babysit nervous or anxious tourists. And don’t disturb the celebrations by being in the way. This is not the day for “political correctness” or even discussions or debates about it.
Get out of the way at the critical spots during the raising of the ceri at Piazza Grande (called alzata, between 11:00 and 12:00) and race itself (18:00 and 20:00). The speed of the ceraioli, given the approximate 250 kg on their shoulders, is tremendous and sometimes they swing or topple over, as it happened with San Giorgio in 2010 and with Sant’Antonio in 2011. Who gets a cero on his/her head has just bad luck and no (= zero) reason or chance to sue anyone. Take into consideration that the Eugubini grow up with this festa and from early ages they know how to move, how to behave and actually nothing serious happened at anytime during the festa since 850 years. Make sure that it stays this way. Get off the streets when the race takes place. During the race, a lot of "helpers" who run in front of the ceri groups, clear the ways. And they are very strict pushing people away who are blocking the route. Have a look at this video, taken during Ceri 2011: the helpers push two people back, who are in the way. This is what I meant above: this is *not* the time to discuss. If it rains, take down the umbrellas when the collective shout ombrelli sounds – or wear raincoats. Shut up during the evening procession, when the saints are being brought back from the basilica to Chiesa dei Muratori. This is in my opinion the holiest time of the festa anyhow, very solemn, the Eugubini (and an adopted one) sing Sant’Ubaldo’s song O lume della fede and this is not the time to chat or giggle. [Some impressions of this evening procession are in this video, starting at 8:15 min. At 9:00 min the three turns in front of the statue of Sant’Ubaldo are shown, followed by bending down in front of him.]
Gubbio’s tourist office does provide a map with the whole course of the race including the critical parts, where the race leads through narrow parts or around edges. I have marked the course (red line) and the critical parts (blue circles) onto a google screenshot (photo 2). The instructions on the official Ceri map say:
• During the race, the ceri don’t stop. Don’t block the path and stay at a safe distance,
• Avoid the narrow passages marked in the map,
• Don’t loose sight of children and don’t bring them into the crowd,
• Dress comfortable and wear comfortable shoes. If it rains, no umbrellas,
• During alzata (raising of the ceri), the atmosphere of the crowd heats up – beware,
• If a cero falls, get out of the way,
• Respect the city and the ambience.
I am fully serious with all the above and aware that it sounds strict. Simply because I fear that unprepared visitors might spread words about the festa which are... well, based on lack of proper preparation. It is a fascinating festa. Don’t spoil it for the locals by being in the way or rude or making silly comments and don’t spoil it for you by being narrow-minded. Come with open eyes and heart and you will enjoy this festa and learn a lot about the Eugubini and their values.
Oh, and one further remark, based on the many questions I got from fellow travellers at Federica’s place: personal belongings are safe, despite the immense crowd. First of all, the Eugubini would never steal anything (I know this) and I am even sure that once a foreigner tries to steal something, he would be knocked down immediately and arrested.
© Ingrid D., June 2010 (So please do not copy my text or photos without my permission.)
continue with next review => Palio della Balestra
- Budget Travel
One of the magical things that characterises Gubbio is the sound of its bells. They mark the hours and quarters of the day, with deep chimes for each hour and higher-pitched ones for the quarter. So at 10.30, for instance, there will be ten deep notes and two higher ones to follow. Lovely!
The catch, for light sleepers, is that they also mark the hours and quarters of the night. Not for Gubbio the pandering to visitors that would have them still the chimes while people sleep. And I respect that – but I am a light sleeper. The solution is simple. Bring ear-plugs, and you can sleep through the night - or do as I liked to do, and remove them early in the morning and listen to the bells a few times while gradually wakening.
Staying near San Giovanni meant too that I always heard that church’s bells calling people to early Mass. As an early riser that didn’t bother me at all; in fact I loved to hear them. But again, if you like to sleep in, bring ear-plugs, as wherever you stay in Gubbio you are likely to be near a church.
And please, please don’t complain about the bells. They mean so much to the people of Gubbio, and this is their town not yours. Learn instead to love them and let them become one of your special memories of a special place. When in Gubbio ...
~~ next tip: Gubbio's cathedral
Watch where you park – especially on market day!
Even if you were allowed to (and man are closed to non-residents) you will not want to drive on Gubbio’s narrow streets, and you certainly can’t think of parking on them. But there are a couple of good places to park – a large free car-park near the Roman Theatre, and even more convenient reasonably priced parking around the Piazza 40 Martiri (pay at the machines and display your ticket).
Tuesday is market day in Gubbio, and the Piazza 40 Martiri is the market-place, so parking is not allowed on that morning. Signs around the piazza warn you of this, and Ingrid has a good tip about it.
Knowing it and remembering it are two different things, however! On the Tuesday morning of our visit Marit was to leave on a fairly early train from Fossato di Vico, and Ingrid and I were to drop her off on our way to a day out in Marche. So over dinner that evening Ingrid announced that to save time in the morning, and save Marit from carrying her backpack further than was necessary, she would move the car from the theatre car park where it had been for the last couple of days to a nearer spot in the piazza. I went with her for the short walk (it was a lovely evening) and the car was duly moved and parked just by the corner of Via Piccardi – very convenient.
Or was it? The next morning when Ingrid went early to the piazza to visit the pharmacy, she saw the market stalls, and saw no cars, and remembered her own tip: don’t park in the Piazza 40 Martiri on market day or you will find your car towed and face a fine! We had to laugh! Of course, having laughed, we had to deal with the situation, but it was only a minor inconvenience in the end, though it left a dent in Ingrid’s purse. Federica (our host at the Residenza) organised a driver to take Marit to the station and us to the car pound. Ingrid paid the towing/pound fee, and the car was restored to us. Later there was also a fee to pay to the police, but luckily such fines are not so high here as in other places, although clearly it would have been much cheaper if Ingrid had remembered her own advice or I had remembered reading it – or simply read the signs!
~~ next tip: an excursion from Gubbio
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