Corsa dei Ceri

Race of the Candlesticks

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Ronnie McCluskey

Ronnie McCluskey
HomeAway travel expert


Palazzo dei ConsoliNo-one really needs an excuse to book a trip to Italy. Renowned for its culture, fine dining and glorious Mediterranean climates, you’d struggle to go wrong whatever your reasons for venturing there. This year, however, why not take in something a little different? In terms of genuinely unique events, there are few that come close to matching the sheer spectacle of Corsa dei Ceri. Just one of the myriad events held in the Umbrian region each year, Corsa is perhaps the most unusual of the bunch.


The festival is held each year on the 15th of May, with the residents of the sleepy Umbrian town of Gubbio wholeheartedly embracing the spirit it invokes. The 2013 festivities were, as ever, a joy to behold; so now it’s time to plan ahead and make sure you don’t miss out next year! Whatever it is you’re looking for, a quick search on HomeAway unveils a range of rental accommodation, from poolside villas to cosy cottages. To help you make the most of your visit, we’ve compiled a handy guide of what to expect.


 

Corsa dei Ceri: all you need to know


   

Corsa dei Ceri: background Corsa dei Ceri: background

The history of the celebration is still somewhat disputed by local scholars, with some claiming that it has its roots in an ancient feast in dedication to the Pagan goddess of agriculture, Ceres. The more widely accepted belief, however, is that the ceremony marks the eve of the death of Saint Ubaldo, patron saint of Gubbio, who died on the 16th of May 1160. Like so many other events of its ilk in the area, and indeed Italy as a whole, the occasion has transformed over the years into a jubilantly affirmed affair that still maintains its distinct religious heritage.

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Corsa dei Ceri: the festivities commence Corsa dei Ceri: the festivities commence

So fervent is the anticipation for this annual partito, locals waste little time in kicking proceedings off when the day comes! At 5.30am, a group of drummers make their way through the streets, followed closely by the bell of the Palazzo dei Consoli; this resounding instrument rouses all who had the temerity to sleep through the percussion! The Procession of the Saints then sees the three statues that will perch atop the candles in the day’s main event carried through the streets, to the Palazzo, in preparation for that evening.

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Corsa dei Ceri: the Corsa Corsa dei Ceri: the Corsa

The day as a whole marks a wondrous occasion, but it’s the Corsa that draws thousands of curious spectators to Gubbio each year. At 6pm, a priest blesses the town as they split into three teams; marked out in distinctive yellow, blue and black outfits, each represents a different saint. The ceris themselves are 3ft tall, 400kg wooden structures, topped with a statue of the chosen saint and carried on the shoulders of 10 or 15 strong men. The 4km route wends through the narrow ascents of the town to the final destination, at the Basilica of St Ubaldo. Corsa is Italian for race, but as a term is slightly misleading; St Ubaldo’s moniker must always be first to enter the Basilica.

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Corsa dei Ceri: meet the locals Corsa dei Ceri: meet the locals

St Ubaldo’s day is a joyous occurrence in Gubbio, and one the locals embrace with enviable gusto; locally, it is seen as a ripe opportunity to socialise with one’s neighbours. Thankfully, you needn’t be fluent in Italian to soak up the convivial atmosphere. The high spirits of all concerned mean you’re guaranteed a warm welcome throughout the town. Residents offer up servings of homemade food and drink to passers by during the day, before the race itself commences, creating a friendly and affectionate ambience for visitors to absorb.

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Corsa dei Ceri: Gubbio Corsa dei Ceri: Gubbio

Corsa Del Ceri only lasts for one day, but instead of heading straight for the airport at its conclusion, take the opportunity to see what else Gubbio has to offer. The town is a beautiful ancient province of Perugia, the capital city of Umbria and jewel in the crown of central Italy. The entire area is replete with inspiring examples of medieval architecture, with sights such as the cathedral and aforementioned Palazzo dei Consoli particularly breathtaking standouts. Stepping even further back in time, traces of the Roman occupation are still evident to this day, in the form of the ruined theatre and mausoleum.

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