Imagine a day in which an entire community comes together to create something beautiful and artistic that lasts just a few hours. The Pitigliano infiorata fits this description.
The infiorata, literally “flowering” of a town, takes place traditionally for Corpus Domini, 60 days after Easter. We happened to be at our home in Sticciano this weekend when Georgette, my friend who was visiting, remembered reading about the infiorata taking place today in Pitigliano (where I’ve already had a few very pleasant visits). Although the tufa town is a good 1.5 hours away from our stomping grounds in the “upper” area of Maremma, we decided it was worth the drive. I’m glad we did.
We arrived mid morning and found people working in the bright sunlight to lay down blocks of colourful material within bold patterns or figurative representations. I noticed right away that flowers did not make up the bulk of the art, and spotted buckets of the colours used off to one side, so asked two ladies about their work.
“Are you all artists, professionals who come to do this?” I ask them. The woman smiles. “No, we are Pitiglianese!” she says. “The only real artist is her…” gesturing to a lady in a pink tank top who is tackling the figure of Adam in a floral copy of Michelangelo’s Creation from the Sistine Chapel.
I learned that the citizens of Pitigliano all pitch in on this event. In the days leading up to Corpus Domini, they clean the streets, gather and make coloured materials, and draw outlines with chalk on the road or create more complex cartoons on paper on which the material will be laid. The colours are mostly dyed woodchips, though where possible, naturally occurring colours are used, like coffee grinds, rosemary, or salt. All the materials are organic, though, my informant is careful to point out.
As we wind our way through the streets, through the Jewish Ghetto, and in the area near the Duomo, we see people young and old, hippies, little girls, old men… all hunched over and hard at work.
Some children work, others spray the compositions to keep them from blowing away in the wind, like this boy scout I photographed.
Others still participate by observing, providing refreshments or advice.
There is friendly banter in the air, although as the afternoon wears on, I hear one lady singing about her sore back. One thinks of Michelangelo and the Sistine Ceiling, and how he, too, complained about his sore back… the ladies we met at the entrance to the town would finish their Creation scene just minutes before the 5pm procession.
All this work is done in order to welcome the sacred host, which comes out of the Duomo and is processed through the town on Corpus Domini.
This feast day was declared after a miracle that happened in Bolsena in the 13th century. The Mass at Bolsena is represented by Raphael in the Stanza della Segnatura, not far from Sistine Chapel. In this event that took place in 1263, a German priest who doubted the miracle of transubstantiation was converted when the host, the central element of the Christian mass, bled. Evidence was brought to the Pope who happened to be at the Cathedral of Orvieto at that moment, and Pope Urban IV declared it a miracle and instituted the feast day.
In Pitigliano, the host will be processed at 5pm by the priest and the Bishop, and the point is to welcome it with appropriate pomp, splendour and beauty. The tradition dates back to the 17th century, actually. What’s most surprising is that the procession goes right over the bed of carefully laid flowers and decorations. A whole day’s hard work, gone in just a moment.
After the procession, children and spectators can walk on the decorations, and soon after, they are swept up.
Where to see an infiorata in Tuscany
Various towns in Italy hold an infiorata. Some of the most famous are in Bolsena (where the feast of the Corpus Domini originated) and Spello in Umbria. In Tuscany, I have done some research and found infiorate in Pitigliano, Scarperia, Fucecchio, Cetona, Cutigliano, Magliano, Cerreto Guidi, and Turritecava (Gallicano) in the Garfagnana area.
Pitigliano is located in southern Tuscany, in the Maremma area. It is reached by taking the Albinia exit from the Aurelia superstrada below Grosseto, and then driving inland past Manciano. There is free (white lines) or metered parking (blue lines) along the city’s side streets. For lunch I recommend the Corte del Ceccottino (reviewed here) or the related Ceccottino restaurant (same ownership).