May in Florence
The Tramadol “Calendimaggio”, an ancient spring festival, was celebrated on the first of May with feasting that continued for the entire month.
Partying began on 30th April with the suspension of activities and the beginning of processions by a happy crowd that filled the streets, windows and balconies, decorated with laurel festoons, tapestries and flags.
At Calendimaggio, the Shoemakers Guild honoured its Patron Saint Philip by setting up an open-air altar in front of the statue of the saint erected in an aedicule outside Orsanmichele, decorating it with flags, flowers, laurel and lamps, as well as the traditional “fiorita”, a carpet of spring leaves and flowers.
The traditional banquets, held by rich and poor alike, were extended to relatives, friends and neighbours. In the Calendimaggio of 1274 – as Boccaccio told us – Dante Alighieri, a nine-year old boy, met his Beatrice for the first time.
The songs, called “maggi”, were sung by groups of young people who, on that day, decorated their heads with garlands of flowers, danced under the direction of the newly elected “May bride”, visited the homes of their betrothed and received flowers in exchange.
The groups of “cantamaggio” and “maggiaioli” – the ones who sang the “maggiolate” and serenades – were preceded by a young boy carrying the “majo”, a decorated branch bearing blossom representing spring. Many poems have been written about these celebrations, including the famous one by Agnolo Poliziano and the ballads of Lorenzo the Magnificent.
In Florence, the colours of May also comprise those of the ancient “game of flags” that are skilfully and majestically waved during the prestigious ‘Trofeo Marzocco’, an important competition between flag wavers from various Italian cities that has been held on the first Sunday in May for about twenty years.
Flowers, May and Florence are also the protagonists of the commemoration of a historical event that marked the transition of the city form the fifteenth to the sixteenth century. The “Fiorita” is held on 23rd May.
After a mass in the Cappella dei Priori in Palazzo Vecchio, a procession of Dominican monks and citizens, with the civil and religious authorities at the front, enters Piazza della Signoria to scatter rose petals and palm leaves on the circular tablet indicating the point where Fra’ Girolamo Savonarola was hanged and burned together with his two brother monks Fra’ Domenico Buonvicini from Pescia and Fra’ Silvestro Maruffi from Florence. This ceremony originates from the spontaneous popular initiative which covered place of death of the preacher with flowers.