Viterbo’s Festa di Santa Rosa

The cover story in our June issue focuses on Viterbo – a charming city 60 miles north of Rome, famous for papal history and thermal baths and this festival:

If you happen to be in Rome on the third day of September, catch the train to Viterbo for the Festa di Santa Rosa, the festival of the city’s patron saint. Thousands flock to see one hundred facchini, or strongmen, carry a 90-foot tall, four-ton macchina – obelisk-shaped statue – of the Santa Rosa through the winding streets of the city. The tradition began hundreds of years ago, with the statue becoming progressively larger and heavier until the 19th century, when the macchina toppled over, crushing facchini and spectators alike. Not to worry, however: a disaster has not happened since, although it is still said that the facchini must sign their wills before they can bear the weight of the macchina. The macchina is truly an incredible sight – a gigantic tower, swathed in light, seems to float over the apartment buildings as it glows against the night sky. Onlookers line up for the priming viewing spots in the early morning, sending friends to bring back sustenance from the piazzas, where dozens of stands are set up in a carnival-like atmosphere. The Festa of Santa Rosa is almost an other-worldly experience, so don’t miss it. – Justine Gregory