A Fortune of Flowers and Flags in Bucchianico, Italy
Upon recommendation of our host at the Agriturismo Quadrifoglia in Chieti, Abruzzo, we are hoisting ourselves up yet another steep path to peer at another hilltop town in Italy, feeling obliged to take in another patron saint day. We are suddenly overtaken by a calvacade of flowers – blue and purple gardenias, carnations, waving gladiolas, crisp daffodils, globe sized hydrangeas, sunflowers, flowing wisteria, geraniums, roses, delicate calla lilies, wild yellow broom – all artfully assembled in baskets and skilfully balanced on women’s heads. Suppressing laughter in order not to topple their magnificent tiaras, the women are dressed in traditional medieval peasant gowns as colourful as their crowns of crepe flowers and sweep past us on their way up the hillside to the gates of their medieval town, Bucchianico. Weaving amongst this stately procession of women, some balancing their baskets with one hand, others with no hands at all, are strands of boys and men of all ages, jauntily outfitted in red-bordered black vests and short black pants. A few spunky musicians on accordion and drums gamely lead the way. Steaming alongside the revellers are carts, tractors and other farm machinery all festooned with flowers and bearing offerings, farm animals and the odd opportunistic hitchhiker. It seems we have got ourselves entwined in Bucchianico’s inimitable Festa dei Banderesi – Flower Festival – mounted each year the third Sunday in May to honour spring and the town’s proud history. The costumed parade with all participants dressed in their pacchianelle, the women’s lovingly handmade miniature flower floats and the decorated carts, carri, are all just part of the first act. Once inside the town’s medieval gates, the re-enactment of the town’s decisive military victory in the 1200’s, la Ciammaichella,, will begin.
Grand Entrance into the Piazza
Buoyed by the delirium of flowers, tractor horns, music, and ebullient townspeople we reach the gates of the city, stepping aside to allow the skillful manoevre of hundreds of flower floats through the narrow passageway that is the conduit to the town’s main square. By the time we reach the piazza, the scene that awaits us indicates that Act II is ready to begin; a few thousand spectators ring the square and at one end an assembly of ‘honourary guests’ presides, all of them costumed in medieval regalia. The ‘king and queen’ give the orders for the performance to begin.
The Historic Medieval Pageant
It begins with a trumpet fanfare. Next to enter are legions of drummers, followed by a royal team of flagbearers, all dressed in medieval blues, golds and burgundies with period capes, leggings, boots and tams. A classic Florentine or Venetian spectacle with a modern twist; as the procession grew closer, we could see that not only were all participants surprisingly young (age 25 and under), all but one of the seven trumpeters are high school aged girls and many of the steely-armed drummers are likewise young women. In the centre of the piazza, the musicians give way to the flag drill team. A single flagthrower takes centre stage, juggling not two or three, but six full size flags – an astonishing display of whirling arms, legs, poles and finely honed athleticism. Soon the sky is alight with a myriad of flags as all team members join in, the routine majestically synchronized to a continual chorus of bugle and drum. The volleys are pure and breathlessly well-timed, not one flag is dropped during the entire display. A climactic finish announces the entrance of the legendary battle corps who had strategically fought to defend Bucchianico 800 years ago. They are dressed of course in 13th century battle gear: chains and armour, shields, swords and axes. The knights square off and the epic battle is staged with suitably epic music and effects (think dry ice!), complete with a young maiden, who, at the end, runs to put a rose on the breasts of the fallen. Leaving the ‘vanquished’ where they lay, we watch as the performance poignantly concludes as the musicians, the flagthrowers and the victorious leaving the battlefield, and disappearing into the darkness. I stand too moved to speak, tightly clasping a new treasury of photos, and quietly thanking our pension host for insisting that this festival would be unlike any other. One should never overlook a local’s advice, nor underestimate the power of a well crafted flower nor a well pitched flag.