Buon Anno from the Amalfi Coast!

Amalfi Coast Travel 2016

As the sun shines on this last afternoon of 2015, there’s a momentary stillness that sets in before the festivities begin, the sound of fireworks echo through the mountain valleys and the night sky over Amalfi sparkles with the most spectacular fuochi pirotecnici display at midnight. January 1st is one of my favorite days of the year, full as it is with hope, ideas and new beginnings. Yet before I dive full steam into 2016 and exciting new projects, I like to sit a moment with that stillness. From that stillness is born the magic of everything to come in the new year. Wishing you a 2016 full of health, happiness and, of course, travels to the Amalfi Coast!
xoxo Laura

“For there are moments when something new has entered into us, something unknown; our feelings grow mute in shy perplexity, everything in us withdraws, a stillness comes, and the new, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it and is silent.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

Christmas Eve Fireworks in Amalfi

If you’ve spent time exploring the little side streets and alleys in Amalfi, you’ll have quickly learned that there are a lot of stairs to get pretty much anywhere. A lot. Late on Christmas Eve we worked off the big dinner by climbing about 200 steps to meet some good friends for a drink while waiting for midnight. What were we waiting for? No, not the new year!

After the late mass, the beautiful bronze doors of Amalfi’s Duomo are opened and a procession leads out to the top of the staircase. At midnight many churches and families across Italy celebrate the birth of Jesus by placing the bambino in the nativity scene. In Amalfi, a symbolic star is lit with sparkling fireworks at midnight and a fireworks display is set off over the Piazza Duomo in the center of Amalfi. This is the moment Christmas truly begins!

The Christmas Eve fireworks are just a tiny sample compared to what the city does for New Year’s Eve. All the stops are pulled for the most impressive fireworks display of the year on the Amalfi Coast. Wishing you all a very happy New Year’s Eve and peaceful 2013!

Festival of Sant’ Andrea in Amalfi

Festival of St. Andrew in Amalfi

For years I have been wanting to share about the Festival of Sant’ Andrea, Amalfi’s largest religious celebration, here on Ciao Amalfi. This grand event happens twice per year in Amalfi, the summer religious festival taking place on June 27th and the winter celebration on Saint Andrew’s feast day November 30th. While the same main events take place for both, the June festival is often graced with better weather and summertime crowds. This year, however, an unseasonably nice November ended with a picture perfect sunny day and bright blue skies. As the late morning mass comes to an end, the Piazza Duomo fills with locals and visitors waiting to see the procession leave the church. The bronze doors open and soon the Archbishop Orazio Soricelli makes his way down the steps dressed in vibrant pink and white robes.

As the statue of Sant’ Andrea appears at the top of the staircase, I feels as though one collective breath is drawn in from all the people in the piazza. Slowly the men carrying Sant’ Andrea begin to make their way down the steps. My eyes are always drawn to the men in the very front who have to stretch their arms straight up to support the statue during the slow descent. As the statue nears the bottom of the staircase, applause breaks out and the marching band following the procession reaches a crescendo. Phew … safely at the bottom.

There is undoubtedly an air of magnificence about the procession of Sant’ Andrea, and it moves me to think of it happening here in this very spot surrounded by the people of Amalfi for so many centuries now. The sunlight catches on the 18th-century silver and gold statue, and you can feel the significance of this event for the people of Amalfi.  Otherwise, there is no way a statue of that value would be allowed to be carried down 57 steps of the church! The men of Amalfi dressed in the red jackets have an important job to carry the statue of their patron saint during the procession and return it safely home again.

Statue of Sant' Andrea in Amalfi Procession

While I was jostled about a bit in the crowd, I did manage to get a few photos and a good view of the procession as it passed by heading up Amalfi’s main street. A richly colored gold and burgundy ombrellino is carried in each procession for the Festival of Sant’ Andrea. It is beautiful to see opened, and I look to try to catch the detailed embroidery  around the base of the umbrella.

As the beautiful silver and gold bust statue of Sant’ Andrea approached, the procession came to a momentary halt due to the crowded, narrow street ahead. I was able to get a good video of the statue and the men dressed in red jackets who carry the statue during the procession. There are about 15-20 men at any time, but as you can see in the video they switch out when necessary. You’ll spot some men in the front being replaced after that intense trip down the grand staircase of the Duomo.

After following Amalfi’s main street to nearly the top of town, the procession returns again to the Piazza Duomo and follows the main road through Amalfi along the Marina Grande beach. We stopped to chat and catch up with family and friends since I had just recently returned from America, but everywhere you looked you could spot people watching for the procession to pass by.

Watching the Festival of Sant' Andrea in Amalfi

In one of its most impressive moments, the procession takes a small staircase down to the beach and walks along the water’s edge to a spot designated by the Archbishop. A blessing takes place there, which dates back to Amalfi’s fishing and seafaring tradition as St. Andrew was a simple fisherman with his brother Peter in Galilee. During the summer festival the harbor is full of boats of all kinds, from brightly colored fishing boats, privately owned boats and even some of the ferries that run up and down the Amalfi Coast during the tourist season. This November there were only a few, but they still added their bit to the celebratory atmosphere by blowing their horns again and again.

During the first part of the video above you can hear the traditional song sung for Sant’ Andrea during the procession. After the song ends, listen closely to the sound of all the footsteps falling on the beach pebbles.

Beach procession in Amalfi

Next the procession returns to the Piazza Duomo for the most exciting part of the festival’s events – the running of the statue of Sant’ Andrea up the steps of the Duomo. This is sight you must see with your own eyes! We try to see it from a different spot each time, and this year we stopped to greet some of my fiancé’s friends who own the Hotel Centrale that is located exactly opposite the Duomo of Amalfi. We rushed to the top floor, where the hotel serves breakfast with unbelievable views, and found a little spot to watch the grand finale.

Watching the procession of Sant Andrea in Amalfi

A final blessing is given by the Archbishop as the statue of Sant’ Andrea is turned to face the people of Amalfi waiting in the piazza. Then there are several minutes of tension as the men turn the statue around and prepare for the run up the staircase. I distract myself by looking across at the facade of the church to catch the mosaic designs sparkling in the sunlight. The view from the Hotel Centrale is perhaps the best I’ve ever seen the facade of the Duomo, and it made my heart happy. I shot several photos of the facade and bell tower in detail while listening to the sounds of the crowd below and the eager voices on the terrace of the hotel.

Cathedral of St. Andrew in Amalfi

We weren’t the only ones waiting for this special moment in Amalfi. Every balcony and window was crowded with people looking down on the Piazza Duomo below and waiting for the final signal.

Religious festival on the Amalfi Coast

I could feel the time was near, and I switched by camera over from photo to video and got ready to capture the running of the statue. The applause begins as the group of men start the run, and bursts into cheers and whistles as they reach the top and turn the statue of Sant’ Andrea around again to face the crowd.

I never realize that I’ve been holding my breath until the statue reaches the top and I let it out with grateful relief. Another safe journey of the statue Sant’ Andrea through Amalfi, and now it will be safely returned to the church until next June 27th.

Bust statue of St. Andrew in Amalfi

It’s traditional for the people of Amalfi to touch the statue of Sant’ Andrea before, during or after the religious procession. I stopped by the church after with my fiancé to carry on the tradition, just as the Amalfitans have done for centuries. Experiencing this religious festival is one of the highlights of each year for me in Amalfi. If your travels bring you to the Amalfi Coast in June or November, d0 come and join the Amalfitans in celebrating their patron saint and protector Sant’ Andrea!

Venerdì Santo Processions in Ravello & Scala

Last week on Venerdì Santo, or Holy Friday, it is the traditional day for the Processione del Cristo Morto, a mournful procession representing the carrying of Christ after he has been taken down from the cross to his burial. Usually, a statue of Christ’s body laying on a bed is carried followed by a statue of the Virgin Mary dressed in black and weeping for her lost son. The processions take place after dark and often only by torch light, and are some of the most moving religious expressions I have experienced here in Italy. Last year I witnessed Amalfi’s impressive Venerdì Santo procession, but each town on the Amalfi Coast has its own traditions. To see something different this year, we decided to see how Holy Friday was celebrated in the towns of Ravello and Scala, high up in the mountains above Amalfi.

Duomo of Ravello

The Duomo of Ravello was striking, lit up against the black night sky. When we arrived the procession had already left the Duomo and was making its way through the stepped walkways of Ravello toward the Church of Santa Chiara near the Villa Cimbrone. We could hear the deep voices of the male choir and the marching band echoing through town. We crossed the Piazza Duomo and headed toward the procession, which we met just as it arrived at the Church of San Francesco in Ravello. Here is a video of the procession as it was leaving the church where you can see the statue of Christ and the Virgin Mary. Listen to the deep male voices in the choir. I’ve never heard anything like it on the Amalfi Coast, and the tour guide said it reminded him of processions he saw when he was working on the island of Sardinia many moons ago.

We followed the procession as it slowly made its way back to the Piazza Duomo, accompanied by a mournful song played by a marching band from the Vallo di Diano down in the Cilento. The procession continued its long path to the other end of Ravello, but for us it was time to hop in the car and cross the Dragone Valley to see what was happening in Scala for Venerdì Santo. The doors to the huge Duomo of San Lorenzo were open and the light flooded out into the dark piazza.

Duomo of San Lorenzo in Scala

All around on every ledge and windowsill were little red candles – the only lights in the piazza and along the streets of Scala. The photo below is a little out of focus, but it does capture the feel of the red lights against the old stone buildings. Across the valley we could see the lights of Ravello, and the sound of the procession making its way through Ravello echoed all the way from the other side of the valley.

Easter candles in Scala

Here is a video of the procession leaving the Duomo of Scala and leading to the Church of Sant’ Alfonso, where it turned around and returned. You can hear the church bell in Scala … it was 9:15 PM if you’re counting!

Here is a video of the procession returning through Scala where you can see the statue of Christ and the Virgin Mary better. The Vernerdì Santo procession in Scala was very simple, but in its simplicity was one of the most beautiful. There was no marching band or crowd of tourists, just the people of Scala carrying on a religious tradition that has been celebrated here for centuries.

I hope everyone had a lovely Easter weekend! And, if you celebrated in Italy, I’d love to hear about Venerdì Santo and Pasqua traditions in other areas of Italy. Next year I plan on visiting Minori for Venerdì Santo as I’ve been told that they light candles on the sea along the beach. I love discovering these traditions in Italy and seeing how much they vary from one village along the Amalfi Coast to the next!