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The  Festival of Piedigrotta


As early as 1487 there is mention in chronicles of the “festa di Santa Maria della Grotta” held on the 7th and 8th of September at the church now known as S. Maria di Piedigrotta near the eastern end of the "Neapolitan Crypt," the ancient Roman tunnel that leads beneath the Posillipo hill. That was at once a sort of combination of the pre-Christian and the Christian since the tunnel was said to be the site of ancient religious rites.

The true, popular Fesitval of Piedigrotta begins in the 1830s when a yearly festival was declared and, indeed, proved to be the launching of the commercial aspect of the so-called Neapolitan Song, a yearly song-writing contest that has given us such songs as 'o sole mio and Funiculì-Funiculà. For many decades, the yearly festival meant the parading of crowds, musicians and horse-or-people-drawn floats along the length of the Villa Comunale from the eastern end of the Riviera di Chiaia all the way to the church, about a mile away.


              Times have changed

Modern urban congestion cut into the festivities, and it is difficult to see how a festive throng could move along the Riviera di Chiaia these days, for example, now that part of it is blocked due to the construction of the new subway line. Fortunately, the parallel seaside road, via Caracciolo, provides an alternate route when they decide to have the festival at all. The crowd also wanders through the Villa Comunale, itself, to follow the festivities and displays that are set up within the grounds. Also, the festivities usually cover more than the old two-day time span; they run for a number of days centering on Sept. 8. This year, the festival runs from the 4th through the 13th; it presents a grand program of music, pop as well as classical, and will feature, among others, the Neapolitan singer-songwriter, Nino d'Angelo and operatic tenor, José Carreras. One of the MCs is Sophia Loren. They usually kick off at the vast piazza Plebiscito, the favorite venue for huge popular festivals. For a number of years, until quite recently, the festival was not only no longer a yearly affair, but had simply disappeared; now with the regeneration of piazza Plebiscito and a sort of cultural renaissance going on, they manage to get it in once in a while, and this year is one of those whiles. There will be fireworks galore. Last year, the Mt. Vesuvius float caught fire, which, I suppose, was fitting, but totally unplanned. The fire brigade had to show up and put out the volcano. Good practice, perhaps.


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