Narni: Medieval May Passione

May 18, 2012 / Events
Narni, Umbria
During the first three days of May In the 14th century, Narni town criers called young riders to join in the la Corsa dell’Anello (“race for the ring”) and the race for the Palio (flag), both in celebration of the martyrdom of their patron saint, San Giovenale. The ceremony lives on in early May as Narni town criers on horseback crisscross the town, galloping under the colorful banners of the three competing terzieri (“districts”), while drummers and trumpeters announce the festivities.

Charming winding backstreets interlink the terzieri and in each district, the medieval taverne (“inns”) and forni (“communal bread ovens”) throw open large wooden doors to welcome visitors with typical Narnesi dishes and breads. The piazzas and medieval palazzi backdrop re-enactments of scenes of 14th-c life and medieval craftsmen, artisans, noble lords and the common people once again animate Narni.

Each terziere has its own stable where horsemen train all year and each district becomes a hub of feverish activity for months prior to the race on the second Sunday of May. Narni women work for months on costumes re-creating of the medieval dress of every social class. Che passione! “Passion” is palpable in Narni in early May.

We felt it in the Mezule terziere the night of the medieval banquet, which concluded with the la torta della quaresima. Then, a medieval culinary expert – not from Narni, logicamente! – dined in each terziere taverna, one after the other, tasting the medieval dessert and judging it on fidelity to the recipe, presentation, taste. Il Terziere Mezule was his last stop. He savored, reflected and then wrote his judgement. We joined in as part of the giuria popolare and voted, too: top votes in all categories in homage to our friends of Mezule.

Pietro from Narni, sitting next to me, noted much of the torta still on my plate and asked with a knowing grin, “Anna, what did you really think?” “Allora…”, I replied, “it IS called ‘the cake of Lent’ and Lent is a time of penance, denial… vero?” Pietro laughed along with Maurizio, who had been serving at his terziere‘s banchetto in medieval servant’s dress. He offered us all a glass of limoncello made by his brother: not medieval but a convivivial conclusion to il banchetto medioevale.

The medieval theme reaches maximum splendor on the night before the horse race: in torchlit Narni, six hundred personages in lavish costumes walk stately under the multi-colored terzieri banners, unfurling from windows and wrought-iron balconies above. Drummers and trumpeters preceed Papal legates and city magistrates walking solemnly, followed by inhabitants of the terzieri, with the winning terziere of last year’s race leading the procession. Musicians, knights, civic authorities, medieval guild members and the noble families of each terziere pass under the relief high up on the wall of the medieval city hall: of a medieval jousting match in Narni centuries ago.

The image will come to life the next day in la Corsa dell’Anello.

See and feel the passione in this video.

Thanks to Ambra and Marco for the photos –

Anne Robichaud

by Anne Robichaud

An authorized Umbrian tour guide, Anne and her husband Pino worked the land for many years in the 1970’s so rural life, rural people, rural cuisine are una passione for her. See Umbria from “the inside”: join her May 2017 ten-day tour centered on discovering Umbria, Anne’s Umbria.

See for more on her Umbria tours. Do see for news on the Assisi apartment – and Assisi countryside guest house – she and Pino now rent out.

Anne writes frequently on Umbria and other areas of Italy. Read about her annual U.S. Feb/Mar cooking classes and lectures, as well as her numerous Italy insights on her blog.

8 Responses to “Narni: Medieval May Passione”

  1. Anne Ladky

    Great piece, Anne! Reminds me of the multiple ways you brought Umbria traditions to life on our wonderful tours with you…weaving together the history,art, and traditions with person-to-person conversations. Keep these stories coming…can’t wait to come back!

  2. Jeanne Butzer

    We are hoping to celebrate some of the May festivals with you next year, Anne! Your tours are outstanding and have been life changing for Jeff and for me. We visit Italy every chance we can due to “Anne’s Italy” which is the fantastic Italy you have introduced us to.
    We love Assisi and Spello as well as your beautiful home and the great cooking experiences there. Can’t wait to do Rural Life Revisted this November and whatever else you arrange for us.
    Next May we hope to return with our daughters and their families to introduce our grandsons to Italy as only you can do. Narni sounds like a great place to start!

  3. Anna Foran

    A very enticing description! I’d love to go one day. My boyfriend and I are currently spending time at Anne’s beautiful Umbrian farm, and have had the opportunity to participate in one of her fantastic tours- that of the basilica of St. Francis. We found it incredibly informative, and know that the experience was a unique one. We’ve fallen for Umbria, thanks to Anne and her deep passione for its history, culture, and overall flavour.

  4. Janet

    Bravo Anna.Vorrei andarci con te l’anno prossimo
    Janet MacLeod

  5. Randall Ballweg

    Very good description with the emotion that you carry with you…well done!

  6. Marc Schermerhorn

    Great article! Your articles make me as hungry to return to Italy as your cooking classes!!

  7. CeciliaBelenardo

    Now, I just want to go back to Italy! After all is said and done, it is the most beautiful place in the world.


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