Gubbio’s Festa della Liberazione, April 25th: Medieval Banner Glory
“L’Italia e’ libera. L’Italia risorgera'” (“Italy is free. Italy will rise again”) announced the headlines of the newspaper Il Popolo, referring to the liberation from Fascist control of Milan and Turin April 25, 1945. Nowadays, on this day all over Italy, Italians gather to honor their fallen soldiers and in particular, i partigiani, the partisans of the Italian Resistance who fought the Nazis as well as Mussolini’s Fascist troops. Some towns will celebrate la Festa della Liberazione with political rallies or tributes at war monuments, others with concerts or marching bands, and some with flags, huge ones.
In Gubbio, banner-waving takes the stage after laurel wreaths – symbol of victory – are carried in a morning procession to the monumenti ai caduti (“monuments to the fallen”). In multi-colored tunics, Gubbio’s young sbandieriatori (“banner-wavers”) run triumphantly into the main square, colorful flags held aloft as drums beat a triumphant welcome. Above them, in the belfry of the majestic 14th-century Palazzo dei Consoli, il Campanone (“the big old bell”, as the Eugubini affectionately call this 2000-kilo bronze landmark) tolls the start of the festivites “nella vecchia maniera”: five-ringers ride the bell and shove the bell with their feet as bell-ringing was done in the Middle Ages – and happens now in Gubbio only on special festivities.
For the townspeople, Il Campanone e’ la vera voce di Gubbio. An elderly Eugubino, Giovanni, told me, “When il Campanone tolls, in the city, in the countryside, we all feel a moment of great joy. We pause for a moment in our work, perk up our ears and look towards ‘La torretta’ of Palazzo dei Consoli. Yes, it is the voice of Gubbio, a voice that does not need translation. We all know its message, those of us near, those of us who are far.”
In Gubbio on April 25th, the charged emotions are tangible as the laurel wreaths are solemnly carried, as the youth with unfurling flags run in triumph, as the drummers announce festivities and above all, as il Campanone tolls. Gubbio’s world-renowned sbandieratori (“banner-wavers” – from the word “banda”, signifiying “a strip of cloth”) fling upwards – to astounding heights – colorful flags bearing (in the ancient Umbro alphabet) the names of the medieval quarters of the town, symbolically entrusting to the wind the diffusion of a message of friendship and peace.
In medieval times, though, flags were flung high and wide in moments of conflict and violence: the sacred standard was flung with force outside of the bellicose melee with hopes that a combatant could retrieve it, carrying it to safety.
The choreographed intricacies of the banner-waving performances today astound: powerful launches in arches of immense heights, from one to the other (rarely is there la brutta figura of a dropped flag), spinning three flags at a time in graceful rhythyms, two in the hands, one bounced foot-to-foot.
As the drummers beat furiously to a rising crescendo, the gran finale is an amazing leap of uno sbandieratore over all of his companions, lying side by side, as he sweeps his own flag under his feet before landing.
La Festa della Liberazione justly merits such a triumphal conclusion.
Read about Gubbio’s wondrous festivites on May 15th
Read about Gubbio’s most special ritual on June 22nd
See Gubbio’s sbandieratori team in action