Umbria’s “liquid gold,” olive oil, is world-renowned and celebrated by the umbri in glorious festivals. These feste celebrate the olio nuovo (the “new oil”, that olive oil just pressed) at harvest time which takes place in the late fall/winter months, that is, from October to the end of November.
Spello, called “la citta dell’olio,” is center of the area where the most acclaimed olive oils in Umbria are produced. The hills behind Spello are blanketed with olive trees and olive trees rise proudly from the medieval tower – probably seeded by birds centuries ago – greeting you as you enter Spello. Such a perfect welcome from the “city of olive oil”:
And not only: a gnarled olive tree (surrounded by roses) rises in the center of a Spello roundabout.
For their Festa dell’Olio e Bruschetta in late November, the spellani dressed in rural garb, sing to the ebullient music of the accordions, some while seated on farm carts (or tractors), others while following these “floats,” through Spello’s winding medieval backstreets:
The carts and tractors are decorated with olive trees strung with dried sausages and salamis and homemade ring-shaped cookies, le ciambelline, oranges adding bursts of color to the branches. The goodness hanging off the branches of the frasca (literally, “kindling”) represents abundance and prosperity.
Some carts are pulled by donkeys..
…….and others by oxen:
Groups of musicians wander the streets playing accordions and tambourines, harmonizing in the cant’arecchia (“sing by ear”), rural songs to be treasured – and now so infrequently heard
…while others sing near tables where bruschetta drizzled with the olio nuovo and vino rosso are offered to all:
Local children will sing traditional harvest songs..
….as the older people dance the saltarello – an Umbrian folk dance- to accordian music, right in front of the 1st-c. A.D. Roman entrance to Spello, Porta Consolare
For the three days of the festival, the medieval taverne of Spello’s three rioni (districts) will offer bruschetta drizzled with the new olive oil, traditional legume soups, local sweets and other area culinary delights, each enhanced with the olio nuovo.
What a joyous celebration to warm up chilly November days.
(..and thanks to Carlo Carretto for the lead photo – and to Lyn Beckenham for some of her festival photos).
Read here about how ancient peoples used olive oil for illumination
Read about other ancient treasures of Umbria’s “liquid gold”