Today we propose a journey back to the early 20th century among popular festivals in and around Spoleto, charity events, fairs, big masquerades, prizes, raffles and games, a visual journey through the large posters (189 cm x 97cm) kept at the “Giosuè Carducci” public library. Through their simple graphics, naive headlines and hyperbolic adjectives, these posters tell us a lot about our city, showing us how the ways of entertainment have changed, letting us also discover interesting sociological notations and various historical trivia.
16th – 17th June 1901. The first poster refers to the celebrations in honour of St. Anthony of Padua. Among the most venerated figures of the Church, he was canonized in Spoleto in 1232 and also for this reason the city has always been very close to him. Traditionally celebrated on the 13th of June, the two-day celebration in 1901 was scheduled the following Sunday. The protagonist of the ceremonies was a “lavishly decorated” Market Square, with a grandiose fountain in the centre. Arteo Rotella, said in various other posters of the time a “pyrotechnic artist”, had the task of “igniting” fireworks in Piazza Campello. In addition to music performed by the military and by the city band, and to a charity fair for the school recreation, great electric lighting was used, a new technological marvel that the town had only discovered a few years before (1898-99) and the tombola, one of the most eagerly awaited events still held in Piazza del Mercato. The 1901 tombola first prize was 400 lire.
July 14, 1901. For the benefit of the Società di Mutuo Soccorso tra i Fabbri e Mestieri Affini, a Flower Festival is held at Villa Redenta, offering the city the neoclassical splendour of the location thanks to the kind permission of the Marignoli family owning the house. In the large suburban villa that the Senator and Marquis Filippo Marignoli had purchased in 1885 from the last of the descendants of Pope Leo XII della Genga, “many and varied new entertainment for the city” are planned. It is easy to understand how certain attractions, with imaginative and grandiose names, such as the Mysterious Cistern, the Fairy Chalet, or the Quest for the Precious Amphora, have been conceived exploiting the sumptuous decorative elements and the strongly scenographic views that enrich not only the villa but the various outbuildings and gardens. And how about a Humorous Gymnastics Competition?
February 2, 1902. For the Popular Feasts organized by the St. Anthony Society at Borgo San Matteo, things are done on a grand scale: the balconies of the houses from Piazza Collicola to Porta Loreto are illuminated with decorations, a sung mass is held at the Monumental Church of Loreto, the presence of the Military Band is welcomed, a Gastronomic Fair is set up for the benefit of the Institute of the Deaf, Mute and Blind in Via Vittori as well as a Masquerade with rich prizes.
February 11, 1902. In Corso Garibaldi the last day of Carnival is celebrated with an award ceremony for the best masquerades. A special jury is in charge of “the awarding of prizes”, specifying, however, that if “the jury declares the masquerades unworthy of these awards, the money will be donated to the purpose that the members and the committee will believe more appropriate.
April 27, 1902. At the Giardini Pubblici, that is to say in the present green spaces around the Casina dell’Ippocastano, the Student Charity Committee organizes a big party to raise funds for the hospital and the Dante Alighieri Society. Attractions include a big lottery, a coffee concert, small concerts by the military band and by the city band, flare and electric lighting, the “elevation of numerous monstrous aerostatic globes” [sic – a hot-air balloon show]. But what draws attention is the aim of the Committee, a fund-raising for the hospital “for the purchase of beds” and for “the resurrected Dante Alighieri society”. That of the Hospital is a long-standing problem. The difficult conditions of the structure housed in the former monastery of St. Matthew, the lack of adequate instrumentation, the unsuitable spaces have long urged the hypothesis of a different location and a more functional building, in step with modernity. As for the Dante Alighieri – a society founded in 1899 by Carducci and other intellectuals to protect and spread the Italian language and culture throughout the world – the local committee of Spoleto had just been reconstituted in 1901 under the presidency of Guido Leati from Ferrara, Carducci schoolboy, who came to Spoleto in his early twenties, where he taught Italian and history at the Technical Institute, actively participating in the cultural life of the city, here publishing an essay on “Romeo and Juliet” and several articles for the weekly “l’Alta Spoleto”.
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