Blast From The Past: Historical Reenactment Events To See In Italy

Travel through time and experience what life was like in Ancient Rome, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance.

Reenactment Palio di Siena
Palio di Siena. Janus Kinase, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Italy’s cultural history has captured the hearts and imaginations of people around the world. And while visiting the country and walking these ancient streets can give you a feel for what life was like at the time of Ancient Rome, the Middle Ages, or the Renaissance, nothing quite transports you there like a historical reenactment. Here are a few worth seeing on your next trip.

Natale di Roma

Circo Massimo comes alive to celebrate the foundation of the city (the “Christmas of Rome”) on April 21, an event organised entirely by Gruppo Storico Romano for more than 20 years — the multi-day free event includes live games of harpastum (the ancient Roman version of rugby and football), a mock military camp, and gladiator battles. The highlight of the celebration is the parade through Rome of the costumed volunteers — dressed as centurions, nobles, and civilians — on the final day. It’s worth noting that Gruppo Storico Romano also runs a gladiator training school, and also perform a reenactment of the Ides of March in Lago Argentina to commemorate the assassination of Julius Caesar.

Palio di Siena

Perhaps the most famous of all cultural events is the Palio di Siena, a grand display of medieval costumes and horseracing held on July 2 and August 16 to celebrate the Feast of the Visitation (in honor of the Madonna of Provenzano) and the Feast of the Assumption (in honor of the Virgin Mary) respectively. The spectacle begins with a parade featuring elaborate flag wavers from the 17 contrade (districts), 10 riders are then selected to participate in the horserace through the Piazza del Campo. Tickets for the event vary in cost, and typically sell out way in advance, so plan accordingly!

The Battle of Palmanova

Cited as the largest historical reenactment in Europe and a must-see for history buffs, the Battle of Palma focuses on the War of the Uskoks — fought between the troops of the Archduke of Austria and the Most Serene Republic of Venice — from 1615 to 1617. The unique star-shaped fortified town of Palmanova (also a UNESCO Heritage site), Friuli-Venezia Giulia, sets the scene with over 1000 re-enactors in a faithful reconstruction of clothing, plus a staging of two great battles and cavalry charges. The event is held over three days in September, with a fee for entry.

Calcio Storico Fiorentino

Another very famous (and more violent) addition is the ‘historic football’ from Florence, held annually on the third week of June with the last match typically on the 24th — the day of Saint Giovanni Battista, the patron saint of Florence. The game’s origin stems from the Renaissance era, as a revival of harpastum, it is now a cultural event that is played in 14th century costumes in Piazza Santa Croce. Four teams represent each quartiere and are defined by colour: Santa Croce are the Azzurri (Blues), Santa Maria Novella are the Rossi (Reds), Santo Spirito are the Bianchi (Whites), and San Giovanni are the Verdi (Greens). The ticketed games are a mix of football, rugby, boxing, and wrestling, and definitely not for the faint of heart.

Perugia 1416

One of the newer historical-cultural reenactment events, founded in 2016, to celebrate the territory of Perugia — originally an Etruscan settlement, the five-day festival spans the time period between the Medieval era and the Renaissance of the five districts, with history lessons, gastronomic and sports competitions, culminating in an impressive 15th century costume parade through the centro storico. The districts compete among each other, and the final winner wins a palio (a drape designed each year by a student from the Academy of Fine Arts Perugia), and the Gryphon medal.

Medieval Festival in Monteriggioni

Celebrating it’s 30th anniversary this year, the four-day festival begins with a magical Medieval banquet (€35 per person) at the castle, featuring typical food from the time period. It continues over the following days with live performances, music, dances, theatre, with participants dressed in the costumes of nobles and commoners.