BC Student’s Year Abroad in Italy


Emma Rosman, Staff Writer

If you were to step out onto the streets in Viterbo, Italy (a small city 60 miles north of Rome) at eleven o’clock on September 3rd, you would see something that can only be compared to New Year’s Eve at Times Square in New York City. The energy flowing through the streets reminds me of the countdown to midnight. But, instead of standing out on the street in New York’s freezing December air, you are lounging on a blanket next to a fountain and it is a comfortable 70 degrees.

Viterbo is an ancient Etruscan city built inside medieval stone walls. The roads are made of cobblestone and the architecture of the buildings makes you feel like you’ve just stepped into another time period. Meanwhile, speeding smart cars whiz by with motorbikes on their tails, mixing the present and the past.

Like any ancient city, Viterbo has its ancient traditions. The Festa di Santa Rosa or “the festival of the Saint Rose” celebrates Viterbo’s patron Saint Rose. To pay homage to her glory, her body is carried through the city each year. The vessel that holds her body is called the Macchina di Santa Rosa, which is a spiral tower that is approximately 29 meters high and (by requirement) weighs no more than five tons. What is really spectacular about the Festa is that 100 men called the Facchini di Santa Rosa carry the Macchina through the narrow streets of Viterbo. The people of Viterbo spend all day waiting in the streets, dancing, singing, eating and saving spots to watch the carrying of the Macchina.

Experiencing the festival was almost indescribable. At around 8:00 p.m., a huge screen set-up facing the bleachers in the town square came to life as performers ran onto the streets with a marching band of drums and horns. At 9:00, a government official made a speech and said a prayer. Then the men, row by row, ran to the Macchina and got into position. An announcer with a microphone headset boomed Italian phrases of encouragement and the crowd roared louder than Yankee Stadium at the World Series.

On the announcer’s count, the Macchina was lifted. At first, it was a little bit scary; as they lifted the tower, it started to wobble, but quickly became steady. As the men slowly walked toward my spot in the town center, I felt a sudden rush. In the distance, I could see the soft light of the hundreds of flickering candles shining on the Macchina. I could hear the drums getting louder until finally the great tower came into sight. The crowd stopped screaming and everything was silent. All of the street lights were turned off and, in the darkness, all that could be seen was the bright Macchina. The massive golden lion (Viterbo’s mascot) on the base of the tower seemed to be purring softly as a brisk wind flew by, making the candles sway. The ball in Times Square had suddenly dropped, and so had my jaw.

The men set the Macchina down and allowed us to really look at it. Time seemed to stop in the square, as people took pictures with their families and friends. The whole city has its heads tilted to the sky, looking to the Macchina. La Festa di Santa Rosa is an ancient tradition that becomes new to anyone who comes across it, whether you have seen it every year or it is your first time. As the men lifted up the tower again and walked off to another part of Viterbo, all that was ringing through the streets was “Viva Santa Rosa!” Long live her tradition and her beauty.