Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Going back in time: the Girandola of the Castel Sant'Angelo.

Today is the Feast of Peter and Paul, the patron saints of Rome. On this ancient bank holiday Romans and not only can appreciate one of the great treasures that the Renaissance and Baroque era have left to us - this time not a painting or a sculpture but a living testimony of how Italians partied until a "few" centuries ago: the Girandola of the Castel Sant'Angelo.

The castle, built on the mausoleum of of Hadrian has had a very long connection with the Church, in the early Renaissance it was turned into a fortified castle dedicated to Saint Michael. Because of this reason and because of its secularity and centrality as opposed to the great Vatican basilica it was also used for great secular celebrations, among them, the greatest was probably the grand girandola that was made to celebrate the feast of the patron saints of the city. 

The girandola was an event so grand and so popular where people of all classes, from all over the Papal States as well as from all of Europe gathered for over three hundred years - not only a celebration of its patrons but also, indirectly, of the grandeur of Renaissance and Baroque Rome. 

What was the girandola though?

"The Girandola was a great fireworks show designed by Michelangelo and perfected by Knight Gian Lorenzo Bernini, they tried to reproduce the eruptions of the Stromboli's Volcano *that spits flames and fire*. The great genius of the architect transformed a downpour of rocketed fireworks in a great design of colours and of art. Soon everyone from all of Europe came to enjoy its beauty".
(Marvels of Rome - 1625 / 1678)


This great fireworks show in the shape of a catherine-wheel and accompanied by Baroque music for a reason or another continued until the 19th century - then unfortunately the family that was responsible for it died out. Fortunately, all the projects and notes were saved and therefore it has been possible in recent years to reproduce this amazing show of flumina lucis (as Bernini referred to them). It is even more interesting to notice that the Papal States were the first to make such a refined and technological use of fireworks thanks to the work of Vannoccio Biringuccio (1480-1537), famous scientist and master of the Pontifical Artillery and Foundry who, perhaps, can be thanked for the Western use of fireworks, and again Romans can be thanked for elaborating a certain "firework etiquette": every celebration had certain rules and types of fires. If you want to enjoy this spectacular show you can do so every 29th of June in the evening, get a good place and go back in time! Happy feast of St.s Peter and Paul! 

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