It’s almost as if you have stepped back in time, a time where the surrounding Italian hill top towns of Rome, that once supplied the mighty Roman Emperors with their delicious wine – to entertain guests and throw lavish parties – come together and celebrate a common passion for the art of wine making. Wine flows, literally from the fountain in the main piazza and locals dress in traditional clothing whilst grape fights break out down cobbled alley ways. They even have a jousting tournament to keep you entertained.
If you haven’t heard of it, you should have. This extravagant Italian wine festival located in the medieval town of Marino, just south of Rome, Italy.
The Marino Wine Festival also known as Sagra dell’Uva is held on the first Sunday of October every year and has done since it was first started in 1925 by a local poet named Leone Ciprelli. The marines poet who we have to thank for this annual ritual was very aware of dying traditions in the region and had the idea of holding a grape festival to celebrate and honour one of the most victorious members of the township, Marc-Antonio Colonna. Marc-Antonio was a general of the Lazio family and fought in the Battle of Lepanto with 260 of the town’s citizens – victoriously returning on 7th October 1571.
Over the years the festival has grown in fame to the point that over 100,000 people now crowd the ancient cobbled streets for the Sagra’s main day and probably closer to Italy’s version of Oktoberfest.
So, what’s so special about the Marino Wine Festival?
The event includes a religious procession to thank the Madonna del Rosario. Then, in the afternoon, there is a re-enactment of the return of Marc-Antonio Colonna. Around 400 locals dressed in period costume take part, balconies covered in flowers and flags giving you the ultimate atmosphere to feel part of the experience. You can just feel the energy build up as the day starts to unfold.
The festival also has traditional music playing in the streets and local bars offering a more up to date range.
The highlight of the day and most famously renowned reason for the festival is when the ‘Fountain of the Four Moors’ at the top of the town, at the end of the parade starts gushing sweet white wine which is distributed freely amongst the crowd in plastic cups given out by the locals. Although, make sure you get up to the fountain early to secure your spot. With the constant flow of people that arrive from Rome and all the nearby hilltop towns, everyone wants to be at that first moment when the wine begins to flow. And flow it does.
At last, around 5pm comes the moment everyone has been waiting for, there is a blessing and then the main fountain of the town begins to flow with golden wine instead of water. Loudspeakers announce the miracle that’s about to begin and the water of the fountains miraculously turns to wine… 5,000 litres of it. Throughout the day the town’s people will also distribute free bunches of grapes and there are the occasional, spontaneous grape throwing battles that’s worth a detour to see.
Not only can you watch the parade, soak in the beautiful town looking over from the sea to the ancient city of Rome, but get there early enough and you can take tours of the traditional cellars hidden beneath this picturesque town and open to the public with some free tours, it’s fantastic to take the tours around the wine cellars and hear the history and advancements that have been made getting a bit more local knowledge of the town.
You can purchase soft white bread, meat and wine just to keep you going for the day and soak up some of that delicious wine flowing from the fountain later.
This is a must on traditional festivals around Europe, and up there with Tomatina and running with the bulls in Spain to complete an authentic tradition from a lost culture. But beware unless you have organised transport from Rome or staying in Marino, the train is like animal fights in the wild, so don’t say you haven’t been warned. Saying this, don’t be put off as the day and evening should be on anyone’s wish list for festivals in Europe.
The Marino Wine festival is on one of my top festivals to see and experience in Italy, make sure if you are ever nearby, not to miss out. Even outside of the festival season, it’s a beautiful hilltop town that’s one of Italy’s hidden gems not far from Rome.