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Gubbio and the "Festa dei Ceri"

Also known as the "city of stone", Gubbio fascinates visitors with its beauty, history and traditions

03 October 2022

4 minutes

Built on the slope of Mount Ingino and crossed by the Camignano stream, Gubbio is a magnificent Medieval Umbrian city full of history and monuments that have always fascinated illustrious travellers and authors the likes of Gabriele D’Annunzio and Hermann Hesse, according to whom the city “produces an absolutely stunning effect and has something unreal and perturbing about it”.

1. Gubbio

Gubbio's Ancient Theatre

Proof of its ancient grandeur lies in the Iguvine Tablets dating back between the 3rd and the 1st centuries BC (seven bronze tablets written in the Umbrian language and considered one of the most important Italian documents, and housed in the Museo Civico), the ruins of the Roman theatre (end of the 1st century BC) just outside the city walls, and several finds from the Bronze Age. However, the Middle Ages are obvious in today’s city with its intact urban system dating back to the era of the communes, including monuments and the main material used: stone.

Gubbio - Piazza Grande

A tour through charming Gubbio absolutely has to start from the magnificent complex of Piazza Grande (end of the 15th century), also known as Piazza della Signoria , which encompasses the public palazzi and former seats of the two civilian magistracies: Palazzo dei Consoli, a majestic Gothic building completed around 1340 and home today to the Museum Civico, and Palazzo del Podestà, now the premises of the Town Hall.

It is also the site of the Ducal Palace, which was built by Francesco di Giorgio Martini for Federico da Montefeltro. The 6 gates leading out of the city are also worth seeing. The wall was built at the end of the 13th century and is nonetheless intact. Some of the gates still have fragments of painted decorations, the city’s coat of arms and even its old wooden doors. The Cathedral of Saints Mariano and Giacomo (13th-14th centuries) whose facade is decorated with the symbols of the Evangelists (eagle, lion, angel and bull) and its single nave (restored at the beginning of the 1900’s) are also of significant interest.

Basilica of Sant’Ubaldo

There are also the churches of S. Agostino, S. Domenico, S. Pietro e S. Giovanni and the church of S. Francesco (13th century), whose apses were painted by Nelli. Here, in the large piazza in the lower section of the city (where the market was once held), visitors can admire the Loggia dei Tiratori, which was built in 1603 by the corporation of wool weavers who used it as a drawing frame for their cloths. Lastly, a tour of Gubbio also has to include its surrounding area and the Bottaccione gorge, which is home to historical evidence from different periods, from a medieval aqueduct to the S. Ambrogio hermitage and the church of Vittorina (13th Century) built, according to the legend, in the place where St. Francis encountered the wolf of Gubbio.

Visitors should also tour the Basilica of Sant’Ubaldo, which is almost at the top of Mount Ingino and can be reached on a convenient aerial cableway. It preserves the intact body of the city’s patron saint and is where the ceri (candles) of Gubbio are kept.

2. La festa dei ceri (race of the candles)

The race takes place every year on May 15th on the eve of the feast of the city’s patron saint, St. Ubaldo. The statues of St. Ubaldo (patron of bricklayers), St. George (patron saint of haberdashers) and St. Anthony the Abbot (patron saint of donkey breeders and peasants) are placed on 3 tall, heavy wooden ceri or pedestals (meant to represent candles). The event consists of a race. Ceraioli (pedestal bearers) carry the ceri on their shoulders and run down the city streets and then up to the basilica of S. Ubaldo on top of Mount Ingino. A charming ritual precedes the race. The spectacular raising (the alzata) of the ceri takes place in Piazza Grande at noon and then the ceri are toured around the piazza 3 times. After being displayed (the mostra) in the city streets, they are placed in Via Savelli until it is time for the race.

A procession with the statue of St. Ubaldo takes place in the afternoon and travels to the end of Via Dante, where the bishop blesses the ceri. Then the race starts down the city’s main streets. Once the ceri are back in Piazza Grande, they tour around it 3 more times and end up in front of Porta dell’Angelo (gate) where the ascent up Mount Ingino begins. The ceri are stored in the basilica of Sant’Ubaldo, while the statues of the 3 saints are brought back into the city amidst singing and a torchlight procession. The origins of the feast may date back to propitiatory rituals for the spring, but only its Christian and celebratory nature honouring St. Ubaldo is historically proven in documents. See the videos on Gubbio and its traditions.