By Ashley Ford, Editor-in-Chief
A tour of Urbino begins at the Porta Valbona, climbing the brick steps to see elongated, royal blue kites swooping over a city street. Three kites cast their shadows as they make their way up the elevated street hanging between the buildings that make up the city. People walking by, residents opening their windows or guests dining outside can gaze upon the sky and find the kites floating in the wind.
The tradition of the kite began long ago after Giovanni Pascoli (1855-1912), a poet, wrote his famous poem L’Aquilone (The Kite). Pascoli was born in Romagna and lived a tragic childhood when both of this parents died; his father was actually murdered. During his childhood, he spent time in in the windy city of Urbino, where the poem takes place. But it wasn’t until years later when Pascoli wrote the poem while he was teaching at the University of Messina.
Walking in the city center, as you make your way up Via Raffaello, you will find yourself in a shaded park of statues, benches and even a small playground. The center focus of the park is the statue of the famous painter Raffaello. Surrounding him in a semi-circle are statues of heads of other people who made contributions to Urbino’s history. The first statue head on the right of Raffaello is Pascoli himself.
The symbol of the kite is seen throughout Urbino in local shops, restaurants, grocery stores and even has its own festival. One thing you will notice is the more time you spend in Urbino, the more kites you will find. The “Festa Dell’Aquilone,” the Kite Festival, is a weekend-long celebration beginning the first Sunday in September. This is when the 10 districts of Urbino come together and compete with their soaring kites on the slopes that surround the city.
For the longest time, the Kite Festival was celebrated on the highest point in Urbino called the fortress. But as the population of Urbino grew, they now only hold one part of the festival in this grassy park. At this part, each district picks a male and female to represent them. Their challenge is to fly a kite with a 100-meter-long string then manually bring the kite back down without it crashing. While in the fortress, if you look over the walled-in city at the hills called Chinzaneacross the way, that is where the real magic happens.
Everyone from all districts: Il Duomo (brown and white), Hong-Kong (yellow), Piansevero (orange), Lavagine (green), Mazzaferro (purple), San Bernardino (yellow and red), Piantata (green and purple), San Polo (black and white), Il Monte (red) and Valbona (blue) come together with their colored kites of all sizes to see who’s can fly the highest in an hour. Every district brings as many people they can but some can range in very different sizes from 50 to 200 kites. Lucia mentioned that Mazzaferro and Il Monte are the two power houses of the city since they have more people, they have more of a chance.
The winner with the highest flying kite is known as the “king of kites.” Not only is endurance of a kite recognized, but also the kite with the most beauty. Other prizes are awarded to the best young competitor and to the smallest competitor.
After all the competing is over, that Sunday evening the whole town gets together and talks and laughs over a giant meal. “Everybody eats together, it’s just an excuse to be together,” said Lucia.
The kite serves as a symbol of freedom but it can have a different meaning to everyone. An Italian art professor at the high school in Urbino, Omar explained his view of what the kite means to the people of Urbino.
“Without agriculture there is no Earth,” he said. “There is no life. So without art, without music there is no spirit.”
“In Urbino this festival is very strong. Everyone hates each other of course because of the district thing, but it has its origins.”
“All the people of Urbino come here during that weekend but many many people from the area come as well to see the show. It’s a gorgeous show. To see all the kites and all the colors, it’s very nice,” said Lucia.
Please read our post “L’Aquilone by Giovanni Pascoli (The Kite)” to read Pascoli’s poem about Urbino.