lunedì 17 maggio 2010

Santa Rosa 2009 and the Fiori del Cielo

Full moon rising behind the Fiore del Cielo.
The macchina at the first resting point.

I try to get to follow, and of course photograph, the transportation of the “Macchina di Santa Rosa,” on the 3rd September in Viterbo every year. The year 2009 was a special one as a new machine was about to make its debut.
The previous machine, “The Wings of Light” (Ali di luce) had been transported for the last time in 2008, after six years of transportations. For some reason one year more than the usual machine’s life span of five years. And will be retired to a permanent display.
Like most people the Viterbese get attached to the things they are used to, and so the arrival of the new machine is not viewed without some critisism.

Will it be as beautiful as the much loved Ali di Luci? Will all the lights and whirling things work properly? Will it be stable or will the facchini (the hundred men who have to carry the 5 tonne, 30 meter tall tower on their shoulders or backs over a 1,200 metre route) find it top heavy or wobbly?

The facchini march through the town stopping off at seven churches.
This is already enough to finish anyone off, and they haven't even started!

The new machine is called Fiore del Cielo (Flowers of Heaven). It’s much more ethereal, organic looking compared to the The Wings of Light which was a more solid affair, and has softer shapes built over a skeletal structure. According to the reports, and to the consternation of some of the other photographers I talk to, the new machine will be lit almost entirely from the inside. We’re wondering how it’ll turn out, as the transportation is done in darkness, and if the Fiore del Cielo isn’t lit, but just emanates light, will it end up looking like a tall blob of light when it’s photographed?


Making a new machine is no simple operation and a competition is held to award the contract to the design which best captures the spirit of the long tradition, the city of Viterbo and its much venerated Saint Rose.

The winning Fiore del Cielo has been designed by an international architectural firm “Architecture and Vision” led by architects Andreas Vogler of Switzerland and native Viterbese Arturo Vittori.

The base of the macchina reflects architectural features of Viterbo, such as the typical mediaeval fountains (Viterbo has 99 fountains, or so it’s said) and the twin symbols of Viterbo, the lion and the palm. It rises to almost 30 metres in three encircling strands holding nine triumphal angels, and is illuminated by hundreds of candles and thousands of LEDs in gold, red, green and ochre. The whole is decorated by thousands of red roses, and is topped off by a statue of Saint Rose enveloped in a cloud of light. It is not only more organic in shape but more technological too, the phasing of the light show controlled by computer, and high up inside the machine 60,000 paper red rose petals will shower down over the people of Viterbo at some point during the evening.

60,000 rose petals.

The last stretch, uphill to the church of Saint Rose.
Extra facchini join in to pull on ropes.

So how was it?

The only time the facchini had practised with the new machine was carrying just the framework, weighted with bags of sand, over a hundred metres on a flat asphalted parking lot. Not quite the same as carrying it over the undulating narrow cobblestoned streets of Viterbo in total darkness.

Running to take up positions under the machine

So nerves were more fraught than usual waiting for that amazingly special moment when the facchini first take the strain, lift the machine off of its trestles, and take off jitterishly on the first downhill leg over one or two hundred metres.

The strain is begining to tell. The last leg.
Just before I took these shots of the final stretch I got thrown against the wall by the
policeman on the left, who thought I wasn't going to get out of the way.
Did he think I was going to wait around to be trampled and crushed by
100 men carrying a 5 tonne tower?

But, one and a half hours and 1,200 metres later, there is not one Viterbese who isn’t hugely inamorato with the new, and already veteran, Fiori del Cielo.

Final resting place, it's time to celebrate.

Viterbo TV web: video of la macchina
Society of the Facchini