The history of Ischia Island, from its foundation to the Bourbons Period, told in a single and original event: The Feast of Saint Alexander

The Birth of a Tradition of Ischia

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The Feast of Sant'Alessandro is a tradition on the island of Ischia and is so deeply rooted in the island's folklore that one has the impression that it was introduced by the era being evoked during the event. This extraordinary historical representation began with charitable purposes, but its first organizers would never have imagined the resonance it would have had over the years, becoming today a real encounter between different traditions and cultures from as many places in Italy. Based on an idea by Franco Napoleone, the Sant'Alessandro Festival is now in its 36th edition. It takes place on 26 August and in this suggestive parade you can see and feel the work of an entire year.

Saint Alexander Parade on Ischia Island

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What makes this event truly unique is what is represented because it does not evoke a single historical event, but the entire history of the island of Ischia, from its foundation, eight centuries before Christ, to the Bourbons who enhanced the island with the construction of the port in the town of Ischia by Ferdinand II of Bourbon. It all starts in the early afternoon in the square of the Aragonese Castle, a fortress in the village of Ischia Ponte connected to the island by a stone bridge and where some of the families represented in the parade have lived over time. This is where the preparation and organization of the various groups taking part in the parade take place. The parade then continues along the main streets of the municipality of Ischia, passing through Piazza Antica Reggia and then heading towards the medieval village of Sant'Alessandro, where mass is celebrated in the small white church dedicated to the saint.

The protagonists of the parade are certainly the participants, who have increased from a few dozen to hundreds of people over the years, including both islanders and tourists of all ages who have enriched the variety of costumes and characters represented.

The parade is organised in chronological order, with a figure preceding each section with a banner identifying what is being represented. The parade starts with the Greek colonists who made Ischia the first Greek colony in the Mediterranean, giving it the name Pithecusae, followed by the Romans with their brightly colored clothes who renamed the island Aenaria, for the metal said to have been extracted from a nearby citadel that was then suddenly submerged. Then we come to the vaporous, finely decorated, fine fabrics of the families that dominated the island over the centuries, such as the Ferrante and D'Avalos families and the poetess and noblewoman Vittoria Colonna, along with other prominent figures such as the anti-pope Baldassarre Cossa, a native of the island, and numerous other members of the high clergy. Ferdinand II of Bourbon and his wife in a covered carriage drawn by six horses closes the procession. During the parade we can also admire many figures that alternate between the canonical sections of the various historical periods, wearing traditional island clothes and engaged in daily activities and typical jobs of the time, such as the farmer showing the fruits of his land, the fisherman selling freshly caught fish, the lady skilfully weaving baskets to create beautiful decorations, and the fan seller.


The Intercultural Exchange during Saint Alexander Parade on Ischia Island

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Every year more and more participants from different parts of Italy join the parade. Among the veterans are the Sbandieratori (flag-wavers) who enchant the public with their evolutions accompanied by Egyptian trumpets and drums, then there are the accordion and bagpipe players and the most spectacular are the Falconieri with their beautiful birds of prey. Among the latest arrivals are the Mamuthones, masks characteristic of the tradition of Mamoiada in Sardinia. All this is a clear demonstration that a folkloric village event with the right time and commitment can really become a great and extraordinary moment of sharing and exchange of cultures, traditions and stories belonging to different places.

At the end of the parade in the small village of Sant'Alessandro, a big party is organised with a tasting of typical products of the island's tradition, some of which are characteristic of the families of the village, together with music and live performances open to all participants and spectators.


An event of international resonance on Ischia Island

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As proof of the great importance of this event, every year televisions and thousands of tourists from all over the world come to the Feast of Saint Alexander to admire the colourful and lively procession parading through the streets of the town, reliving in a single evening hundreds of years of history of the island of Ischia, together with its culture and tradition. Among those who work behind the scenes to create the costumes of the historical characters is Mrs. Sisina who, since the first edition, has sewn all the costumes and adorned them with rich decorations and who every year creates new ones and finishes and repairs those of previous years.

In short, the Feast of St Alexander is an event that is well worth watching and, why not, participating in, experiencing the magic of the island's history from the inside. But even from the outside you will be fascinated and you will definitely want to come back to experience the same emotions and discover which new participants have joined the following year.


How can you discover the secrets and beauties of this destination?

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The Festival of Sant'Alessandro and many other "secrets" of the island of Ischia should be appreciated through the guidance of residents and professionals. The Trivet Tour, Travel Agency and Tour Operator of Ischia, with operational headquarters in the picturesque village of Sant'Angelo d'Ischia, is definitely the right reference point for those who want to appreciate the island in a more authentic way.

Since 1993, this company has been active in incoming to the island, offering an excellent accommodation service to many foreign tour operators. The agency offers the following services: transfers from the airport or Naples railway station, transfers by Bus GT from the main cities in Northern Italy, excursions by Bus/Minivan or boat both on the island and throughout the Gulf of Naples (Capri, Procida, Amalfi, etc.), trekking and green walks, wine and food tours, thermal and/or botanical parks, hotel bookings, villas and flats, car, scooter and boat hire, 24-hour assistance and much more, naturally always in full compliance with anti-Covid rules.

Photos Credits

Photos courtesy of the photographer Francesco Rando.

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