Yesterday morning I happened to see a tweet from a local linking to a blog post about something called the Feast of Madonna del Carmine. It include a little blurb about a special event that involved fireworks and a bell tower. Clicking on the link brought me to a page that described the event in more detail. Come to find out the bell tower fireworks are held every July 15 at 10 p.m. and as luck would have it it was July 15. Anyone that has been to Naples can tell you that fireworks are what they do (although Brian will tell you that fireworks are what Cheverly, MD does. He’s partially right). Everyone sets off fireworks at some point and for really just about any reason. “Little Gianni turned 3 today, let’s set off some fireworks!” “I just got home from work, let’s set off some fireworks!” Your reason doesn’t have to be a good one. (Related: I was here for the new year a couple years ago and at midnight you could see fireworks going off all the way from Posilipo down and around to Sorrento, even on Capri. It was pretty amazing. Our neighbor downstairs set some off and one slammed into the balcony we were standing on. We could feel it hit and then it exploded below us. While not funny at the time it’s kind of hilarious to think about now.)
Of course it wasn’t even a question of whether we were going it was more a question of what time to leave. The piazza where the tower(ing) inferno was going down is not really anywhere near us, it’s closer to the main train station but not that close. We took the train over knowing that we’d have to make the long trek back on foot to the funicolare once it was done. The train line doesn’t run past 11 p.m. while the funicolare would be open until 12:30 a.m. to get us back up the hill. (We didn’t mind, we need the exercise. See previous post about cheese.) We followed the crowds and heard a couple loud booms every now and then. We’d seen the photos online but still weren’t sure what to expect. Could the crowd really be that big? Yes. Duh. We came up to the main street and up above were giant lit arches running the whole stretch of the road to the piazza. We walked along not sure where everything was going to be and then we saw the mass of people crammed like sardines into the not-exactly-huge piazza. We slowly oozed our way through as a part of a long line of people doing the same. Eventually we found a spot and smooshed in with the others. At least the temperature had dropped after the sun went down cause we were all about to get real friendly.
Right around 10 p.m. there was a shot sent up announcing the show was about to begin. Almost immediately the lights went out, there was a sound like 50 firecrackers going off at once, and the sign on the church announcing that “Napoli devota alla Madonna Bruna” was glowing. Then the first fireworks started in the middle of the piazza. It looked like an inferno. Kids started screaming and everyone was oohing and aahing. Cameras went up to capture the craziness.
Right after that were the first shots above the church and then the flares were lit. The bell tower had a very ghostly appearance, almost like it was possessed by some demonic presence. More fireworks followed finally by the most dramatic part of the show – the entire bell tower looking like it was melting. It was probably one of the coolest things I have ever seen fireworks-wise. It literally looked like it was a giant white-hot melting pillar. In that moment you’re wondering how this tradition got started because I can’t even imagine where they got this insanely awesome idea.
About 20 minutes later three final shots are sent up and the show is over. The lights in the piazza come back on and the mass exodus begins. We’ve determined that the easiest way to exit any kind of mass gathering in this city is to just stand still and wait about five minutes. That’s pretty much the amount of time it takes everyone else to squeeze out and leave a giant empty hole behind. Well, empty except for the piles of trash everywhere but that’s another story for another time. A lot of people started crushing their way into the church, I’m not sure if there was a mass or just some kind of thing to “witness.” We didn’t know it at the time but there was an encore finale show at midnight. Probably best we didn’t stick around for it or we might never have gotten home.
It’s always cool when things just come together like that. This city has a lot of unique and interesting events going on all the time the trick is finding out about them in time.