Bitter squabbles with metropolis authorities over the extra safety measures — and who would foot the invoice — had additionally delayed the opening for weeks, inflicting some distributors who had snapped up a few of the 50-odd licenses out there to choose out.
Although the solar was shining, Paolo Padovani, whose crèche figurine kiosk has been a Piazza Navona staple since 1926, was gloomy.
“It’s been a catastrophe,” he stated.
Often, the market opens at the start of December. This yr, the stands weren’t up and operating till Dec. 19, “when most individuals have already put up their nativity scenes,” he stated. Gross sales plummeted, he stated, as a result of “individuals obtained fed up with ready.”
Donato Colangelo, a greeter at one of many eating places that line the sleek sq., stated this previous week: “It’s a tragic sight. The market at Piazza Navona was recognized all through the world.”
“Now it’s a special Rome, it’s a unique piazza,” he added. “However then the entire world has modified.”
Among the many indicators of that change are the ever present regulation enforcement officers occupying the sq.. After terrorist attacks in European cities like Good, France, and an assault on the Christmas market in Berlin in 2016, safety was elevated all through Italy over the vacations, particularly in excessive-danger areas and at points of interest that repeatedly draw crowds.
At Piazza Navona, along with the checks on the sq.’s entrances, military vans have been parked at strategic factors and dozens of officers strolled amongst civilian guests. However the tight safety was not formidable to some Roman households making the annual pilgrimage.
Alessio De Gregori, an optician, stated he had not thought twice about going together with his household, together with two young children in strollers.
“These days, safety measures are all over the place,” he stated on Saturday, including that he believed Rome was immune from a terrorist assault.
“We’re fortunate,” he stated. “So long as we now have this pope, nothing will occur. No less than, I hope so.”
The Christian feast of the Epiphany celebrates the go to of the Magi to the infant Jesus, however in Italy, the Befana custom grew out of historic pagan rituals and it has been celebrated in a single type or one other for hundreds of years.
On Friday, the farmers’ affiliation Coldiretti estimated that forty five % of all households within the nation hung up a Befana stocking. That occurs, the affiliation stated in a press release, even amongst those that don’t rejoice the vacation, or who shouldn’t have youngsters at house.
However the vacation spirit is particularly heartfelt within the capital. Rome’s native bard, Giuseppe Gioachino Belli, composed odes to the Befana within the nineteenth century. The composer and violinist Ottorino Respighi titled the fourth motion of his 1928 “Feste Romane” “La Befana,” capturing the cacophonous market.
That reverence and enthusiasm appear extra suited to the space previous.
The vacation was abolished by Parliament in 1977, together with different spiritual holidays, however it was later reinstated. Now, the Piazza Navona custom “is lifeless,” declared Sergio Balestrini, whose association has organized an annual Epiphany parade on the Vatican since 1986 to have fun the reinstatement of the vacation.
He stated the market “was a fairy story; now it’s simply 4 bedraggled cats” promoting low cost Chinese language toys.
“If we converse of custom in cultural phrases, it’s gone,” Mr. Balestrini stated. “It’s grow to be unrecognizable; we used to go to eat seasonal sweets and see the Befana. Now the necessary factor is to promote.”
Some critics in contrast the state of affairs at Piazza Navona to Rome’s Christmas tree, which was nicknamed “Spelacchio,” or mangy, due to its unhappy, spindly look. The tree, mocked on social media, has since grow to be a sensation, and metropolis officers are anticipated to determine on its future on Monday.
The Italian information media have reported that the tree, in Piazza Venezia, could possibly be consigned to the nationwide modern artwork museum, or reworked right into a picket hut for ladies to nurse their infants, more than likely not within the piazza.
Earlier metropolis administrations had raised the alarm about issues with the Befana market. In 2014, it didn’t open due to the dwindling high quality of the market and its merchandise, in addition to questions concerning the kiosk concessions. Critics claimed some distributors had been given a monopoly.
Cultural occasions have been substituted for the business kiosks, however Romans agreed that they only weren’t the identical.
“Rome all the time had a feast of the Befana; we didn’t have Santa Claus rising up. That got here later,” stated Sabrina Alfonsi, the Democratic Celebration president of Rome’s first municipality since 2013. Ms. Alfonsi tried to “requalify the market” by opening up the standards for the kiosk licenses, however she was unsuccessful.
Complaints lately have principally been directed at the city’s Five Star Movement government, which, critics say, has been unable to provide the market the shake-up it sorely wants.
When metropolis officers determined to reboot the market this yr, they decreased the variety of kiosks by half “to make room for video games and leisure actions for youngsters and reply to the true spirit of this occasion,” in response to metropolis paperwork.
The difficulty is, there are few baby-pleasant leisure actions within the sq. this yr, save for a puppet theater with hourly exhibits, three stands with knock-down carnival video games and a nineteenth-century German carousel, a market mainstay.
When Viviana Piccirilli Di Capua was a toddler, an indefinite variety of many years in the past, her mother and father would take her to Piazza Navona on the eve of Epiphany to walk by means of the kiosks.
“It was such a thrill, however we needed to rush house earlier than 9 o’clock, as a result of if the Befana didn’t discover you in mattress when she handed by your own home, you wouldn’t get presents,” she recalled.
“Through the years, the market has been ruined, dropping its magnificence, décor and a spotlight to the merchandise,” stated Ms. Piccirilli, who’s the president of an affiliation of residents of Rome’s historic middle who has lobbied to gentrify the market. “We have been hoping to convey again artisanal items and custom, however it hasn’t occurred,” she stated.
“My beloved Rome has misplaced the power to transmit its magnificence; why can we all the time present one thing inferior to the chances that this metropolis has,” Ms. Piccirilli stated. “Above all, this can be a feast for youngsters, however the one joyous factor is the merry-go-spherical.”
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