Wishes Floating On The Sea
Huge, brightly colored rounded shapes are regularly spotted in these Tyrrhenian waters in September.
They are moving slowly but steadily, supported by a favorable wind.
They have recently left the tiny square, and risen into the sky followed by the eyes of hundreds of witnesses who fill the zigzagging stairs that across the facade of the yellow building on the seafront.
These massive hot-air balloons, made of paper and decorated by hand and with creativity by the young local citizens, have just started a race and they are heading to the open sea. Only the strongest paper structures will survive.
We are on the small island of Ventotene – just 2 miles long and half a mile wide – that is part of the Pontine Island archipelago, less than 30 miles from Gaeta in the Lazio region of Italy. The island is the residence of 690 individuals during the winter months and its name comes from the Italian word for ‘wind’ – vento – which apparently never stops brushing over the surface of this land.
The hot-air balloon race is the climax of the celebration of their patron Saint Santa Candida.
The story goes that in the fourth century AD a young Christian lady, persecuted and deported to Rome from Cartagena, was tortured and thrown into the waters of Ponza island. Her young body was found in Ventotene on the 20th of September.
Every year, around that same date, the island comes together to celebrate its Candida, protector of the fishermen and the farmers.
The balloons represent the vows of the islanders to their patron, and are the creations of a tradition imported from Naples in the mid-1800s, which showcases the young talent of the island while also expressing the gratitude and the religious devotion of the local community.
During the race, the balloons have a privileged view of this volcanic peninsula, with its clear waters and picturesque cliffs facing west.
If we were in the time of Emperor Augustus, our balloons would also spot his two summer villas, which included a royal spa, called thermae, gardens, aqueducts and fish markets.
Nowadays, it is still possible to visit many of the ancient remains across the island, which include the old Roman port, near the current, active one.
However, walks into very ancient history – the island was Greek before becoming Roman – are not the only activities that tourists can indulge in here.
In fact, the island is part of a Marine Protected Area and snorkeling is one way of exploring its pristine waters, as well as other boat tours that allow you to swim in the most remote and naturally gorgeous areas.
It is not surprising then that the population of the island rises considerably during the summer months, which here extend beyond August. In fact, while in the rest of the peninsula autumn starts making itself known from the middle of September, in Ventotene this month still presents wonderfully warm temperatures, making it a perfect destination for a quiet and relaxing end of season destination.
All the exhausted balloons have eventually fallen into the water and the winner had been nominated.
However, this is still not the end. The few days of celebration in honor of the young Christian martyr end in the way it is customary in Italy i.e. with scenic fireworks. Here, the sea will participate by reflecting the colorful sparkles back to the eyes of the spectators. After the marching bands have stopped playing and all the games and musical performances have ended, someone will still be remembering the last balloon crossing the horizon with its colorful wake, before disappearing into the blue sea.
Until next year!
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(Photo credits: All the pictures were sourced on Wikimedia Commons)