Italy has some anti-terrorism laws on its books which could make life very difficult if you happen to be detained by the police - for any alleged offence. You can be held for 48 hours with a magistrate being informed and you can be interrogated without the presence of a lawyer. It is difficult to obtain bail and you can be held legally up to three years with being brought to trail.
Business hours vary from city to city, but generally shops open 9am to 1pm and 3.30pm to 7.30pm (or 4pm to 8pm) Monday to Saturday. In some cities, grocery shops might not reopen till 5pm and, during the warmer months, they could stay open until 9pm. They may close on Saturday afternoon and on Thursday or Monday afternoon (depending on the town). Many other shops and supermarkets also close for a half-day during the week - it varies from city to city but it is usually either Monday morning or Thursday afternoon. In major towns, most department stores, such as Coin and Rinascente, and supermarkets hav continuous opening from 9am to 7.30pm Monday to Saturday. Some open from 9am to 1pm on Sunday.
Banks tend to open (hours can vary) 8.30am to 1.30pm and 3.30pm to 4.30pm Monday to Friday. They are closed at weekends but it is always possible to find a bureau de change open in the larger cities and in major tourist areas.
Major post offices open 8.30am to 5pm or 6pm Monday to Friday and also 8.30am to 1pm or 2pm on Saturday. Smaller post offices are generally open from 8.30am to 1.50pm Monday to Friday, and also 8.30am to 11.50am on Saturday. All post offices close two hours earlier than normal on the last business day of each month (not including Saturday).
Pharmacies are usually open 9am to 12,30pm and 3.30pm to 7.30pm. They are always closed on Sunday and usually on Saturday afternoon. When closed, pharmacies are required to display a list of pharmacies in the area that are open.
Bars (in the Italian sense, coffee and sandwich places) and cafes generally open 7.30am to 8pm, although some stay open after 8pm and turn into pub-style drinking-and-meeting places. Clubs and discos might open around 10pm but often there'll be no-one there until around midnight. Restaurants open noon to 3pm and 7.30pm to 11pm (later in summer and in the south). Restaurants and bars are required to close for one day each week; which day it is varies between establishments.
The opening hours of museums, galleries and archaeological sites vary, although there is a trend towards continuous opening from 9.30am to 7pm. Many close on Monday. Increasingly, the major national museums and galleries remain open until 10pm during the summer.
Many Italians take their annual holiday in August, deserting cities for the cooler coastal or mountain resorts. This means that many businesses and shops close for at least a part of the month, particularly during the week around Ferragosto (Feast of the Assumption) on 15 August. Larger cities, notably Milan and Rome, are left to the tourists, who may be frustrated that many restaurants and shops are closed until early September. The Settimana Santa (Easter Week) is another busy holiday period for Italians.
National public holidays include the following:
New Year's Day 1 January
Epiphany 6 January
Easter Monday March/April
Liberation Day 25 April
Labour Day 1 May
Feast of the Assumption 15 August
All Saints' Day 1 November
Feast of the Immaculate Conception 8 December
Christmas Day 25 December
Feast of Santo Stefano 26 December
Italy's calendar bursts with cultural events ranging from colourful traditional celebrations, with a religious and/or historical flavour, through to festivals of the performing arts, including opera, music and theatre.
Many towns celebrate the feasts of their patron saint in eye-catching fashion. These include: the Feast of St Agata from 3 to 5 February in Catania; the Feast of St Mark on 25 April in Venice; the Feast of St John the Baptist on 25 June in Florence, Genoa and Turin; the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul on 29 June in Rome; the Feast of St Gennaro on 19 September in Naples; and the Feast of St Ambrose on 7 December in Milan. Religious festivals are particularly numerous in Sicily and Sardinia, notably Holy Week (Le Feste di Paqua) in Sicily.
Among the important opera seasons are those at Verona's Arena and at La Scala in Milan. Major music festivals include Umbria Jazz in Perugia and Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence, while the Festival dei Due Mondi (Festival of Two Worlds) in Spoleto is also worth visiting. Venice plays host to an international film festival and the Biennale visual arts festival, the latter held every odd year.
The following is a selection of Italy's main festivals:
Carnevale (Carnival) During the period before Ash Wednesday, many towns stage carnivals and enjoy their last opportunity to indulge before Lent. The carnival held in Venice during the 10 days before Ash Wednesday is the most famous, but more traditional and popular carnival celebrations are held at Viareggio, on the northern coast of Tuscany, and at Ivrea, near Turin.
Sartiglia This is the highlight of carnival celebrations at Oristano in Sardinia, held on the Sunday and Tuesday before Lent. It involves a medieval tournament of horsemen in masquerade.
Sagra del Mandorio in Fiore (Festival of the Almond Blossoms) This traditional festival features a historical pageant and fireworks. It is held in Agrigento, Sicily in early/mid-February.
Le Feste di Pasqua (Holy Week) Holy Week in Italy is marked by solemn processions and Passion plays. In Taranto in Apulia on Holy Thursday there is the Procession of the Addolorata and on Good Friday there is the Procession of the Mysteries, where statues representing the Passion of Christ are carried around the town. One of Italy's oldest and most evocative Good Friday processions is held in Chieti in Abruzzo. In Sicily, the week is marked by numerous events, including a Procession of the Mysteries at Trapani and the celebration of Easter according to Byzantine rites at Piana degli Albanesi, near Palermo. Women in colourful 15th century costume give out Easter eggs to the public.
Scoppio del Carro (Explosion of the Cart) Held in Florence on the Piazza del Duomo at noon on Easter Sunday, this event features the explosion of a cart full of fireworks, which is a tradition dating back to the crusades. It is seen as a good omen for the city if it works.
Festa di San Nicola On 2 and 3 May, the people of Bari in Apulia process in traditional costume to re-enact the delivery of the bones of their patron saint to Dominican friars. The next day a statue of the saint is taken to sea.
Processione dei Serpari (Snake-Charmers' Procession) Held at Cocullo in Abruzzo on the first Thursday of May, this famous traditional festival honours the village's patron saint, San Domenico. His statue is draped with live snakes and carried in procession.
Festa di San Gennaro Three times a year (the first Sunday in May, 19 September and 16 December), the faithful gather in Naples' cathedral to wait for the blood of San Gennaro to liquefy. If the miracle occurs, it is considered a good omen for the city.
Corsa dei Ceri (Sardinian Cavalcade) Hundreds of Sardi wearing colourful traditional costume gather at Sassari in Sardinia on the second-last Sunday on May to mark a victory over the Saracens in the year 1000.
Palio della Balestra (Crossbow Contests) Held in Gubbio (Umbria) on the last Sunday in May, this contest is between the men of Gubbio and neighbouring Sansepolcro, who dress in medieval costume and use antique weapons. There is a rematch at Sansepolocro in September.
Maggio Musicale Fiorentino This music festival is held in Florence in May and June.
Palio delle Quattro Antiche Repubbliche Marinare (Regatta of the Four Ancient Maritime Republics) This event sees a procession of boats and a race between the four historical maritime rivals - Pisa, Venice, Amalfi and Genoa. the event rotates between the four towns: Pisa, Venice, Genoa and Amalfi. Although usually held in June, it has been know to be delayed as late as September.
Festa di Sant'Antonio Fans of Sant' Antonio, patront saint of Padua and of lost things, might want to attend the procession of the saint's relics, held annually on 13 June.
Infiorata (Flower Festival) To celebrate Corpus Domini on 21 June, some towns (including Bolsena and Genzano near Rome and Spello in Umbria) decorate a street with colourful designs made of flower petals.
Gioco del Ponte (Game of the Bridge) Two groups in medieval costume contend for the Ponte di Mezzo, a bridge over the River Arno in Pisa.
Festival dei DueMondi (Festival of Two Worlds) This is an international arts event held in June and July in Spoleto, a beautiful hill town in Umbria, It was created by Gian Carlo Menotti and features music, theatre, dance and art.
Il Palio (The Banner) The pride and joy of Siena in Tuscany, this famous traditional event is held twice a year - on 2 July and 16 August - in the town's beautiful Piazza del Campo. It involves a dangerous bareback horse race around the piazza, preceded by a parade of supporters in traditional costume.
Sa Ardia More dangerous than Il Palio, this impressive and chaotic horse race at Sedilo in Sardinia on 6 and 7 July celebrates the victory of the Roman Emperor Constantine over Maxentius in AD 312 ( the battlewas actually at the Ponte Milvio in Rome). A large number of horsemen race around the town whilst onlookers shoot guns into the ground or air.
Festa del Redentore (Feast of the Redeemer) On the third weekend in July, there are fireworks and a procession over the bridge to the Chiesa del Redentore on Isola della Giudecca in Venice.
Umbria Jazz Held at Perugia in Umbria in July, this week-long festival features performers from around the world. There's also Umbria Jazz Winter held in Orvieto at the end of December/early January.
Festival Internazionale del Balleto (International Ballet Festival) This festival is held at Nervi near Genoa and features international performers.
Quintana (Medieval Joust) This historical pageant features a parade of hundreds of people in 15th-century costume, followed by a spectacular jousting tournament. It is held at Ascoli Piceno in Le Marche on the first Sunday in August.
I Candelieri (The Candlesticks) Held on 14 August at Sassari in Sardinia, I Candelieri features town representatives in medieval costume carrying huge wooden columns through the town. The celebrations are held to honour a vow made in 1652 for deliverance from a plague.
Il Palio This repeat of Siena's famous horse race is held on 16 August
Festa del Redentore Held in Nuoro in Sardinia, this folk festival and parade is attended by thousands of people from all over the island, who dress in traditional regional costume.
Mostra del Cinema di Venezia (Venice International Film Festival) Held at the Lido, Venice, the festival attracts the international film scene.
Partita a Scacchi (Living Chess Game) The townspeople of Marostica in the Veneto dress as chess figures and participate in a match on a chessboard marked out in the town square. Games are held in even years on the first weekend in September.
Palio della Balestra A rematch of the crossbow competition between Gubbio and Sansepolcro is held at Sansepolocro on the first Sunday in September.
Regata Storica (Historic Regatta) This gondola race along Venice's Grand Canal is preceded by a parade of boats decorated in 15th-century style. It is held on the first Sunday in September.
Giostra della Quintana (Medieval Joust) this mediaeval pageant held in Foligno, near Perugia, involves a parade and jousting event with horsemen in traditional costume. It is held on the second Sunday in September.
Festa di San Gennaro On 19 September the faithful of Naples gather for the second time to await the miraculous liquefaction of San Gennaro's blood.
Festa di San Francesco Special religious ceremonies are held in the churches of San Francesco and Santa Maria degi Angeli in Assisi on 3 and 4 October
Festa della Madonna della Salute Held in Venice on 21 November, this procession over a bridge of boats across the Grand Canal to teh Chiesa di Santa Maria della Salute is to give thanks for the city's deliverance from plague in 1630.
Festa di Santa Cecilia A series of concerts and exhibitions take place in Siena in Tuscany to honour the patron saint of musicians.
Festa di San Nicola Various religious ceremonies as well as traditional folk celebrations take place at Bari in Apulia on 6 December
Festa id San Gennaro On 16 December the faithful of Naples gather for a third and final time to await the liquefaction of the blood of San Gennaro.
Natale (Christmas) During the weeks preceding Christmas there are numerous processions and religious events. Many churches set up elaborate cribs or nativity scenes know as presepi.
Umbria Jazz Winter The winter version of Umbria's Jazz festival is held in Orvieto. It takes place in late December/early January.
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