Written and photographed by Tobias Brevé and Robin Harteveld

Our Italian/Sicilian road trip this year actually began in Cannes, Vive la France. We were fortunate enough to get to go the coast of France again to watch Festival d’ArtPyrotechnique de Cannes for the third time. Despite the fact the show was presented on the FrenchCôte d’Azur(the French Rivera), it had a distinctive Italian flavor to it this year. That was probably because Alfreddo Vaccalluzzo, the Italian master pyrotechincian created the display. Alfreddo’s shooting style is exquisitely elegantall by itself, but when accompanied by pulsating classical music fromProtectors of the Earth by Nick Phoenix& Thomas Bergersenand Aeternum by James Dooley, the feel and intensity of the fireworks and music reachesan emotional peak. Of course, the high quality Italian fireworks providedby VaccalluzzoFireworks [photo 1 & 2] and used throughout the display certainly helped. The show wasn’t perfect, but was close, and we thoroughly enjoyed its pageantry

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Since this was supposed to be an Italian/Sicilian road trip, for our next fireworks adventure we drove all the way down to the southern-mostItalian village of Villa San Giovanni, through the picturesque province of Reggio, Calabria,andthen took ashort ferry trip across theMediterranean channel to arrive in Messina, Sicily.Although the ferry ride was relatively short (and beautiful), it still took us about three more hours to finally reach our campsite.

To really understand the celebrations we came to see in both Italy and Sicily, it is important to understand that fireworks celebrations in the southern regions of these two areas are held for religious reasons, not to attract tourists. The fireworks arealways comingledwith their region’s heartfelt religious beliefs, and the intention of the celebrationis to add dignity and solemnity to this distinctive part of their culture.A good example of this is the Festa di San Vincenzo Ferreri, which is celebrated in Calamonaci, Sicily. This is one of the largestannual celebrations held in all of Sicily, and its focus isto honorthe Valencian Dominican friar San Vincenzo Ferrer(1350 AD-1419 AD). On the first Sunday of August, the Rigattiate is celebrated in his honor.The Rigattiate is often defined as a kind of holy war, due to its synthesis of faith and folklore, religion and paganism.Also during this festival,two important religious statues—Saint Michael, the Archangel, and St. John the Baptist—are carried in procession throughout the village. The festival culminates with two huge fireworks displays shot near the town, each one dedicated to either San Arcangelo Michele or San Giovanni Battista.Unique to these fireworks displays (and you’d have to be there like us to find this out) is there are so many festive activities taking place, that the fireworks displays don’t even begin until a quarter past four in the morning!

In spite of it being 4:15 AM, the first show by Pirotecnica Calamita turned out to be well worth the wait. They especially impressed us by shootingoff an amazing spherical 16” inch shell [photo #3], which was probably the best we saw during our entire road trip. Another spectacular part of their show was their use of blinkers. Their white, blinking stars just seemed to go on and on forever! [photo #4]. Next up was La Rosa International Fireworks (http://www.larosa-fireworks.it/fireworks/) who began their displaywith a tour de forcewe never quite expected—especially given the early hour of the morning [photo #5]. Although their entire display was equally wonderful, there was a particularly special moment just before the finale when La Rosa sent up a very large cylindrical shell. This exquisiteshell consisted of 11 consecutive breaks (wow!) and it literally took our breath as we watchedthe 11 consecutiveexplosionsthat followed [photo #6]. Then, tired but satisfied, we returned to our campsite sometime after 5:00 AM. It had been a very long night, but we had thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

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Next, we took a ferry to the mainland of Italy and drove to the more centrally located Napoli(Naples). Naples is a very busy city that sits at the foot of Mt.Vesuvius(a stratovolcano about 9 km East of Naples)[photo #7].What many of you probably don’t know is that Naples is also home to some of the best pyrotechnical craftsman in all of Italy. People like Luigi di Matteo, GennaroNovellino and GuiseppeCatapano—dominant forces in most Italian fireworks competitions throughout the year. These men all live in Naples. We got to see them compete, too,duringthis road trip inGragnano (on the outskirts of Naples), Montemarano (further inland) and Siano (on the other side of Mt. Vesuvious). Their four companies, and a fifth company, ZioPiro (http://www.ziopirosrl.it/negozi.html), that shot the opening display, but wasn’t part of the competition itself, were all there. The unwritten criteria for the competition we saw had to do with sections involved: each display had to start with an apertura(literally an “opening”), include bomba da tiro (big multi-break cylindrical shells shot directly after the opening), have best fermata (best multi-break shell fired in the middle of the display) and end with abest finale.(A detailed description about “bomba da tiro” and other typical Italian fireworks can be found in an article written by Marcel Hanse and Leendert van Buren in issue 2 of Pyrotechnic Magazine on page 73).

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Starting with the opening display, ZioPirocreated a very powerful apertura with the kind of typical single-shot sequence their company is famous for [photo #8]. Theirapertura was followed by a nice theme consisting of shells and matching candles. Additionally included (something Italian pyrotechnicians are also famous for)werewonderful multi-break cylindrical shells. These precisely timed multi-breaks literally made the showwith theirloud, rhythmical, pulsatingthumping explosions. This was immediately followed by an Italian finale, which consisted of smaller cylindrical shells and a colored heart surrounded by an ever-increasing number of reportsembedded in a flurry of color which culminated in a massive BOOM at the end:

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The contestants for this 2014 competition we watched were: Ditta Russo & Albano, Gerardo Scudo, Ruocco & Novellino and Guiseppe Catapano. All four of these competitors are well known throughout Italy for their precisely timed and powerful cylindrical shells. As described earlier, the displays had to begin with anapertura, followed by the bomba da tiro’s, and thenumber of bomba da tiro’s shot were determined ahead of time by the organizers of the festival. In Siano we got to see five bomba da tiro’s shot by each company, so we witnessed a total of 20 Italian art pieces in just one evening!GuiseppeCatapano shot the fourth display that night, and did a very good job with it;hisapertura was well timed and richly filled with quality Italian product. All of the bomba da tiro’s were excellent as well [photo #9], especially the fifth one, and the finale was extra special because it began witha traditional multicolor shell that turned into a beautiful white rain. In our opinion(and obviously the judges agreed) GuiseppeCatapano was the clear winner of the competition:

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After a week and a half in Napleswatching phenomenal competitions full of top quality product, it was now time to leave the coast and move northward. Our final planneddestination for this trip was Montefiascone, about 33 km from Vallerano and close to a huge Italian lake called Lago di Bolsena. Vallerano is home to a wonderful fireworks festival hosted by Vaccalluzzo Events (http://www.vaccalluzzoevents.it/). Vaccalluzzo Events is another amazing company with an exceptional pyrotechnic history dating all of the way back to the 1800s, but that is an entire story by itself. This feast and festival, was planned to honor the saint San Vittore Matire, and was split up into a two-day affair. First, there wasa celebrationrelying onbatteria as its foundation, and second,a 30-minute spectaculardisplay shot by Alessandro Vaccalluzzo.

To better understand what a batteria is, think of a daylight fireworks show shot in Spain using the mascleta. The batteriauses the elegance of a mascletabut intensifies it with shear brutal force. The raw power of the Italian batteriais almost overwhelming to experience and listen to. The comparison might not be entirely fair, but Jos van der Veen mentions these two competing percussive displays in his article (published in issue #1of Pyrotechnic Magazine) “Mascleta to Batteria”: “Regardless of how you compare them, and whether you say they are like figure skating to ice-hockey, or Volleyball to Rugby, if you’ve ever experienced the batteria and mascleta, you’ll know exactly why it’s so hard to accurately compare the two.” The difference might not be loudness, but raw intensity. For us, since it was our first time to witness and experience a batteria, we were quite impressed by its raw rhythm and the intense loudness the Italian flash powdercreated [photo #10].

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Since the next day would be our last show of this trip, we were excited that [photo #11 &#12] the shooting area was loaded with a great many large caliber mortars— including several 16” spherical shells!The fact we were going to be sitting pretty close to the shooting areaitself made the prospect of huge caliber shells even more exiting. We were going to be so close, in fact, that even our 8mm wide-angle lens (whichis capable of showing a 120⁰ angle) would not be wide enough [photo #13].

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As we had hoped, we were impressed with this final show from the beginning to the very end. The end in particular was incredible because of its double finale! Unfortunately, due to a camera malfunction we didn’t get video of the show, but the friends we made in Italy gave us permission to use video shot by Claudio Massimino:

Sadly, our trip came to an end and we had to to drive home. It was certainly a road trip we would never forget. All total, we drove over 9600 kilometers (5,695 miles) and did it almost entirely in just the country of Italy. During that time we witnessed over 40 wonderful displays, took some great photos and video, and made friends in every place we stayed. Yes, Italy is great for fireworks, but it is also rich in culture, beauty, food and friendliness. So, we’ve already decided to take another trip there this year! Now that we have a thorough understanding of “the Italian way”, and Italian friends all over to point us toward the best places to visit and watch fireworks, our next trip might be even better.