One of my favorite aspects of the Italian lifestyle is the late afternoon and early evening ritual known as la passeggiata, or the evening stroll. Each evening, between the hours of 5pm and 8pm, Italians take to the streets, to walk and socialize. The name originates from the verb passeggiare, which means to walk. Sociologists label la passeggiata a cultural performance, and on Saturdays and Sundays entire families participate, this frequently being the main social event of the day. Afterwards, everyone heads home together for the evening meal.
In her book titled The Passeggiata and Popular Culture in an Italian Town, Giovanna Delnegro states that this custom “reinforces a sense of belonging.” Individuals greet their friends and acquaintances, while sharing all the latest news and gossip. Women frequently hold hands, walking together in what appears as an informal parade. As they mark the end of the workday, men can be heard to say andiamo a fare qualche vasca, or “let’s go do some laps.” Not only is the custom of la passeggiata a social bonding experience, but also good exercise, and I can use all that I can get!
Originally, one of the purposes of la passeggiata was to display the charms of young women who were eligible to be married, and in this process, parents of these girls encouraged them to be flirtatious. They wanted their daughters to fare una bella figura, or to look good. This could be one of the reasons that generally people change their clothing after working, and put on their finer attire, dressing to impress, for the evening stroll. The goal is, after all, or to see and be seen.
In the larger cities such as Rome, some streets are just packed with people, making it nearly impossible for cars to get by. One of these streets in particular is via del Corso, known for its shopping. As people are walking, it is not uncommon for them to stop and do some window shopping. Another favorite spot for everyone to congregate during this evening ritual is the piazza, and Piazza Navona is a wonderfully entertaining spot. Usually in the early evenings, you will find mimes performing, musicians entertaining and vendors demonstrating the latest new items. Piazza di Spagna, or the Spanish Steps, becomes another crowded spot for la passeggiata.
As an integral part of everyday life in Italy, la passeggiata is an endearing custom in Italy, one that I enjoy very much. Italians like to share things and be with one another, and they like to be outside, as their homes are frequently small. Unless it is raining, you can count on la passeggiata to occur in every city, town, and village in Italy every day of every week.
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Very interesting, I have seen this phenomenon at Como on a Sunday afternoon – there was a strong whiff of testosterone in the air!
I also remember something similar by the river in Basel on Sundays, more staid but still very important socially.
when I spent a year in Italy studying as a young teenager, my aunt insisted on my having “home clothes” and “going out clothes”. As soon as I got home from being out, I would have to change into home clothes, even if I was planning to go back out an hour later (and put the going out clothes back on). My aunt explained it was all about what the ladies around town would think if they saw me, her niece, less than immaculately attired. And therefore what they would think of her, letting me be seen without an appropriate outfit. Yes it was all about “la bella figura” but it annoyed the hell out of the teenage me!
Wonderful article, Margie! And makes one understand what’s wrong with we sedentary Americans. The evening walk is a sign of community and neighborhood and we’ve lost that in this country. I remember in the small town I lived in, even my neighbors, old people, could be seen strolling arm in arm in the small streets, and I used to think “how cute/romantic” until invited to come by my apartment manager. It is also belonging to something bigger, inclusion into culture. So much can be gained. You make me long to return and I loved your explanation of it all. Thanks!
The Mermaids Purse
Makes me want to do it too though it might not suit the Irish weather…Lovely post.
We do enjoy la passeggiata here in Montepulciano. It gives us Americane a chance to see and visit with the locals.
I love the passeggiata in Italy. One of my favourite places to take part in the ‘see and be seen’ event is at Forte die Marmi on the Versilia coast near Bagni di Lucca. The most beautifully dressed people walk around the town in their finery making me feel underdressed whatever I have on. It is such fun to watch.
What a lovely discussion of a really interesting phenomenon. I might have been more inclined to a three hour walk when I was a kid but you might drag me along with the promise of gelato!
The importance of ‘bella figura’ is still very important in many towns during passeggiata and at other times too. It can be intimidating for the traveller in her quotidian, practical clothes.
That book sounds great. I may have to qcquire a copy!