Luci d’Artista (Artists’ Lights) in the port city of Salerno, Italy

The Castello di Arechi in Salerno looks down on the Luci d'Artista

The Castello di Arechi in Salerno looks down on the Luci d’Artista

The dark months of winter can be full of gloom.  This is true everywhere but in the south of Italy it feels personal.

Here the point is the sun.  Without it there is no light on the sea, no sun in your glass, no need for riposo.

Balconies close to the Giardino della Minerva, a botanical garden first planted in the Middle Ages with plants chosen for their healing properties at a time when Salerno was renowned for its medical school.

Balconies close to the Giardino della Minerva, a botanical garden first planted in the Middle Ages with plants chosen for their healing properties at a time when Salerno was renowned for its medical school.

Salerno has come up with a solution – Luci d’Artista – artists’ lights that switch on in early November and stay on for most of January.

I go to see the lights on a mild, mid-January evening.  The streets are busy but not clogged, and above them a thousand tiny light bulbs paint pictures on the dark.

Lights along the street from the rowing club in Salerno

Lights along the street from the rowing club in Salerno

We start our walk through the city by the rowing club, and then move on to the Villa Comunale.

Il Giardino Incantato in Salerno, Italy

Il Giardino Incantato in Salerno, Italy

This park has been turned into an enchanted garden.  It’s full with the celebrities from children’s stories – Alice in Wonderland, Captain Hook, Pinocchio and Cinderella.  There are scenes from tea parties to pirate ships, with glittering animals in between – a whale, a crocodile and a life-size coach and horses.

The pirate ship from Peter Pan in Salerno, Italy

The pirate ship from Peter Pan in Salerno, Italy

Each scene has a large open book lit up in front of it with painted cut-outs of the heroes and villains looking in.  There are no words on the open pages but the connection is there – the magic comes from books.

Alice in Wonderland in lights in Salerno, Italy

Alice in Wonderland in lights in Salerno, Italy

Recent reports show book ownership is low amongst families in the south of Italy – perhaps this will help.

A coach and horses for Cinderella in Salerno, Italy

A coach and horses for Cinderella in Salerno, Italy

We leave the park and wander through the old streets.

In the piazza by the famous garden of medicinal plants balconies blaze with window boxes, and round the corner fronds of heavily petalled flowers hang above the cobbles, and reflect off windows and into churches.

Flowers in lights on the balconies in Salerno, Italy

Flowers in lights on the balconies in Salerno, Italy

It may sound too Las Vegas for an old town at the end of the Amalfi Coast but, from what I see, it isn’t.  Each section is themed and helps to highlight rather than drown the town.

The streets of Salerno, Italy

The streets of Salerno, Italy

The lights also make me look up, see things I may otherwise have missed: the architecture of balconies; of windows; the warmth of the old bell tower; and the dominant ruin of the castle above the town, built in the 8th century by the Duke of Benevento, Arechi II.

By the Duomo in Salerno, Italy

By the Duomo in Salerno, Italy

Angels trumpet around the Duomo, and through a door at its feet, a small crowd files into the Sala San Lazzaro to see an unusual presepe (extensive crib scene) painted by local artist, Mario Carotenuto.

The painted presepe by Mario Carotenuto, in Salerno, Italy

The painted presepe by Mario Carotenuto, in Salerno, Italy

At the end of the room is the holy family, but the whole town has joined them.  Scenes from everyday life, depicted by cut-outs painted to look real, fill the walls.  There is a group at a table; a poor couple saying grace; and a long queue of beggars, soldiers, priests, workers, bureaucrats, artisans, and us … all waiting to pay our respects.

The painted presepe by Mario Carotenuto, in Salerno, Italy

The painted presepe by Mario Carotenuto, in Salerno, Italy

Salerno is a big town.  We don’t manage to see all of it, or all of the lights, but what we do see is a dance of stories and colour over old stones grown cold in winter – a touch of wonder in the dark.

The lights are on until 24 January 2016.

The Chinese lights in Salerno, Italy

The Chinese lights in Salerno, Italy

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2016

3 thoughts on “Luci d’Artista (Artists’ Lights) in the port city of Salerno, Italy

  1. Reblogged this on The Phraser and commented:

    A look back (first published 22 January 2016): One of my strongest childhood memories is of the dazzle and excitement of Christmas lights in a city park – in Salerno last year I saw the magic again. It’s hard to resist – why would you want to anyway?

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