Sardinia: Santa Maria ‘e Mare

Has it also happened to you that you were travelling and/or on holidays and you were at the right place at the right time?

While I love to read the section about local festivities in travel guides, my travel itinerary does not match these dates very often as I don’t normally plan around them. Well, I was lucky in Sardinia where magic happened in front of my eyes. I’d like to share it with you.

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A colorful and flowery tradition

Every year on the last Sunday in May, Orosei, a town on the island of Sardinia, celebrates a colourful and flowery day, indeed. Orosei is situated along the coast of the Gulf of Orosei in the northeast of the island and is nestled by the river Cedrino, which plays an important role in the festivities and which flows into the Gulf as seen in the head image. It is on a hill between the Cedrino and the Mediterranean where in the 13th century a little church was built to protect the seafarers and merchants, who carried out business in the port of Orosei for 200 years.

Santa Maria ‘e Mare is a Marian ceremony to pay tribute and give thanks for that protection. The name means “Holy Mary and the Ocean” in Italian.

It all starts at nine o’clock in the morning. People gather on the Piazza del Popolo di Orosei to decorate small fishing boats mainly with flowers. It seems like everybody is out and about some helping with the decoration, others just coming for a chat or to indulge in the hustle and bustle. There are onlookers and photographers, tourists, locals, elderly people – did you know, Sardinia has the highest density of people aged ninety years and older in the world? -, carabinieri (policemen) in their very Italian Fiat Panda 750, and everything in between.

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Adorable couple in Orosei

While my hubby sips a cappu in the shade after he has seen what he wanted, I am walking around excitedly taking pictures of this beautiful happening. I am in awe and tempted to shout a “Meraviglioso!” out of joy. It is a hot morning and still everyone is calmly busy arranging flowers onto the boats, in high spirits, smiling, peaceful and willing to be on my pictures. The Italian language has a wonderful word for what they are doing here: L’infioratura – translates into something like the placing of flowers. I do love that language.

To me this is a festivity full of love, dedication, gratefulness and humility. I hope you can feel some of the atmosphere here, for it was so warm and welcoming. People share a true community spirit and natural connection that often lack or are not nurtured and lived enough anymore in so many (rich) parts of the world these days, from my point of view. Somehow our priorities have shifted away from what is really important in life. In Orosei on that very day, I could revive what it means and above all what it feels like to live that way. It may be one of the reason why women and men grow so old on this island and are still an active part of the society. Just look at this adorable couple above surely being in their late eighties or early nineties.

I was also overwhelmed by the beauty these people magically created on these cute fishing boats.

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Once the boats are ready, they stay here for the whole day. I was wondering how the flowers would survive the scorching temperature and the full sun the whole day. But there was another beautiful soul guarding the flowers…

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He is keeping all the flowers nice and shiny.
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Boats are ready and everybody went for the well earned siesta.
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Except for me…. still taking pictures :0). Not long and I will be cooling down in the Mediterranean. At least this means siesta for me. And a gelato from Gelateria Smeralda.

At around five everybody meets again and the actual ceremony begins with a procession through Orosei before all boats actually go where they belong, in the water. A statue of Madonna is being carried and placed onto the first boat that enters the Cedrino.

There are flowers all over. And you know what? Everybody is more than welcome to pick as many flowers as they like after the procession and take them home. I was taken aback by this generosity as I am not at all used to this sharing with everyone. I was therefore a bit unsure but followed the custom and took some beautiful flowers to our apartment. They reminded me of this Sunday for a whole week.

Even street signs become infiorati:

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We are now walking onto that bridge leading into or in this view out of Orosei and over the river Cedrino (see head image again). This is the prime spot to watch as the boats are entering the Cedrino. A spectacle in itself. I was granted first row view by the Italian gentlemen standing in front of me. As you may have experienced yourself, hospitality is huge in Italy. As a woman with blond hair (okay this is a cliché now) you may experience it even more, especially when you smile charmingly and speak some Italian :0).

This is what I got on one side of the bridge…

and on the other:

The aim is to have a single file boat procession and they almost got it in the pictures above. Well, they have 1.5 kilometers to arrange themselves nicely. Then they arrive at that little church I told you about in the beginning. Everybody disembarks there and the rest of Orosei’s residents comes on foot via the route along the Cedrino. They walk at the same pace as the boats go, very slowly.

Then a church service is being given at the Chiesa di Santa Maria ‘e Mare. Afterwards everybody, and I mean truly everybody – us included -, is invited to a glass of red wine and some bread with octopus salad. We did not join this final part of the day as I don’t eat seafood and I did not want to offend people by saying no to their generous offer. I regret it a bit, I have to say…

But I have their warm, noble, and wonderful humanness in my heart forever. Grazie da cuore, Orosei.

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Boat procession for Santa Maria ‘e Mare on the Cedrino river in Orosei/Sardinia.

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