Italy's Primo Maggio Festival Likely to Be Chaotic in 2011

by Meg Massie 
Posted Mar 16th 2011 06:00 PM

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Primo Maggio

berther, Flickr

Italy, like many other countries, will celebrate its version of Labor Day (Festa dei Lavoratori) on May 1 (Primo Maggio). While normally a time for promoting labor rights and relaxing, Primo Maggio will be extremely busy for Italy in 2011, especially in Rome. With well over a million people set to participate in multiple events on that day, the Primo Maggio 2011 festival could be unlike any other.

There are several factors that will surely make the festivities in at least Rome, if not elsewhere, chaotic:

Pope John Paul II's Beatification
The Roman Catholic Church decided to perform Pope John Paul II's beatification on May 1. The date selection has baffled many Italians as the Labor Day holiday historically sees hundreds of thousands of people head to Rome for the May Day concert. The announcement of the beatification caused additional problems in the form of scammers trying to sell tickets to what is undoubtedly a free event.

Unification Celebrations
This year Italians are celebrating 150 years of the unification of Italy. While the official celebration date is March 17, observance of the historic event will likely continue throughout the year. Things are not all rosy in Italy, however. There's discord throughout the country, accompanied by a distinct sense of non-unity. The scandal surrounding Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi – combined with labor strikes and demonstrations fueled by growing unemployment – are sure to bring out hundreds of thousands of protesters to Rome and other Italian cities during Labor Day.

May Day Concert
Often referred to as the "Concerto del Primo Maggio" or "Concertone," this year's May Day concert will likely clash with Pope John Paul II's beatification. Now in its 22nd year, the May Day concert will assumedly be located in Plaza San Giovanni at 15:30. In early 2011, rumors spread quickly that the concert would be forced to move outside of the city, prompting a Facebook group to form and protest. But it seems that for now the concert will not be moved.

These three elements have already converged to create headaches for both Italians and tourists, and more problems are sure to occur throughout Rome on May 1, which falls on a Sunday this year. The beatification alone will likely bring in well over one million people to Rome. Protestors attending demonstrations against the government's labor policies will likely combine with Primo Maggio concertgoers to make the number of people in the city nearly intolerable. In fact, the May Day concert is hosted by three Italian trade unions (the CGIL, CISL, and UIL) that likely will lend their support to labor protests. It's likely that representatives of these trade unions are working with the government and the church to ensure little friction occurs, and thus why information concerning the concert has been slow to arrive.

Exorbitant price increases of nearly 300 percent on hotel rooms have created additional controversy. Rome's hotel association Federalberghi Roma claims that the price increases are historically normal and correlate well with the city's high season. Both locals and tourists claim rates are well beyond what's normal for May 1. Despite the controversy hotel rooms in Rome are filling up quickly for Primo Maggio, leaving many with few options for accommodations. As of this writing a search on Hotels.com confirms this, with many hotels showing only one or two rooms left. Airfare to Rome doesn't seem to be affected, however, with numerous Rome flight deals to be had.

Additional reading and information:

• Slate.com's Tony Barber on the national identity of Italians
• The Telegraph's Nick Squires on a divided Italy
• The official Primo Maggio concert site
• The official John Paul II beatification site

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