Salerno’s Christmas lights, brightening up the dark nights

One of my new English language students is from Salerno. During our first lesson we chatted about where we were from, and I asked him what was interesting about his city. He told me about the stunning light displays held there every year around Christmas time.

I was intrigued by his enthusiastic description, and was curious to see the spectacle myself.  I found most Bed & Breakfasts were already sold out for the initial weekend I wanted to visit, so I booked further ahead (and recommend organising a similar trip well in advance because many Italian tourists go around this time).

I read a little about the display, known as the Luci d’Artista or Artist Lights, before I saw it. The festival, shared with the northern city of Turin, has been held in Salerno since 2006. Each year the town is lit up by these beautiful and unusual decorations from November until January.

I also briefly researched the history of Salerno. It is one of the main hubs close to the Amalfi Coast in southern Italy, about 40 minutes from Naples on the train, and is famous for its medical school, one of the oldest in the world. It has a pretty medieval centre and a promenade by the seafront, perfect for strolling along.

I took the Italo train from Roma Tiburtina on Saturday afternoon, which took about two hours. After checking into my B&B, I headed straight into town to see these famous lights! I started off at the Chiesa del Sacro Cuore, which is right next to the railway station. Here I saw a large and brightly coloured installation by Eduardo Giannattasio, depicting the Annunciation, the moment the angel Gabriel tells Mary she is going to give birth to the son of God.

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Next I wandered down the Corso Vittorio Emanuele, which was decorated in shimmering and cascading light displays that changed colour. They represent the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, one of the world’s most mysterious natural phenomena, and symbolise the victory of light over dark. As you can see the town was already swarming with people and there was a wonderful party atmosphere.

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I looked up some roads to the right as I was walking down the Corso and saw circus scenes. These made up a piece by Luca Pannoli, who used the theme of a circus as a metaphor for life, representing both its harmony and commotion.

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At the end of the Corso I arrived at the fantastic Christmas tree in Piazza Portanova. This was one of the most traditionally festive installations, and a popular backdrop for photos!

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The next road that I had planned to walk down was just too packed so I chose another back street. In this area of town there were some beautiful light displays in the shape of roses, flowers and leaf formations in autumnal and wintery shades, which I was particularly enchanted by as they enhanced the romantic nature of the small winding streets of the old centre.

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I arrived in Piazza Sant’Agostino, which had the theme of “Shanghai”. Here the trees were covered in bright purple lights and there were several Chinese motifs, such as lanterns and a large dragon whose tail was wrapped around some columns. The dragon represents the creative power of evil that is nevertheless eventually controlled by the energy of light. The “cherry” trees symbolise the rebirth of nature after a cold winter.

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I walked up to Salerno Cathedral, which was surrounded by these pretty angels, meant to herald the birth of Jesus Christ. They were a joyful touch.

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I strolled on further through the town, and down to the seafront, eventually arriving at the Municipal Gardens. Here I stumbled upon a spellbinding place: the “Giardino Incantato” or “Enchanted Garden”, where light displays brought several famous fairytales to life. It’s a dreamworld for children (and adults)! One of my favourite pieces was this amazing pirate ship:

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Further on I saw a magical interpretation of Cinderella’s horsedrawn pumpkin carriage:

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There were also many pretty and psychedelic touches, such as these flowers:

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As a Brit I was happy to see what looks like London’s Big Ben (Elizabeth Tower) featured in the dream garden, next to the ship and two crocodiles.

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These sparkling swans also caught my eye:

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After the Enchanted Garden I checked my map and tried to meander back through the town to see the places I’d missed. First I arrived in the “Winter Garden” at Largo Campo. This was one of my favourite displays, as the simple white lights and tree created a mystical atmosphere in the square. By now it was about eight o’ clock in the evening, and the town was full of people enjoying beer and snacks.

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Another interesting display was the “mosaic” lights, by Enrica Borghi, who was inspired by the city’s architecture and the way it encourages you to turn your gaze upwards.

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After heading up this way I came to another church in a higher part of the city, Santa Sofia. Here I saw this interpretation of the “Madonna and Child” by Eduardo Giannattasio. It was a very simple but tender portrayal of Mary with baby Jesus.

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By this point I was hungry so I decided it was time to try some of the delicious street food that was on offer all over town. I opted for a traditional Neapolitan sfogliatella pastry.

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The fried fish, squid and octupus selling successfully on this stall also looked delicious:

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One of the last and most awe inspiring displays I saw was the solar system in Piazza Flavio Gioia. Here shooting stars cascaded past the planets suspended above you, positioned around the large sun.

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I was really impressed with the Artist Lights display in Salerno. The city was buzzing and I also loved walking through the quieter streets and seeing the beautifully illuminated flowers and roses. I recommend a visit during this time of year– it was still warm in December so you could combine it with a visit to the temples at Paestum and a drive along the Amalfi Coast. Enjoy darlings!

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