When appreciating the marvel that is Italy, we tend to forget some of its hidden treasures. One of them is the Northern coastal town of Camogli, located on the province of Genoa, and only a half hour car ride or hour train ride from the Genoa city airport. Of course, the best time to visit the pastel colored shoreline city is during the second Sunday of May. This is due to their city-wide celebration of the Sagra del Pesce (Festival of Fish) honoring Camogli’s fishermen and fish supply. The Sagra del Pesce features all of Camogli’s 5,000 residents plus tourists coming together at a fish cooking procession.
A City Molded by the Sea
The culture of fish in Camogli is deeply rooted back to its beginnings. Camogli is a port town along with the rest of Genoa, whose fish ports are among the biggest across Europe. Camogli itself was derived from the Italian phrase “le case delle Mogli“, meaning “the houses of the wives”. The name of the city was given in salute to the wives of the Camogli fishermen who waited long days for their husbands to return home. During the 18th century, fish was the main source of food for the people of Camogli. In what was both a tumultuous return from sea and a plea for survival to a Roman martyr, the residents of Camogli recognized San Fortunato as the patron saint to their fishermen and sailors.
Fish, Frying Pans & Fireworks
In 1952, following the end of World War II in Italy, residents of Camogli encouraged the city’s tourism by re-introducing the festival. They added a second day of festivities with a food celebration named the Sagra del Pesce. They first fried the fish using six different skillets. In 1954, they put together a 4-meter diameter pan with a handle measuring about 6 meters long, known as La Padella to gather the fish in one place. Since then, the same pan design has been used through the years. The pan has an approximate capacity of 528 gallons. The first set of pans used in the 1954 festival are famously displayed around the city, so people strolling by can see them hung on the city walls.
The festival takes place in the port center plaza, Piazza Cristoforo Colombo and is preceded by the fires celebration of the night before honoring San Fortunato. A spectacle of fireworks and fire show is put on by city officials in the city’s seaside. The next morning, close to noon, the city prepares with enough volunteers, ready to head down to the Piazza Cristoforo Colombo and fry the fish. Thousands of people line up on various platforms laid around the center of the plaza to receive a food paper tray filled with the festival’s fried fish selection and slices of lemon, usually accompanied by optional sides of calamari and shrimp.
No Signs of Slowing Down
The cooperation of fishermen also gather that morning to give gratitude to their fishermen, and a priest stands before them to bless the people and the fish. The cost of the festival has augmented in the years since its beginning but so has its visitors and fish catch. Almost 6,000 pounds of fish are fried every year at the Sagra del Pesce. As tourism continues to grow in the province of Genoa, and in Camogli, the amount of fish at the festival will likely follow too.