One of my favorite aspects of the Italian lifestyle is the late afternoon and early evening ritual known as la passeggiata, or the evening stroll. Each evening, between the hours of 5pm and 8pm, Italians take to the streets, to walk and socialize. The name originates from the verb passeggiare, which means to walk. Sociologists label la passeggiata a cultural performance, and on Saturdays and Sundays entire families participate, this frequently being the main social event of the day. Afterwards, everyone heads home together for the evening meal.
In her book titled The Passeggiata and Popular Culture in an Italian Town, Giovanna Delnegro states that this custom “reinforces a sense of belonging.” Individuals greet their friends and acquaintances, while sharing all the latest news and gossip. Women frequently hold hands, walking together in what appears as an informal parade. As they mark the end of the workday, men can be heard to say andiamo a fare qualche vasca, or “let’s go do some laps.” Not only is the custom of la passeggiata a social bonding experience, but also good exercise, and I can use all that I can get!
Originally, one of the purposes of la passeggiata was to display the charms of young women who were eligible to be married, and in this process, parents of these girls encouraged them to be flirtatious. They wanted their daughters to fare una bella figura, or to look good. This could be one of the reasons that generally people change their clothing after working, and put on their finer attire, dressing to impress, for the evening stroll. The goal is, after all, or to see and be seen.
In the larger cities such as Rome, some streets are just packed with people, making it nearly impossible for cars to get by. One of these streets in particular is via del Corso, known for its shopping. As people are walking, it is not uncommon for them to stop and do some window shopping. Another favorite spot for everyone to congregate during this evening ritual is the piazza, and Piazza Navona is a wonderfully entertaining spot. Usually in the early evenings, you will find mimes performing, musicians entertaining and vendors demonstrating the latest new items. Piazza di Spagna, or the Spanish Steps, becomes another crowded spot for la passeggiata.
As an integral part of everyday life in Italy, la passeggiata is an endearing custom in Italy, one that I enjoy very much. Italians like to share things and be with one another, and they like to be outside, as their homes are frequently small. Unless it is raining, you can count on la passeggiata to occur in every city, town, and village in Italy every day of every week.