A flower is a thing of beauty and a joy forever, to quote poet John Keats. Imagine hundreds of thousands of flowers arranged in ornate designs in outdoor tapestries: They’re not only breathtakingly beautiful, colorful, fragrant and a perfect photo opportunity, but the ultimate in fleeting art and design. This ephemeral folk art is made mostly by dedicated volunteers in many countries, like Italy, India, Spain, Portugal, and Guatemala. Whole families and local groups participate in making flower carpets in imaginative designs that often depict local fauna, flora, landmarks, cultural symbols and religious figures. Generally, the carpets are created for religious reasons, but in Belgium, it’s purely for civic beautification of a city square. Herewith, AD’s guide to where to find the world’s best flower carpets.
In this picturesque volcano-surrounded Colonial city, extremely ornate carpets made from flowers, fruits like pineapples and mangoes, vegetables from corn to cabbages, and vividly dyed sawdust adorn cobblestone streets the week before Easter. The alfombras, whose designs tend to be geometric, bird, floral or religious symbols, are re-created daily by volunteers, since they’re crushed by religious processions in the most spectacular Easter celebration in the Americas. Churches and hotels also have flower carpets. The custom blends Spain’s tradition of floral carpets in some regions with the Mayan tradition of composing carpets from pine needles, feathers, and flowers.
This tiny medieval town in Umbria near Assisi celebrates the Catholic feast day of Corpus Domini (the Body of Christ, same as Spain’s Corpus Christi), two months after Easter, with Infiorata (“decorated with flowers”). Locals work through the night to create carpets from flower petals, both natural and dyed, in both contemporary and religious designs.
This tropical southwest state celebrates the ten-day harvest festival of Onam with round flower carpets called pookkalam, created in front of houses each day. Geometric and floral designs are the most popular, and orange, pink, and yellow the most common colors, but images of Kathakali dancers in elaborate makeup, a traditional Kerala art form; and peacocks, India’s national bird, are also seen. The joyful Hindu festival honors the return of a mythical king of Kerala, banished to the underworld by Lord Vishnu, and also features masked folk dancers painted as tigers, huge vegetarian feasts, boat races, and parades with floats.
Noto, Sicily, Italy
This lovely Baroque town of honey-colored stone buildings near Siracusa in southeast Sicily lures international and local artists for Infiorata, a festival held on the third weekend of May. Every year, there’s a theme; in 2018, it was China. Flower murals of women in Chinese costume clutching fans, pandas, pagodas ,and peonies adorned the steps of Via Corrado Nicolaci, a major street; workshops in Chinese culture, from the tea ceremony to paper folding, also took place. Infiorata also features a parade of flag-wavers, musicians, and men on horseback, plus a sound-and-light show at Palazzo Ducezio.
La Orotava, Canary Islands, Spain
On Tenerife, the biggest island in Spain’s sunny archipelago off the coast of Morocco, La Orotava is the most famous town for flower carpets, the highlight of a monthlong festival for Corpus Christi, a Catholic feast day two months after Easter. In this 16th-century town a half-hour from the capital of Santa Cruz, overshadowed by Spain’s highest mountain, Mt. Teide, streets near the town hall square are adorned with flower, salt, and shrub alfombras in religious-themed or floral patterns. But the biggest carpet, filling the whole square, a masterpiece whose religious portraits recall Renaissance paintings, is composed from volcanic sand in different colors from Teide National Park by sand artists. This mega-carpet often has a social justice message; in 2018, it addressed the refugee crisis and violence against women.
A giant flower carpet over 200 feet long, composed of over a half-million flowers, mostly begonias, is displayed in Grand-Place, the beautiful Gothic square, every two years since 1971. There’s a different theme each year; in August 2018, it was the Mexican state of Guanajuato, featuring motifs from its traditional culture, Brussels’s most intricate carpet so far. A graphic designer from Guanajuato composed the design, dominated by reddish-brown earth tones, which also used bark and grass. This year, to mark the 20th anniversary of the square’s UNESCO World Heritage site designation, small floral carpets, each depicting a UNESCO site from the artist’s home country, were also on display at Place de la Bourse. Viewing the giant carpet is free, but you can buy a ticket for a panoramic view (dramatically floodlit at night) from an upper City Hall balcony.
Funchal, Madeira, Portugal
It’s no surprise an island nicknamed the Floating Garden of the Atlantic, known for its profusion of exotic blooms, from bird-of-paradises, orchids, and anthuriums to hibiscus, makes flower carpets. But on this lush mountainous subtropical isle off the Morocco coast, north of the Canary Islands, the carpets on Avenida Arriaga are just one highlight of the spring Flower Festival in Funchal, the capital. A parade of women in brilliantly colored flouncy skirts, costumed to resemble different flowers, and blossoms in their hair, floats overflowing with giant flower bouquets, and a children’s parade where each child places a flower on a Wall of Hope, a symbolic gesture calling for peace in the world, are also part of the two-week fest.
In this small fishing port in Catalonia, 30 miles north of Barcelona, locals create flower carpets called catifes de flors from flowers, leaves, and seeds on the morning of the feast of Corpus Christi. So do other Costa Brava towns, like Sitges, La Garriga and Arbucies. That night, they’re trampled by a parade of giant costumed figures on stilts, a staple of Catalonia festivals. The carpet custom dates back to Roman times, when people dressed their homes with herbs and flowers for spring.