It is hard for me to give a thorough description of the festival, so I will leave the highlights to a paragraph from an Italian tourism site:
Festa dei CeriThe race takes place every year on May 15th on the eve of the feast of the city’s patron saint, St. Ubaldo. The statues of St. Ubaldo (patron of bricklayers), St. George (patron saint of haberdashers) and St. Anthony the Abbot (patron saint of donkey breeders and peasants) are placed on 3 tall, heavy wooden ceri or pedestals (meant to represent candles). The event consists of a race. Ceraioli (pedestal bearers) carry the ceri on their shoulders and run down the city streets and then up to the basilica of S. Ubaldo on top of Mount Ingino. A charming ritual precedes the race. The spectacular raising (the alzata) of the ceri takes place in Piazza Grande at noon and then the ceri are toured around the piazza 3 times. After being displayed (the mostra) in the city streets, they are placed in Via Savelli until it is time for the race. A procession with the statue of St. Ubaldo takes place in the afternoon and travels to the end of Via Dante, where the bishop blesses the ceri. Then the race starts down the city’s main streets. Once the ceri are back in Piazza Grande, they tour around it 3 more times and end up in front of Porta dell’Angelo (gate) where the ascent up Mount Ingino begins. The ceri are stored in the basilica of Sant’Ubaldo, while the statues of the 3 saints are brought back into the city amidst singing and a torchlight procession. The origins of the feast may date back to propitiatory rituals for the spring, but only its Christian and celebratory nature honouring St. Ubaldo is historically proven in documents.
On our first visit to Gubbio, we saw them working on the Ceri, carefully touching up paint so they were in prime condition. Notice the big square peg at the bottom.
When we got back to Gubbio, we had to park a good ways from the town. To us, that was a good sign. That meant that things may already be starting and there may be something to see. Once we walked to town, we realized there were thousands of people, all dressed in the white pants, team colors (yellow, blue and black) and red bandanas. Clearly, the festival was getting cranked up.
People just kept on coming in and the crowd grew closer and closer. Then the band shows up with some guys on horseback. There wasn't a lot of room for horses and Dick almost had his camera thrust up the horses nose.
Notice the little dot in the background.
Watch this video to get some idea. Trust me when I say that we were as close to the action as you could be without having a Ceri on your shoulder.