Folklore  in the Italian Regions

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Folklore  in the Italian Regions



 Folklore  in the Italian Regions

( from ENIT corporate magazine “ENIT Italia” n.31 -January 2009 )



When we use the term “folkloristic” in a broader sense, we are generally referring to the idea of the “picturesque,” as ascribed to an event or fact, or even to a human attitude that is rather curious or extravagant. The idea of “color” is also associated with folklore, perhaps because the gaudiest events (historical recreations, pageants, etc.) are resplendent with the showiest hues. Since these are the events that appeal most to tourists, folklore may rightfully be called the color of tourism.

Valle d’Aosta Piemonte Lombardia Trentino A.A Friuli V.G. Veneto Emilia R.


Toscana Umbria Marche Abruzzo Molise Lazio
Campania Puglia Basilicata Calabria Sicilia Sardegna




Valle d’Aosta,  which belongs to the French-speaking area, due to recent industrialization, has, like other Italian regions, lost part of its folklore heritage. But it has maintained a number of traditions and events, including:

– Foire de Saint Ours, a local crafts fair (30/31 January), where traditional “sabot” (clogs) and precious Cogne lace are sold, and visitors drink from a “grolla”  — a wooden  container in which wine and spices are mixed.

– The Madonna delle Nevi – the Madonna of the snow — on 5 August in Campocher, the splendid valley near Aosta: the population visits lake Miserin, at an elevation of 2.600 m, to invoke the mountain’s protection.

– Another one-of-a-kind event is the Fete des bergers in Piccolo San Bernardo during the week after the August holiday, during which “reines” -cows – compete in a series of athletic- tests. About a hundred animals take part in the contest; the title of “queen of the hill” is awarded to one of the contestants coming in first and second.

In Valle d’Aosta’s culture, an important role is played by the Alpine choruses and the folklore groups that hand down age-old songs and the valley’s characteristic customs. The many “Rassemblements des Chorales de la Vallee d’Aoste” are charged with spreading the image of a region proud of its past. Particularly rich is the cultural and historical heritage of



comoPiemonte,  despite the rise of major industrialization, proof of the survival of popular traditions may be found in the popularity of many celebrations and festivals. In


Lombardia    as well, authentic festivals have survived, such as the Sant’Ambrogio   Festival in Milan, with the “oh bej, oh bej,” Fair, the San Giovanni Festival at Isola   Comacina (Como), and the Festival of Saints Peter and Paul at the Monastery of San Pietro Oliveto (Brescia).


Trentino – Alto Adige   a legal and constitutional arrangement guaranteeing the coexistence of the two ethnicities present in its territory: Italian and Tyrolese. Towards these ends, the powers of special-statute Regions were conferred to the Autonomous Provinces of Trent and Bolzano. From this standpoint, folklore also has a special value, since jealously preserved traditions are among the tools defending the two provinces’ autonomy.

As far as tourism goes, the Tyrolese features of certain events increase the attraction of a territory already endowed with great and well-known resources. During the Christmas period Bolzano, Merano, Bressanone, Vipiteno, and Brunjco play host to the famed markets, a one-of-a-kind expression of a Mitteleuropa culture of age-old origin. The Christmas tree (Christbaum) and the Nativity scenes, including some very ancient ones like those in Bressanone and the Gries Abbey, are the centrepieces of rituals filling the entire Advent calendar from 1 through 24 December. The markets of course offer an opportunity to savour such typical treats as “zelten,” a sweet from Bolzano, based on dried figs, almonds, and candied fruit. Bolzano places particular emphasis on the arrival, on 5 December, of Nikolaus, protector of children, accompanied by angels and bearing gifts for good children. But this symbol of Good is flanked by Evil, personified by Krampus -two-horned demons with thick coats of fur. In Brunico, 150 of these demons parade, armed with chains and whips. Another important event is the Carnival of Termeno (Bolzano), with the traditional parade of the Egetmann – a large, straw puppet leading a long procession of local masks. Heritage is quite rich in the Province of Trent, where it may be said that each valley celebrates its own Carnival, its own festivals, and its own traditions. One custom that originated in the seventeenth century and has resisted every attempt at prohibition is the tratomarzo, linked with the theme of marriage or engagement, and somehow with Carnival as well. According to this tradition, in early March, groups of young rascals climb the town’s hill and loudly shout out completely imaginary marriages, engagements, or couples, compromising prominent figures. This is what gave rise to the attempts at prohibition, which have never been successful. Under different names, the custom is practised throughout the Alps. In Trentino, it has been maintained particularly in Crosano, in the municipality of Brentonico.

A Christmas ritual widespread under a variety of names throughout the Alpine area is the rite of the star, basically a Christmas collection taken up by youths dressed as the Three Wise Men who, as they hold up a large, swivelling star, visit the town’s homes and, at each stop, accompanied by small bands, sing Christmas songs. This is common in many of Trentino’s valleys.

Also characteristic is the festival of the Fires of San Martino, held on 11 November in Predazzo (Trent). Many fires are lit in the surrounding mountains, and in this resplendent ring of light, participants run into town as noisily as possible, with horns, bells, and drums to chase the devil away.


Friuli-Venezia Giulia,     a region marked by its position at the torturous eastern boundaries, which has yielded a folklore steeped in the meeting and fusion of traditions from different origins.Thus, we discover age-old Celtic roots – and the element of magic typical of that culture – in a number of events: Lanterne e maschere (lanterns and masks) – one of the Alps’ most evocative Carnival festivals. It is held in the heart of the Carnia area, in Sauris, Friuli’s highest municipality (1,400 m), resisting links with German traditions and language. The local “Voshank” (Carnival) comes alive in a night-time, torchlight procession of wooden masks into the woods, and ends with a large propitiatory bonfire. This is an occasion for singing in “stavoli” (wood and stone huts), drinking, and enjoying local food products (smoked prosciutto; “dunkatle,” an aromatic meat stew; and “frico” a paste of cheese and onion).

The wedding in Carnia. On the eve of her wedding, the bride’s girlfriends sing songs bringing good fortune. The bride’s exit from the town is “compensated” by offerings of food and drink. The wedding feast is consumed with local products (mutton, goat, and pork with polenta, potatoes, and sauerkraut). When lunch is over, a mock kidnapping ol the bride is staged, giving rise to a sort of treasure hunt.

Pian delle Streghe – the plain of witches. According to legend, on a large plateau, blonde witches from the north encountered tin-witches of Carnia’s valleys, and their fertility dances engendered flowers, lilies, campanulas, and so on.

La Femenata. With this holiday, the Cells celebrated Beltane, a feared god of the sun and protector of the harvest, by setting fire to a very tall effigy in a ceremony laden with propitiatory meaning. Fur the Celts, fire held great religious importance and connotations of purification.

Veneto gives us the events celebrated in the provinces of Udine, Gorizia, and Trieste, such as:

The procession of the perdon. On the first Sunday in July in Grado (Gorizia). a procession of vessels bearing flags accompanies the Madonna di Grado to Barbana island, with an excited population taking part in great numbers.

Vogada mata. A long procession of colourful sea floats held in Duino (Trieste).

At Fagagna (Udine), in a one-of-a-kind race, the town’s finest donkeys vie to win a palio in a contest referred to as “San Siro del Friul.” W’e close with “il Pignarul” (Tracento, near Udine – 6 January), marked by a long pageant in thirteenth-century costume, recreating the Three Wise Men’s encounter with the Baby Jesus, ending at Castello Goia. where an enormous fire called “Pignarul grant” is burnt. The direction the smoke travels provides clues as to whether or not the halves! will be abundant.


Veneto,  and may be said to have spread throughout the region’s territory.In Venice, major events other than Carnival include the Historical Regatta and the Feast of the Redeemer At the Regatta, held on the first Sunday in September, the Grand Canal becomes a pageant of sixteenth-century vessels of the kind that honoured the Queen of Cyprus, who in 1489 renounced her Kingdom in favour of the Venetian Republic. The Feast of the Redeemer (third Sunday in July) is more religious in nature, marking the end of the plague in the sixteenth century.

Festivities continue all night long, with banquets, dances, and fireworks displays, followed   by a procession that crosses a pontoon bridge over to the Temple of the Redeemer.

The  many events throughout the Veneto region include the human chess game at Marostica, Montagnana’s Palio, Chioggia’s Marciliana Palio, and Asiago’s Grande Rogazione, in which  the  whole population makes a 30 km pilgrimage.In addition to Siena’s Palio and Viareggio’s Carnival,



Emilia-Romagna  region.The most important events include the Palio di San Giorgio (last Sunday in May, in  Ferrara), deemed Italy’s oldest Palio, created in 1279 and revised in 1471 to celebrate the  return of the Duke Borso d’Este; the historical procession is followed by the Palio itself, consisting of four distinct competitions: putti e putte (children), donkey, and horse races.

In Cattolica, at September’s grape and teggja festival, grapes are distributed and the Romagna region’s famous piadina bread is baked on a teggia, or “grill.” A maritime parade of 13 vessels donated by fishermen, with fireworks, commemorate Garibaldi’s passage through Cesenatico in his flight towards Venice (2 August 1849),

In Faenza, a special Palio, called “Palio del Niballo,” is run; in it, two horsemen race at full-speed on an iron track, one against the other to strike a two targets 8 cm in diameter This Palio, which dates back to 1410, ends with a lavish historical procession. Many events are held in Cervia, inspired by the city’s character as a seaside village.

These events, particularly enjoyed by the many foreign tourists, include the Sposalizio del Mare, or the “marriage of the sea,” which evokes an event in 1445, when the Bishop of Cervia is said to have calmed a storm by pawning his pastoral ring. On the day of the Ascension, after a week of celebrations, a historical procession accompanies the Bishop to the open sea, where he blesses the Adriatic and tosses a wedding ring into the sea, surrounded by brightly-coloured historical vessels. In Modena, the Weeks of Este (Settimane Estensi) consist of ten days of festivities commemorating the Dukes of Este, who made this city in the Emilia region their capital in 1598. The events programme, which includes a series of games and tournaments, hinges upon the recreation of the Ladies of the House of Este (Lucrezia Borgia, Isabella d’Este, Maria Beatrice d’Este),

Lastly, mention must be made of the many events scheduled at the Castle of Gradara, recreating not only the tragedy of Paolo and Francesca, but also the Castle’s siege by Francesco Sforza and Sigismondo Malatesta in 1446.

The popular traditions of the


Liguria,with its dual aspects of inland territory and Riviera, presents traditions in both areas. The most well-known of these include the Camogli (Genoa) Fish Festival, where 3,000 kilograms offish are fried in a pan measuring 3.80 metres (“the world’s largest”), with 3,000 litres of oil, after which 30,000 portions of fried fish are distributed. The festival opens with a religious celebration followed by a bonfire burning architectural structures built by the Ligurian town’s two neighbourhoods.

Popular traditions are very much alive in


Toscana has a great many events.For example, there’s Florence’s Scoppjo del carro, or “Explosion of the Cart’. The solders’ homecoming after the First Crusade is commemorated every Easter with a very special pyrotechnics display: a cart (the “Brindellone”) escorted by soldiers, musicians, and flag-wavers, winds through the city and comes to a stop in Piazza Duomo, between the Baptistery and the Cathedral. A small mechanical “dove” (Colombina) flies from the central altar; strikes the cart setting off the fireworks, fol-39-foto1-77and returns; if the complete route is made without a hitch, it bodes well for the crops. Pisa’s Gioco del Ponte, or “bridge game,” is a completely original event in which two neighbourhoods (Tramontana and Mezzogiorno) engage in an all-out battle waged on Ponte di Mezzo, through their representatives – 50 or 60 soldiers using clubs and shields to vie for the bridge’s possession, making for rather violent clashes. The event’s other suggestive moment is the historical pageant of more than 700 players parading down the boulevards along the Arno, with the great scenic effect of sixteenth-century costumes. The event’s origins date back to 1568.

Arezzo’s Giostra del Saracino, on the other hand, follows the model of Medieval jousting. Here too, the tournament sees the neighbourhoods’ representatives at full speed striking a puppet (a Saracen called “Buratto re delle Indie” – the “puppet king of the Indies”).The competition is preceded by a 350-member pageant.

It would be practically impossible to list all the recreations, festivals, fairs, and so on, that constitute the folklore heritage of the


Umbria Umbrian folklore is marked by the memory of this region’s great religious heyday in the Middle Ages. Thus, in Assisi, countless celebrations recreate the life and mission of St. Francis, St. Clare, and St. Rita. In fol-44-foto1-77Cascia, during the month of May, the death of St. Rita is commemorated with the traditional Luminaria and a historical procession towards the Sanctuary, where the blessing of the roses takes place.

On the Sunday in June following Corpus Domini, the town of Spello is entirely covered with floral compositions depicting liturgical subjects; a procession in which the entire population takes part winds through town upon this carpet of flowers.

In addition to the celebrations of St. Francis, Assisi is also home to Calendimaggio – a Medieval competition in which the two parts of the city vie to conquer the spring Palio.

But Umbria’s most famous event is the Quintana di Foligno jousting tournament, whose documented origins date back to the mid 1400s. The tournament has elements of great spectacle, both in the competition and in the evening procession of 600 lavishly-costumed players. In the contest, ten knights representing Foligno’s wards, in three jousts, have to hit the centre of increasingly small rings hanging from a wooden statue of a seventeenth-century warrior. The festival also has its gourmet side, with a tasting of seventeenth-century Umbrian dishes.

Gubbio’s Festa dei Ceri -the festival of wax candles – is religious in origin. Every 15 May, a mystical procession crosses the city behind the Tre Ceri, three heavy candles, each weighing more than four tons, that are transported on the run in a 300-metre climb up tfol-45 foto1o the Basilica where the Saint’s remains are preserved. The three candles represent the three guilds of masons, merchants, and farmers into which Gubbio’s population is theoretically divided.

Held almost simultaneously with the wax candle race is the Palio della Balestra – the Palio of the Crossbow – which, on the last day of May, recreates the archery contest between Gubbio’s bowmen and their Tuscan colleagues from Sansepolcro. The event is also an occasion for costume pageants and exhibitions of flag-wavers.

Rooted in


Marche region are connected with the worlds of agriculture and the sea – still quite lively in a regional economy that boasts considerable farming activity and a fishing industry every bit as vigorous.

fol-41 foto1Therefore, many events are held over the course of the year. Among those that are agricultural in nature, Macerata’s Festa delle Canestrelle — the “festival of the baskets” — is quite important.

Sea festivals include those in Pesaro and Santa Maria di Portonovo, and Porto San Giorgio’s Festa del Mare. Then   there   are   numerous religious holidays, among which the night-time torchlight procession held in Loreto on 9 December to commemorate the miraculous “translation” of the House of Nazareth is particular famous.

But the Marche’s most well-known event is Giostra della Quintana Jousting Tournament held in Ascoli Piceno on the first Sunday of August. It has the character of a Medieval Tournament in which participants representing the city’s wards test their skills.


Abruzzo more than other regions, has preserved its extraordinary heritage of popular traditions almost always based upon the customs of the ancient farming world.One of the most original events is the Festa dei Serpari – the snake charmer festival – held every year in Cocullo with a procession that visits the statue di San Domenico, draped entirely with live snakes captured during the winter by the “serpari” and to whom the festival is, after all, dedicated. The snakes’ movements during the festival yield predictions – positive or negative – on the farming season.The Sant’Antonio Abate Festival is held in Collelongo with the lighting of large torches, while corn is cooked in large, steel pots (cottore) that are blessed during a long torchlight procession. The population then forms a procession to the altar of Saint Anthony, which has been covered with oranges.Traditional popular music holds special importance in the history of the folklore of Naples and the Campania region.


Molise is a region of Southern Italy, the second smallest of the regions. Follows some of folkloristic events :

PIZZONE: Festivals and fairs: A Vallefiorita the last Sunday of July is dedicated to the “Day of Nature” (with folklore and gastronomy).

CASTEL SAN VINCENZO: Festivals and fairs: The November 11 is celebrated as the patron saint of the village, San Martino. In the first half of August is held the festival of ham, an appointment with the tradition and folklore.

IL DIAVOLO A TUFARA: The week of carnival, a Tufara (Campobasso), the protagonists are the devils that held by the friars and preceded by the death, or rather by two deaths, crossing the entire country in a procession. Arrived in the square, a jury put on trial the carnival, which is condemned to death. A puppet is then thrown down the cliff on which stands the country.

LA SAGRA DELLA ZAMPOGNA: The last Sunday of July, all the handicrafts shops of Scapoli (Isernia), which for two thousand years making flutes, bagpipes and tambourines with the same method, are organizing a spectacular show of their artefacts, giving a chance to those who want to buy instruments, to learn to use them and visit the numerous antique shops.

FESTIVAL INTERNAZIONALE DEL FOLKLORE E DELLE CULTURE MARINARE: In termoli, the event is organized by the folkloristic group “A Shcaffette” and the Municipality of Termoli, from July 24 to July 27, with the participation of teams from every corner of the world to propose a presentation that wants to be a taste of a culture of other lands.
July 24: The day is the ceremony of presentation of the groups participating in the International Folklore Festival in Termoli, and the city authorities and the population..
The opening of the event it shall be entrusted, on the evening of July 25, representing the region, the traditional group, ” U Passarielle” of Ferrazzano, while closing the event, as per tradition, we think the traditional group, organizer of the International Festival Folk, “A Shaffette” with new choreography and dance and music inspired by the seafaring tradition of Termoli. Overall, the Festival will perform more than 200 items from various parts of the world. Also detail the choreography and the costumes, especially the groups from the most remote corners of the world, with traditions and customs very different from our own.
The International Festival of Folklore and Culture of seafood, will be held in the beautiful scenery of the stairway of the Terzo Corso of Corso Vittorio Emanuele III, now called “staircase of folklore” in homage to this event.


Lazio  are appeals to such age-old festivals and rituals as the Saturnalia, celebrated by the Ancient Romans to honour Saturn. As we know, this festival was marked by slaves being allowed – temporarily – to contest their masters and reproach them for their faults and vices.

Rieti’s profound devotion to St. Anthony has been celebrated since 1232, with his canonization marked by a procession over flower-strewn streets.

These Infiorata festivals are characteristic of many towns in Lazio, such as Genzano, Genazzano, Gerano, Poggio Mirteto, and Bolsena. Above all, for the Feast of Corpus Domini, some streets in these towns are covered with floral compositions, upon which the processions pass. Worthy of note is the Festa dei Pugnaloni — the dagger festival – where large pictures are made with artistic floral designs.

Lazio’s most important and well-known event is the transport of the Macchina di Santa Rosa – a tower thirty metres in height weighing five tons, borne along a long, narrow path upon he shoulders of about one hundred strong “bearers.” The structure is ornately lit and followed by a majestic torchlight procession. The event’s central moment comes when the Macchina, after making five stops, has to complete a steep, approximately 300-metre climb, at a run, up to the Saint’s Sanctuary. Lazio’s festivals and fairs are usually accompanied by the typical dance called “saltarello,” ancient in origin (it was already popular among the Latins), performed to the accompaniment of percussion and string instruments. Although traditionally defined as a courtship dance, it may be performed in a group; the central couple need not be man/woman. It appears inevitable to conclude Lazio’s landscape with a mention of Rugantino, Rome’s traditional mask and the typical Roman character – a little blustery and courageous in his words, but fearful in his deeds. Rugantino – both a theatre mask and a full-fledged character in the Roman popular tradition – is present in almost all pictorial depictions of scenes of Roman life.


fol-42--foto1-77cause of its long isolation,


Campania region. Particularly renowned is the tammorriata that accompanies the religious rites, featuring the tamorra, a percussion instrument also called tammurro – a large drum of dried leather, held in one hand while the other strikescostume-campano the skins rhythmically.

Another form of traditional music and a major figure in Neapolitan folklore is the tarantella, surely derived from the taranta, popular; as we will see, in the Salento area. Although the tarantella uses a variety of instruments, the tambourine – an instrument essential to the dance – is most common. An important role in Neapolitan dance is also played by the “puti-pù” – an earthenware pot covered with a drum skin; a “scetavajasse” (a split reed that acts as a bow, and another as a sound box) passes up and down through a hole in the middle of the skin. The tarantella spread in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, above all in Naples, and became a tourist attraction for many foreigners making the Grand Tour. The dance and song then grew more genteel, thus losing any relationship with the taranta.Events prominently featuring the tarantella are held on the Sorrento peninsula, where major spectacles offer, in addition to Rossigni’s celebrated work arrangements of music by Listz, Chopin, and others. And particularly appreciated are the many religious rituals held during Holy Week, in an atmosphere of great mysticism.

Christmas festivities are celebrated in Vico Equense with an itinerant Nativity scene called Pacchinelle; more than 300 players in eighteenth-century costume pass through town, and children offer the coast’s products to the baby Jesus.

Piedigrotta was – and despite its transformation, still is – the festival of Naples, a hymn to life, processions, luminarie, fireworks, and above all music, some of which have come down to us and are known worldwide.

The other major Neapolitan event, the Festa di San Gennaro, is linked to the dissolving of St. Januarius’s blood, preserved in two phials. When shown to the public, the blood becomes liquid and is hailed by the large mass of the faithful. Although this “miracle” is a ritual more of faith than of folklore tradition, the note that characterizes its human side is the intensity with which the rite is followed, with invocations, applause, and even invective accompanying the event.

In the folklore landscape of


Puglia,  special mention should be made of the traditional celebration of the taranta, widespread throughout the Salento area and enjoying renewed interest in recent years. The taranta is a poisonous spider whose bite causes states of severe psychomotor agitation, followed by muscular rigidity and epileptic fits. In the current version, a woman under the taranta’s effect is not bitten by an animal but, in her obsessive dance to the rhythm of tambourines, symbolizes liberation from a state of psychic, social, and sexual frustration; this results in full-blown hysterics, during which anything – even public simulation of sexual intercourse – is allowed.

Also worthy of note are the Holy Week rites in Taranto, with the processions of the Addolorata and of the Mysteries.

Other famous celebrations include the Festival of San Nicola in Bari, (7-10 May), with processions to the sea, pageants, and torchlight parades to commemorate the enterprise of Bari’s sailors who, in 1087, spirited away the Saint’s bones to save them from being possessed by the Turks, and brought them to safety in Bari’s Basilica.

Also noteworthy is Brindisi’s Festa del cavallo parato; to commemorate San Teodoro, the bishop rides on horseback to the seashore, and blesses it amid luminarie and fireworks.

On Holy Thursday, Noicattaro (Bari) celebrates the Procession of the Penitents, in which a group of penitents bear a 60 kg cross as they run about 60 km barefoot.The


Basilicata  region’s special environmental and historical conditions, and its age-old geographic isolation, have fostered the conservation of traditions linked to important moments in everyday life, like marriage, fertility, and death, while ancient beliefs in witchcraft or the Evil Eye are still widespread. Among the main festivals are the   Procession of Avigliano: the “scarivascio” or “pizzicc’Antò” — a dance held on I3 June (St. Anthony of Padua) in Ferrandina and Melfi. Popular traditions in


Calabria,  as in other southern regions, are largely religious. A great many are dedicated to the Madonna, the Crucifix, and the Patron Saints. Of these, mention must be fol-38-foto1made of the Festival of San Biagio in Serra San Bruno, where a pre-nuptial right is celebrated, in which the fiancé offers a focaccia bread to his future spouse, who accepts it and divides it into two as a portent of happiness.

Then there are the Festival of San Rocco in Palmi and the Festival of the Image of the Madonna of Capocolonna, in Crotone, with a fish fair followed by a spectacular 12-kilometre procession of boats. But the specific nature of Calabrian folklore is provided by the presence on its territory (in the province of Cosenza) of “ethnic islands” that have survived historical events remote in time. Thus, Guardia Piemontese and Montalto have a community of Piedmontese Waldensians that fled here following the religious persecutions they suffered in the Middle Ages. The area of Castrovillari, Acquaformosa, San Basile, and Spezzano is home to a thriving Albanian community that has maintained the language, customs, and rituals of that land.


Sicilia The echoes of millennia of history naturally left their mark on Sicilian Folklore which in fact, in some of its typical aspects, has conserved an absolutely specific character.Sicily’s image is identified with the very instruments used for its folklore. One may think of the Ssicilia11icilian Cart, which reproduces events and popular figures in a festival of colours: the “ciaramiddaru” and their bagpipes; the “marranzano”; the mouth harp; and lastly the Sicilian Puppets with their tales of Paladins.

And then there are the stands: bancarelle du siminzaru (highly colourful, selling toasted almonds and peanuts) and bancarelle du mulune (watermelons) and prickly pears.

The Sicilian puppets, or pupi, require separate discussion. Initially rudimentary marionettes, they were later to become refined objects of craftsmanship, covered with finely-wrought and embossed carved metal, technically manoeuvrable with highly effective movements and effects. Created to represent the struggle between Knights and Moors, they ended up expressing the desire for justice among the popular classes, through recitations by “cantastorie” (who perform using recitation and mimicry) and “cuntastorie*’ (who perform using a special voice modulation technique). In the mid-nineteenth century, the pupi dedicated their repertoire to the tales of France’s Paladins, and in general to respect for chivalric codes and sense of honour. Recitation is often improvised, and the intense audience population is remarkable. Of course, many events, almost all religious in nature and honouring the cities’ Patron saints, are commonly held throughout the island.

In Palermo, during the month of July, grand celebrations are dedicated to the city’s Patron St. Rosalia, culminating in a solemn procession in which the Saint is transported on an enormous platform shaped like a ship.In Catania, St. Agatha is the object of great devotion: festivities go on for three days (3, 4, and 5 February), concluding with a procession that, according to some estimates, draws the world’s fourth-largest crowds, numbering 400,000 people.

The Saint’s relics, kept in a silver bust within the Vara – a small temple also made  of silver – along with the .Saint’s reliquary, an- transported by a group of citizens,  each dressed in a white frock called a saccu.

The procession is repeated in reduced form on 17 August, to commemorate the  return of the Saint’s body from Constantinople.The Vara and the Processione dei Giganti, Messina’s most important event in the month of August: two large statues of Giants — Mata and Grifone, the city’s legendary founders — open a procession of players on Sicilian carts, commemorating the legend recounting how the Saracen Grifone converted to Christianity out of his love for the noble Christian maiden Mata; the two settled on the site where Messina was to rise. On 15 August, the Assumption of the Virgin is celebrated with the Procession of the Vara — a pyramid-shaped construction 15 metres in height, among Europe’s oldest; without wheels, it is hoisted by hundreds of the barefoot faithful.Siracusa’s Patron Saint Lucia is commemorated on 13 December with a week of festivities culminating in a procession through the city lit by candlelight. The Saint is also quite well-known in Sweden, from which a young woman comes for the occasion. An event from recent tradition has become a great promotional success: the flowering almond-tree festival that, in the first two weeks of February, attracts international folklore groups to Agrigento, performing near the Temple of Concordia in the valley of the Temples.

Sardegna Sardinianian folklore has its own features, with its authentic nature enhanced by the forms of music and the special instruments used. Typical of these are fol-40--foto1-77launeddas, a kind of bagpipe without the bag, also used in sacred rituals. Also worthy of note are the round dance, and the special metrical forms used in the choruses that animate the frequent town festivals.

Sardinian narrative also includes typical content, peopled by such figures as cogas (witches), panas (ghosts), and janas (fates). The tales are still told by cantadores – extemporaneous poets with various degrees of education.

Lastly, mention should be made of the canto a tenores: one of the oldest musical events, in which four singers arranged in a circle (just as the nuraghi were built, which is why the song’s origin is thought to dale back to the Nuragic civilization) perform musical acrobatics with their voices alone.

The many religious celebrations include the Festival of Sant’Efisio (in Cagliari from 1 through 4 May), honouring the Saint’s “miraculous” intervention in ending the plague of 1652. The procession includes knights dressed in multicoloured costumes from all over the island, followed by traccas (carts drawn by festively adorned oxen) leading the Saint placed on a gilt chariot. Given its long route, number of participants, and picturesque costumes, Sagra di Sant’Efisio is considered one of the Mediterranean’s most important events.

On the second-to-last week of September, Ozieri (Sassari) places host to the Sagra del rimedio fair, rich with pageants in Sardinian costume and famed for its popular impromptu poetry competitions.

A large papier-mâché figure around which propitiatory ceremonies are celebrated marks the Carnival of Perfugas, sardegna11during which a traditional dish based on lava beans, cabbages, lard, sausages, and wine is served, during a parade of floats.

In May, three thousand people give life to Sassari’s Cavalcata sarda, the Sardinian Cavalcade which includes the running of the Palio.

And on 14 August, Sassari again celebrates its Processione dei candelieri   — the procession of candle-makers; nine large, colourful columns of wood symbolizing the Medieval guilds, are transported to the beat of a dance, commemorating a vow made by the population in 1652 to avoid a looming plague.

The Corsa dei Pescatori scalzi – the race of the barefoot fishermen: during the Middle Ages, the population of Cabras (Oristano), to escape from the Saracens, fled in a ten-kilometre run, bearing the statue of Christ to safety. To commemorate this event, on the first Sunday in September, 300 youths dressed in white run barefoot for six kilometres over an arduous route. The event has deeply religious meaning.

S’Ardia: a lightning-fast horse race in which Sedilo (Oristano) commemorates Constantine’s victory over Maxentius in 312 AD.

In concluding our mentions of Sardinia, we think it would be useful to recall that the environment offered by this inimitable region gives the events a colour and significance without compare, defying complete expression by words or writing alone.


Although limited, this quick and certainly incomplete review of Italian folk/ore offers us a picture in some ways surprising of our country’s cultural situation.

The cultural heritage that UNESCO defines as “intangible” not only claims a dignity of its own among the other artistic and historical traditions, but is also an indispensable factor of knowledge of our history, giving us a three-dimensional vision of life as it was lived in the past — not just a succession of wars and ambitions, but also of popular suffering and joy.

Beyond the history of a hundred cities, we can relive the realer and more richly detailed one of the two thousand villages that embody Italy; in our search to truly discover our country’s age-old story.

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