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  • Carnival of Putignano

    By Anthony Parente

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    Carnevale is a tradition celebrated throughout Italy and marks the beginning of the Lenten season, which is a period of 40 days before Easter. This period before Lent you will find many towns celebrating in their own unique way. In Oristano, Sardinia they host their annual Sartiglia. Canale d'Agordo in Veneto celebrates La Zinghenésta and everyone is familiar with Venice's famed Carnevale. One of the oldest and definitely the longest event in the world takes place in the ancient town of Putignano in the Puglia region of Italy.

    The origins date back to 1394. The town of Monopoli, which is located on the Adriatic coast of Puglia, was in constant danger of raids by the Saracens. The Knights of Malta who governed the area feared that the relics of St. Stephen were in danger and decided to move them further inland to protect them from looters. The Knights chose the town of Putignano, which is approximately 22 kms (13.67 miles) from Monopoli. On December 26th, 1394 the Knights arrived at Putignano accompanied by peasants who dropped what they were doing to join the sacred procession. The relics were transferred to the church of Santa Maria la Greca where they remain. After the religious ceremony the peasants celebrated the occasion with music, dancing and songs.

    Each year on St. Stephen's Day they have the Festa delle Propaggini to mark the start of the Carnevale season in Putignano. During the morning there is a religious ceremony paying homage to St. Stephan. People also bring candles to their local church asking in advance for forgiveness for any sins they may commit during the days of the festival. In the afternoon various groups will perform on stage to the delight of the crowd as well as the judges. Each group will have 20 minutes to put on a satirical play consisting of music, dancing, singing and good-natured satire all while dressed in peasant clothes. The groups will be judged, and prizes are awarded.

    The Festa delle Propaggini is the official start of the Carnevale, but the festivities do not fully get underway until January 17th with the feast of Sant'Antonio Abate and the blessing of the animals. It is also an opportunity for the town to celebrate the local products and pay homage to its territory and land. From this day on you will start to see the different masks of the carnival especially that of Farinella (see photo 1/3 on the right), which is the mascot of the Carnevale. Each Thursday during Carnevale there are themed satirical parties dedicated to a different social class: monsignors, priests, nuns, widows, lunatics, married women and horned men.

    No Carnevale is complete without a parade and Putignano not only has one parade they have four: three Sunday's before Ash Wednesday and of course the last one on Shrove Tuesday. The parades include singing, dancing and people dressed in costume, but the true highlight of the parade is the papier-mâché floats each with a theme usually around politics, culture or society. The floats include animation and are truly works of art. You can see from the video below just how intricate and beautifully decorated they can be. On the final day of carnevale one hour before midnight a huge papier-mâché bell will ring 365 times to mark the end of the festivities and the beginning of Lent.


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