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Carnevale di Putignano
Photo: www.carnevalediputignano.it

Carnevale di Putignano

Carnevale di Putignano (Carnival of Putignano) is an annual festival taking place in the hilly town of Putignano, Bari, Puglia. It is the oldest carnival celebration in Europe, celebrating its 629th year in 2023.

The carnival is particularly notable for its duration. The celebrations begin on 26th December and can sometimes ends four months later, on Shrove Tuesday. The enduring images of the carnival are always the magnificent, lifelike paper-mâché figures riding on floats throughout the streets.

The carnival’s parades are always opened by the traditional Putignano clown figure, Farinella. Farinella’s appearance has changed since the carnival’s origins. No longer being represented in the typical Putigrano red and blue, Farinella now, in fact, resembles a court jester. Participants light a candle during a poetry reading and pray for atonement for the sins they will surely commit during the festivities.

The festival begins on St. Stephen’s Day (26th December) to mark the removal of St. Stephen’s relics from Monopoli to the town in 1394 in order to protect them from Arab enemies. Legend has it the relics were welcomed to Santa Maria la Greca Church by smearing their faces with farinella (a mixture of ground chickpeas and barley). The farinella tradition has been remembered to this day, also lending its name to the clown figure who opens the ceremony.

During the first ever procession, it is said the villagers in the surrounding fields stopped working and joined in the procession of singing and dancing. The carnival was similarly spontaneous until the 1900s, when they formalised the carnival and started to plan the days in advance. In the 1950s, the carnival floats started to be built as paper-mâché masterpieces. Since 2013, the carnival has imposed an annual theme upon the artists. Past themes include the films of Federico Fellini, Diversity and Satire and Freedom.

In the days following the opening ceremony many traditions, workshops, poetry readings, shows and animations are carried out. 17th January marks the beginning of a satirical performance every Thursday. The Festa dell’Orso on 2nd February features fifty performers interacting with two paper-mâché bears on the ‘Feast of the Bear’.

The closing stages of the celebrations ensure the carnival goes out in style. The final day, known as the Martedi Grasso (Mardi Gras), sees revellers follow a funeral procession through the streets led by a paper-mâché pig. Once over, the pig is burned to ash to symbolise the end of excess and the dawn of a new austerity period.

The Campana dei maccheroni on Fat Tuesday brings the carnival to a halt. A giant pot of macaroni with meat sauce is cooked and provides food for people all day long. The dying minutes of the carnival then are taken up by the legendary ritual of 365 chimes of the paper-mâché ‘Bell of Maccheroni’. People enjoy their macaroni with a glass of wine and commemorate the joyous ending of another carnival.