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Let’s talk about the Apulian traditions during the main celebrations of the year. Let’s begin from the tradition of Carnival. The most important in Apulia and in the world is that of Putignano. Putignano Carnival is one of the longest and most ancient ones in Europe.
Essential for the territorial economy and image of the town around the world. This is the feast of common people that sinks its roots in centuries of history, finding inspiration and reason for being in an irrepressible desire of freedom, as a reaction to the repressive control and power exerted by the Order of the Knights of Malta on this town during the Middle Age. Greece was the cradle of Carnival, when God Dionysus was celebrated, then God Bacchus celebrated by the Romans. Feasts made of excesses, drunkenness, declamation of satiric lines, in which social roles were turned upside down. Celebrations with the aim of relieving daily pains, breaking social bounds for a day. It was, and it is yet today, a kind of way out from frustrations, a moment during which with a mask people feel part of the community. The very long Carnival in Putignano is the expression of an active and creative community that made of its handicraft its distinctive mark, represented in the mask of Farinella, the symbol of Putignano: Farinella wears jester’s clothes, he is able to laugh about the world, sometimes he laughs in bitter way, but this is the sense of catharsis. Celebrations start on the 26th of December with the feast of “Propaggini” during which different dialectal poets recite satiric verses. From this day up a series of celebrations begins: the “Festa dell’orso” on February 3rd, or the suggestive celebration of the Carnival Extreme Unction, which takes place the day before Shrove Tuesday, with a parade of clericals ready to bless the dying around the town. The day of Shrove Tuesday is considered as the most important one for the celebrations with the masks and the traditional allegorical wagons parades that show the talent and the work of those people (experts and common people) who created during the whole year the giants made of paper. This day ends with celebrations rich in colors, sounds, masks and laughing people. When the celebration seems to be over, there is the Carnival funeral, where the funeral parade becomes the main character of the scene. Here the Carnival is represented by a pork, symbolizing the excess and the rebellion against the rules. The animal is then burned.

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Carnival in Putignano is not only folklore, it is a celebration going over generations and that strongly resist to the new rules of our society. Numerous events and cultural initiatives accompany the spectacular Carnival Dauno, or Manfredonia Carnival, with its masquerade groups and the festive allegorical wagons, it represents every year a strong call for thousands of visitors. The theme of the actuality and the political satire sees to challenge masks and allegorical wagons in a big contest: the result is, during last Sunday, a spectacular great parade along a run of two kilometers. As a corollary to this central event, there are numerous other initiatives, among which literary, photographic and painting competitions, parties in the plaza, folk shows (the burial of the puppet Ze’ Peppe, the symbol mask of the Carnival Dauno), dances in the streets, little shows in the “socies” (local houses) tastings of typical dishes, among which the “farrata”, a dessert made with wheat and ricotta. Don’t miss a great event inner side the Carnival of Manfredonia: the Wonders’ Parade, a cheerful parade with children coming from nursery and primary schools, where the little protagonists represent with their masks and customs the themes treated during the school year. Since 1998 this event has been supported by UNICEF.
The relationship between the people of Apulia and their faith is a very deep one, and involves this region giving it a special charm and an intimate atmosphere. The forms of devotion become very strong and suggestive during the Holy Week. In the days before Easter in every Apulian town, or little village or big cities, become a scenery for the acting of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Madonnas of Sorrows carried on the shoulders of the worshippers, reconstructions of Via Crucis, processions of penitents.
These are some of the signs of a very deep religiosity and participation. The origins of these sacred rites may be traced in the Spanish and Bourbon presence between 17th and 19th centuries,
above all in the creation of confraternities. From Gargano land up to Leuca’s Cape a continuous succession of processions, sounds, ways to express pain and stage popular religiousness.
Everything is used to represent scenes from the Last Dinner to the Cross Calvary, from the desperate search of Our Lady of Sorrows to the glory of Resurrection. As already said, every big town or little village in Apulia celebrate these rite in different way. We only describe here the most relevant celebrations during the Holy Week. In San Marco in Lamis people are used to light big candles called “fracchie”, or “fi accole” (in English torches) all along the ancient Via Sacra Longobardorum. These big heavy logs of wood (they reach a height of 5 or 6 meters) are lighted to accompany the statue of the Madonna of Sorrows procession. This statue represents the Holy Mother looking for her Son. The procession starts very early in the morning. Fire is the symbol of Easter representing at the same time warmth, light and purification.
In Bitonto or Triggiano, little towns in the province of Bari, they are used to light one by one with patience thousands small candles brightening the mourning statue of Our Lady of Sorrows.
By night these rites and processions become more suggestive, because night make the atmosphere even more solemn thanks to darkness and silence. Like in Ruvo, Molfetta, Taranto, Gallipoli, San Severo with their long processions and their lighted candles that barely light the alleys among the houses. In Noicattaro, on Maundy Thursday, the first cruciferous can come out. The big fire lighted in front of the Santa Maria Nova’s church will burn the whole night until the next day to warm the parvis up and enlighten the long night of the path of penitence. The cruciferous our barefoot, with a heavy cross on their shoulders, wearing a black overall, the girdle and the crown of thorns. Their faces are covered. They personally live Jesus’ martyr on his way to Golgotha. They walk through the streets of the town, barefoot, for the whole night, hitting themselves with chain. A silent army of 250 penitents. In some villages these processions are accompanied with the sound of “troccole”, little instruments handmade of wood and iron, producing a rattle, a sound that provokes painful emotions. In San Severo there is the impossible encounter between Mother and Son. The celebration is held on Good Friday night.
The statue of Our Lady of Sorrows is carried on shoulders by a group of men belonging to a confraternity, instead the statue of Christ is carried by men of another confraternity. The two groups start two different procession visiting churches in separate moments.
At 6 o’clock they fi nally meet in Piazza Castello, this will be their last embrace. Very suggestive and moving this embrace, or this last kiss, as it is represented in Bisceglie.
In Castellana Grotte the Passion and Resurrection of Christ is proposed on Saint Friday with a procession representing the Via Crucis. Very moving is the way the inhabitants of the town prepare the altars of the churches to remember the Deposition of Dead Christ. Less painful the initiative to celebrate Easter when visiting the Castellana Caves. Here nature, traditions and gastronomy are offered during the Hole Week-end. Sport animation, wine and food tastings, and a special night walk in the Caves, with expert tutors. During Christmas time Apulia seems to be transformed in a big crib. The tradition of the Christams Crib dates back to 1200 in Tuscania.
Then this tradition was adopted in Naples where it has become the best expression of the Christmas atmosphere. In Apulia too, this tradition is very old and deeply felt. Nowadays, between caves, olive mills, manor farms, trulli, rupestral churches and basilicas, every year during Christmas holidays this worshipping tribute to the Son is repeated. Here are some of the Apulian locations to visit during this period to admire ancient artistic cribs. In Alberobello and Bisceglie next the Caves of Santa Croce, there are living cribs. In Bari Carbonara a suggestive crib could be admired in the karstic caves. Living cribs also in Canosa, Sammichele di Bari, Trani. Very interesting is the living crib of Pezze di Greco (BR): here it deals with a course through connected caves in which scenes of rural life are represented. Among the Apulian carved cribs we mention that of Altamura, Andria, Bitetto, Canosa, Polignano a Mare (this is one of the most ancient made of polychrome stone dating back to 1503). But a lot of carved cribs we fi nd in the province of Lecce such as those of Cupertino, Galatina, Gallipoli, Lecce. It is not so notorious that the “father” of this tradition of living cribs was Saint Francis from Assisi. In 122, more precisely the night of December 24th, he came to Greccio, a little village near Rome, in order to ask Pope Honorius III the permit to represent the birth of Jesus. The local gentleman gave him some sheep, straws and a manger. All the population of the village was gathered in a cave by the sound of bells, they arrived on foot, riding horses or asses.
The Cardinal Ugolino celebrated the mass surrounded by animals and by the speechless people. That was the first crib of the history and therefore the first living crib. Especially in our region there are constantly representations, in a new modern key or respecting the old tradition, thanks to the passion of some people who organize a living crib by relatives and friends. If you find yourselves in one of the above mentioned towns, you will discover how each of them have the ability to create a unique atmosphere. The typical characters and the places are reconstructed according the local reality, so that Joseph, the Virgin Mary, the Child, Herod, the shepherds are se in disused caves, on little high-grounds, inside historical palaces, in the streets of the town, in hypogeum oil-mills and so on. It is also possible to discover the local tradition of the Christmas dishes, or to re-discover ancient jobs represented with old tools that are now disappearing: the man that creates baskets with the olive tops, the man that repairs vases, the joiner, the master blacksmith. The living cribs attract people from everywhere and represent a moment of aggregation, of religiosity but also a way to maintain memory of the past life, when the grandfathers and grandmothers lived in simple way and was happy of the “little” they possessed. From the sacred rites of Easter and Christmas let’s take a look to the “profane” feasts of summer life. During the summer Apulia is immersed in the sun and lives of the both hectic and relaxing beach life, but at night there is a new different world connected to amusement, music and dance. So beaches turn into real discos and the sky and the stars become the background of wonderful nights on the sand. The entertainment industry is trying to go back to the origins in Apulia, retrieving popular traditions connected with music and dance. This new phenomenon includes the promotion and use of old structures such as “masserie”, historical abodes, hypogeum oil-mill become perfect location for discos and dance clubs.
Popular music in Apulia not only is holding out but it is being appreciated more and more by the young generations, it is becoming the main character of the events moving the summer nights. In Alberobello the International Folkloristic Festival recalls artists from everywhere in the world: Indian, African, Balkan, Brazilian samba dancers, join together proposing convulsive new rhythms in a unique spectacle surrounded by the characteristic “trulli” scenery.
The region is also rediscovering an ancient local dance “la Pizzica” typical traditional music of the Salento area. It has become the favorite soundtrack of the Apulian nights.
Every year indeed the summer festival brings in Salento the best groups playing pizzica in order to celebrate the power of “ballo della Taranta”. La “Notte della Taranta” is an important very amusing event taking place in Melpignano, a magical night that brings thousands of people from all around the world to this Apulian little town every year. A distinctive trait of our region during summer festivals is the presence of the town band. Bands are the sign of a collective memory that regenerates through music. The party begins when the band starts to play. Especially when in Apulia the celebrations of the Patron Saint are going on. You might save money on fireworks or illuminations but you cannot give up on the band. The pieces of the band are easily recognized: Rossini, Verdi, Wagner. Apulia is indeed an important land both for “marching band” and for the “internal” ones.
Musicians go from square to square, from party to party in order to enliven their city’s ceremonies. Bands not only intrigue music lovers, but also musicologists, sociologists and anthropologists. The band of the town is an orchestra with no strings or violins: only wind instruments like brasses, wood wings and percussions.
Strings special effects is substituted by flugelhorns or clarinets or saxophones. Band’s music unifies the whole town and expresses a collective sacredness. Apulian bands are very old, and to be a band man means that you father or your grandfather was a band man. As a second job obviously. These “craftsmen” of music spread melodrama notes from opera houses and auditoriums brought through the streets of the towns, in betweens common people , opera music, the serious one that used to be reserved only to upper middle class people or to noble families. Thanks to bands, high class music started to be within everybody’s reach. The first Apulian band dates back to 1780 in Orsara di Puglia. There are too many bands in our region and it is impossible to mention them all here. From the small city bands to the ones of “parata”, to those appearing during civil and military ceremonies turning into real orchestra bands, band tradition is a cultural and popular heritage that needs to be saved and preserved. Bands and lights (“luminarie”) are a typical sign of Apulia. The tradition of lights reaches and amazes the whole world. It could be considered a real kind of “art”: the work of skilled artists and craftsmen who multiply, “fold”, arrange a hundred, thousands of lights, evocating lively scenes. In particular in Salento, this is an old tradition, one of the several ways to celebrate an event, by combining the deep religious sense of the local community with its intimate desire of extra-ordinary, exuberance, vitality, an explosive dance of lights and colors that from above and sides includes processions, statues of saints, stalls.
Lights are in this case real “sculptures”.
The province of Lecce could be considered the cradle of this ancient job, the vivid laboratory. The technology has evolved during the centuries: from the oil lamps, passing through the gas-fired lamps, then electric ones, this kind of art has developed thanks to the use of electric incandescent bulbs and today with the help of LED light. Technology changes, but the passion and joy of the lights installers hasn’t changed, cause they consider illumination not as a mere decoration, but rather as a real light show, combining now light works with music. Thus, the “cold” and artificial light bulbs warm up your heart, becoming a sign of celebration, rites, going along the streets to talk, see the procession, the fires. The traditional decorative elements of the sets (arabesque, gables, flowers, bows, sound boxes, backs and galleries) draw their inspiration from the same Baroque style that has made the town of Lecce so famous in the world.