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The Carnevale di Putignano

ALL THINGS PUGLIAN

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From the sacred to the profane and back again, the Carnevale di Putignano is one of Puglia’s most important popular festivals. It is not only the longest Carnevale in the world, lasting for up to 2 months, but also, one of the oldest.

On 26th December 1394, the relics of Santo Stefano were transferred from Monopoli to Putignano for safe-keeping, out of reach of the Turks and other invaders who repeatedly attacked Puglia’s coastal towns.

On arrival at Putignano, the Saint’s relics were welcomed by the locals, who accompanied them to their final resting place in the Church of Santa Maria della Greca. This event, known as the Propaggini, signals the start of Putignano’s Carnival which, depending on when Easter falls, continues for up to two months, until Shrove Tuesday.

The Propaggini daringly combines the sacred and the profane: religious celebrations alternate with worldly satire as performers recite biting poems ridiculing public figures (politicians in particular), modern habits and even the Church.

The Carnival’s mascot, Farinella (named after a peasant dish of chickpea and barley flour), gets events underway and pops up throughout, urging the revellers on and carrying out practical jokes in his multi-coloured court jester-like costume.

...the Carnevale di Putignano is one of Puglia’s most important popular festivals. It is not only the longest Carnevale in the world, lasting for up to 2 months, but also, one of the oldest.

The Carnevale has a multitude of events, including four parades, three on the Sunday’s leading up to Lent and one on the night of Shrove Tuesday. Artisan-crafted papier-mâché allegorical floats, choreographed bands of masked merrymakers stream through the streets to the sound of live music and cheering crowds.

February 2nd, Candlemass, is dedicated to the Festa dell’Orso, whereby a bear (really someone in a bear costume!) is led through the streets on a leash. Like something akin to Groundhog Day, the bear sniffs the air, takes the temperature and looks at the skies. If the weather is good, the bear builds himself a straw den in which to take refuge against the bad weather to come. If the weather is bad, the forecast is rosy...

Each Thursday during the Carnival period is party day, each one dedicated to a different social class: Monsignors, Priests, Widowers, the Mad (unmarried youngsters), married women and married men (the last category referred to rather more cruelly as the Cuckolds!).

Almost every day has something going on, so packed is the calendar of events, but all good things must come to an end and Shrove Tuesday  signals the end of the fun and the beginning of Lent, a period of reflection and fasting. Typically, the profane has the last laugh as fake priests run through the town, dipping small brooms in a miniature toilet and 'blessing' passers-by with a splash or two. “The Carnival is dead”, they cry, as the bells of the church mournfully chime 365 farewells... Until next year, my friends, until next year!

PS. If you can't make it in January and February, Putignano hosts a mini summer Carnival at the beginning of July.

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