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To the naked eye, the Festa dei Candelieri is just strong men dressed in medieval tunics and leggings prancing through the streets with lavishly embellished 15 foot tall candlesticks on their shoulders. In actuality, these men are embodying the spirit and traditions of Sassari, Sardinia.
Every 14th of August, the gorgeous island of Sardinia hosts the Festa dei Candalieri, also called the Faradda di li Candareri (the descent of the Candleholders in sassarese). This festival occurs in Sassari, Sardinia’s second largest city that overlooks the Sardinian coast.
The lead actors of the Faradda are the gremi (medieval guilds). They dress in traditional Sardinian attire and dance through the Sassarian streets holding gigantic decorative candlesticks. They are accompanied by a steady drumbeat and mystic fife music while numerous spectators chant and clap enthusiastically.
Each Candelieri or “candle holder” represents an ancient profession: shoemaker, blacksmith, farmer, tailor, and many others. The candlesticks are adorned with colorful silk ribbons, flowers, and veils.
The Farrada has been a tradition in Sardinia for over 700 years. While its origins are widely disputed, many believe that this ritual originated in the Middle Ages when settlers from Pisa arrived on the island with their candle-making heritage. Similar candle-centric celebrations occur throughout Tuscany, especially in Pisa, around the 15th of August.
During the late sixteenth century, candlesticks in Sardinia became symbols of devotion and gratitude to the Virgin Mary for her intercession in helping the island survive the Plague, which claimed the majority of their population.
Ten candlesticks with eight men per candle parade along the Corso Vittorio Emanuele, passing historic sites along the way. Each Candeliere receives a midnight blessing from the Church of St. Mary of Bethlehem, the last stop.
Many restaurants offer typical Sardinian dishes, usually grilled meat and fish, for the famished spectators and participants.
In addition to the Sassari celebration, the Candelieri appear in the communes of Ploaghe and Iglesias. The candles shed light on the rich history and traditions of Sardinia while entertaining thousands of foreign and Italian visitors.