The ancient Carnival of Sciacca

An allegorical figure during the Carnival parade, Sciacca, Sicily. Copyright: feel / 123RF Stock Photo

An allegorical figure during the Carnival parade, Sciacca, Sicily. Copyright: feel / 123RF Stock Photo

Pulcinella was going to Biella, sitting on a carriage, and if the horse had been attached, then certainly by this time would have arrived. 
Pulcinella was going to Turin, sitting on a horse, and if the horse had not been made of wood, he would have gone to Turin and to Collegno as well.
Among the best known and most important writers of Italy was Gianni Rodari, a master of children's literature who in this rhyme from "The Travels of Pulcinella", the protagonist is Pulcinella, a carnival mask among the most famous and most poetic that Italy has ever celebrated, not only in the carnival parades of floats, but also in some theatrical literature.
It seems, however, that for the past several years, the stars of the floats are no longer masked as Pulcinella (Punch), Arlecchino (Harlequin), Colombina, Pantalone, Tartaglia, Scaramuccia (Scaramouche), Balanzone, Rugantino, Meo Patacca, etc... People tend to want to satirize more contemporary characters.
But in some towns, as in Sciacca, in the province of Agrigento, the tradition is still alive and not only does it continue to survive but it is the inevitable Carnival mask of Peppe Nappa. Also this year, which celebrates the 116th edition, it will be among the floats during the performance, "Here comes the party."  Groups of masked people and music will make up the choreography and the soundtrack of the most  transgressive festival of the year.
It is this long manifestation of joy in the city that boasts one of the most important spas of Sicily with a fleet of fishing boats which is the most conspicuous of the entire province of Agrigento.
It was Giuseppe Pitre', an ethnologist of great fame who first spoke of this bacchanal or drunken merrymaking in 1889 in his Library of Sicilian folk traditions. However, if there are no definite documents on the start of the ancient merrymaking celebrations regarding the Roman Saturnalia, 1616 is the more credible date when the viceroy Ossuna forced everyone to wear a mask on the last day of the celebrations.
The protagonists of the earliest events were the people who filled the streets disguising themselves in various ways, eating sausages, cannolis and drinking wine. In the years that followed, very  simply decorated carts began to parade through the streets and alleyways of the city, carrying masked people sitting on chairs.  Still later, in the 1920's, there were masked groups that recited in dialect as they were transported on a platform pulled by oxen or horses and accompanied by small improvised orchestras.
During the moments of encounter, masked people and other villagers could be seen gathered around the tasty meat stew, sausage and wine.  After the war years, began the period when Mardi Gras or Carnevale was entrusted with the task of celebrating "progress " as confetti and streamers were thrown from the floats as they paraded through the streets. In the following years, satire began to mock celebrities and even politicians.
The figures became bigger and bigger and also the topics were increasingly more challenging, as they still are today. The preparation of the parades is long and laborious for both the large allegorical floats as well as for the mini floats. Work usually begins several months before the day of the celebration and many of the local people are engaged in this undertaking.
The final stages of assembly take place on the Friday night before start of Mardi Gras and you always run the risk that problems might arise at the last minute, making the parade impossible to take place. Sometimes the carts undergo changes even during the parade itself.
In Sciacca, the floats follow two paths: the first one is on Saturday, the second is on the Sunday, the Monday and the Tuesday before the start of Lent. On Fat Thursday the keys of the town are symbolically handed over to Peppe Nappa which is the mask of the city and, on the following Tuesday, when the festivities end to give way to Ash Wednesday, the chariot of Peppe Nappa is burned in the square.
During the parade and for the entire period that leads up to the beginning of Lent, grilled sausages and wine are distributed from the floats, while in the streets and alleys there is a continuous parade of merry folk groups that provide singing and dancing.  This continues all the way up to their exhibition on a stage which is set up in a large square.
In recent years, the contribution of teachers and students from the Art Institute of Sciacca has made it possible for the Carnival of the city to compete with similar performances nationally and internationally with great success.
The festival has become so important that in 2010, surrounded by a garden terrace overlooking the sea, arose the Museum of Carnevale of Sciacca inside which some 100 miniature reproductions are on display as well as historical scale models of the floats in ceramic, hand made and painted by master potters of Sciacca.
Also on display are the costumes and their sketches, photographic panels and some parts of the most important floats.  Reproduced monuments of the historic center of Sciacca with its local products are also represented.
A section of the Museum hosts some of the fine local ceramics that were donated to the Museum and a new section has on display some elements of the most prestigious Italian Carnivals, from postcards to photographs and posters representing the Carnivals of Viareggio, Venice, Cento, Acireale and Misterbianco. 
As early as the first year of the inauguration of the museum, visitors were very numerous and consisted of both tourists as well as school children of various schools and grades.
We cannot overlook the gastronomical aspect of  Carnevale which, as with each party, is gratified with signature dishes for every occasion.
So here are the 'chiacchiere', Mardi Gras fritters with their pastry similar to that of the cannoli, sprinkled with powdered sugar;  'castagnole' and zeppole, deep-fried Carnival sweets, 'fritelle' (Venetian doughnuts) a sort of round ball filled with cream ; 'teste di truco' (Moor's heads) with raisins ; the 'pignoccata' (a Sicilian pastry) made ​​of flour , sugar, egg yolks and salt . But along with the desserts there are the first dishes of macaroni with meat sauce, with sausage or with pork rind; soup cooked with potatoes or the Shrove Tuesday minestrone soup made with lava beans, onion, parsley, lard, salt and pepper.

Receive More Stories Like This In Your Inbox



The waters of Rome, between history and magic

What would a trip to Rome be without a selfie in front of the Trevi Fountain and the traditional tossing of a coin in its light blue waters? Who hasn...

The death of Venice: la Serenissima sinks in neglect

There’s something heart-wrenching in witnessing art, architecture, beauty, being damaged and defiled. T here’s that dull ache at the pit of the...

Pasta Grannies: Italian nonne take YouTube by Storm

If you are familiar with all that’s trending on YouTube , then you may know The Pasta Grannies, a channel with more than 400.000 subscribers where...

Italians speak mythology

“Parla come mangi!” (speak as you eat!) is a common way to invite someone to speak in a simple manner and without using too many words. But do...

Caesar’s Salad, a gift from Baveno, Lake Maggiore

Before pasta, there was Lady Salad. Today we can taste all kinds of spectacular insalatone or large salads, yet the first to prepare raw leafy...

Weekly in Italian

Recent Issues