The Carnival of Putignano is one of the oldest in Europe having been celebrated annually since the year 1394, and, commencing from 26th December until its end on Shrove Tuesday it is certainly the longest.
Its origin dates to when the Knights of St John took the decision to transfer the relics of St Stephen inland to Putignano from the repository in the Castle of Monopoli , where it was feared they would be vulnerable in case of a Saracen attack.
The troop of Knights guarding the wagon that bore the sacred load, soon attracted a following of curious peasants, who – learning of its purpose and overjoyed with the honour awarded to their town, abandoned their field work and trailed the procession on its journey.
On its arrival at Putignano the pilgrim crowd dusted their faces with flour to exhibit purity then attended a Mass… and, a Carnival was born.
The flour used by the peasants of the age was Farinella, a mixture of ground chickpeas and barley, and this is the name given to the spirit of the Carnival who can be seen masked and wearing a green and white suit with bells and a three cornered hat as he flits through the events that mark the celebrations.
On the 26th December the inauguration starts with poetry reading in the local dialect echoing the prayers offered at the original Thanksgiving Mass from so long ago, with a tradition of lighting a candle, as an atonement in advance for the sins they fear they will surely commit throughout the happy days of the Festival to come.
Concerts and masked dances every Thursday count down the passage towards Lent, with “Giovedi die Pazzi” (Thursday of the Mad), “Giovedi dei Cornuti” (Thursday of the Cuckold) and then the Festival of the Bear on February 2nd is attributed with telling the coming Springs weather.
The last three Sundays of the Carnival are the days of the famous processions.
Each Sunday huge, intricate, lavishly decorated and lovingly painted floats with some towering up to 50 ft high are brought from storage and formed into a procession that parades through the town. Competitions are held each year with awards and prizes for the best entries .
Thousands of man hours are devoting to the creation of these wonders, which nowadays have less of a religious significance but are more satirical in nature, frequently marking current events or mocking famous people and political figures.
Threading through the thronged streets, shadowed by these moving colourful giants, the verges are full of kiosks and stalls selling trinkets and food such as Porchetta carved from whole roast pigs.
Music and celebrations, street entertainers and revelers, musicians and mime artists mix with parades of children dressed as different countries of the world…. it is easy to get caught up in the day and lose track of time in the kaleidoscope of colour and noise that marks the Parade’s passage.
Finally on Shrove Tuesday the final ceremony brings the Carnival to a close with Martedi Grasso (The Mardi Gras) This, the years biggest and best Parade draws to an end with a “funeral” procession where masked “priests” lead a paper-màche sacrificial pig to Putignano’s main Piazza where it is ritually burned.
The last minutes of the Carnival are ticked off with the bell of Campana dei Maccheroni tolling 365 times to mark the days of the year.
With an economical low season break at one of our Villas, and cheap winter fares from budget airlines – what better way is there to uplift your spirits in a dark January/February period while absorbing some of the colour, tradition and warmth of sunny Puglia.