As with all other areas of Italy, Puglia enjoys a number of festivals each year. It’s well worth trying to time your visit to coincide with one of the events – they offer a unique insight into the Italian culture and are great fun.
The first of these in the year is the Carnival in Putignano. This is actually one of the oldest carnivals in Europe, and is believed to have been running since 1394 however it only came to resemble the modern event it is today during the Fascist era when the street parade came into fashion. Nowadays floats are themed, usually relating to current affairs or political satire and feature giant caricatures of politicians and TV personalities, accompanied by a plenty of dancers and loud music. The carnival’s main character is a jester namesd Farinella, whose name comes from a typical local fish made with barley and garbanzo beans. The event doesn’t take place on just one day though. Far from it! It runs over a series of weeks, starting on 26 December when the people of Pitgnano attend church to ask for forgiveness in advance for the sins they will commit during the carnival period. Every Thursday costumed balls and parties are held for the adults. These count down the passage towards Lent. The last three Sundays of the event are when the famous processions take place. On these days, children then run through the streets dressed in their favourite costume, whilst lavishly decorated floats up to 50 feet high form a long procession through the town. There are prizes and awards for the best entries. No celebration in Italy would be complete without food and, as you would expect, the pavements are filled with stallholders selling street food. The celebrations finally draw to a close on Shrove Tuesday with Martedi Grasso (the Mardi Gras) when there is a funeral procession with masked ‘priests’ lead a papier mache sacrificial pig to Putignano’s main piazza where it is burned. The last minutes of the carnival are then marked with the bell of Campana dei Maccheroni tolling 365 times to mark the days of the year.
It’s not long to wait until the next celebrations in Italy. Father’s Day in Italy is celebrated on 19 March. This is to coincide with the Festa di San Giuseppe, marked throughout the region by the lighting of bonfires.
The festival season then steps up a gear towards the end of April, kicked off by Non solo Fiera in Martina Franca in the last week of April. It’s very much a celebration of local food and wine.
At the beginning of May in Bari, there is La Festa di San Nicola. This event attracts thousands of pilgrims from all over the world. A large statue of Saint Nicholas is carried by sea along the coast and back by a colourful flotilla and the event is topped off with an impressive fireworks display.
At the same time in Taranto, there is the Festa di San Cataldo which takes place on the canal in the centre of the town. Celebrations include a rowing competition, procession and fireworks display.
As we move through in June, the focus turns much more to music. Throughout the month, Bari hosts a variety of jazz concerts. However, these aren’t confined to Bari alone but instead take place in many other towns and cities throughout the Puglian region. There are other Puglian jazz festivals later in the year including the Locomotive Jazz Festival at the end of July and the Otranto Jazz Festival also held in the Summer months. And in Locorotondo across July and August, there is the Locus Music Festival, a lively calendar of jazz concerts and events featuring world-renowned jazz musicians and singers. More details of all events can be found on their websites and facebook pages.
Other types of music features prominently in other festivals during the year. The Festival della Valle d’Itria is an extremely popular classical music festival. The programme of events is always prestigious and, without fail, includes a number of high profile artists. As a result, tickets get snapped up so if you are interested in going, do head to the website as early as possible to book your seats! The event normally runs across July and the beginning of August in Martina Franca. For classical music lovers, it’s worth heading to Cisternino across the Summer months. In July and August, the town has the Aperitivo Classico every Sunday at noon in the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele where live classical music is performed to accompany that most classic of Italian traditions – the aperitivo.
The Sagra di Ferragosto on 15 August each year in San Vito dei Normanni is another lovely music festival featuring pizzica dancers and musicians. The pizzica tarantata is a dance that marks the ancient healing ritual to fight the deadly bite of the dangerous tarantula spider. Tambourines are beaten constantly and set in time to a rather frenzied, hynotic dance. It’s a fantastic spectacle and a dance like no other so worth seeing.
This is followed later in August by La Notte della Taranta, a tribute to Salento’s tarantella dance, the Pizzica Pizzica. Lasting over 2 weeks there are loads of opportunities during the event to enjoy the music, get dancing and soak up the atmosphere. It is a lovely event to round off the month as it successfully combines several music traditions including rock, jazz and classical.
And then for reggae lovers, there is the Gusto Dopo Al Sole festival which usually takes place in August.
But back to June, there is plenty more on offer if you’re not a jazz lover. Right at the start of the month of June is Buongiorno Ceramica! This is a nationwide 3 day event celebrating Italy’s ceramic tradition. In Puglia, the most notable celebrations are in Laterza and Grottaglie. And for food lovers, there are plenty of festivals that will interest you. There is the Truffle Food Festival in Corigliano d’Otranto where food stands fill the central streets of Otranto. The city is also host to San Pietro e Paolo later in the month when visitors to the city will enjoy the opportunity to sample numerous local delicacies as well as enjoy the colourful Salento folklore. But let’s not forget the other event that takes place in June – the Negroamaro Wine Festival in Brindisi – where the Puglian Negroamaro wine will be tasted and enjoyed against the stunning backdrop of the city.
One of the prettiest festivals in the region has to be the Alberobello Light Festival. This takes place acrooss July and August and is when Alberobello’s historic old centre is illuminated. In 2016, to make the 25th anniversary of Van Gogh’s death, Alberobello’s trulli were illuminated with hundreds of star images to remember one of Van Gogh’s most well known works ‘Starry Night’.
Lights then feature again in La Festa di Santa Domenica. In July, the little town of Scorrano near Otranto literally lights up in celebration of their patron saint, Santa Domenica. Local craftsmen create fantastic structures festooned with colourful lights and, again, the event culminates in an impressive firework display lighting up the night sky yet further.
Other events in July include La Festa di Santa Cristina each July in Gallipoli when there is a rowing regatta and other events to celebrate the town’s patron saint.
Moving on to August, the festival calendar remains just as action packed.
In Maglie, there is a wonderful food market (Mercatino del Gusto). Local food and wine producers flock to the town and set up stalls selling their wares. It’s a great chance to enjoy, test and purchase the delicious local produce that this region is known for. It’s also a brilliant event for families and the children can even enjoy the chance to participate in a pasta making lesson.
And in Polignano a Mare there is Mareviglioso, a festival of fish and seafood which as well as celebrating the wonderful produce from the seas off Puglia, also features several rowing regattas.
To participate in a truly historic festival, head to Oria to watch the Corteo Storico di Federico II and Torneo dei Rioni. Seated tickets can be purchased for just a few euros or you can choose to stand and watch the spectacle for free. Over 800 costumed participants including soldiers, flag bearers, jesters, noblemen and ladies, parade through the historic centre of the town and the festival culminates with the palio where the four districts of Oria compete in Medieval tests to be crowned the ultimate victors. Tickets to the latter are a bit more expensive and must be purchased in advance from the ticket offices in the town.
La Festa dei Martiri Idruntini is another historic, but rather more sombre festival in Otranto in mid August which commemorates the 800 martyrs who died at the hands of the invading Turks in 1480 for refusing to convert to Islam. The festival features 2 days of rather solemn processions but on the final day the mood changes and is marked more by parties and fireworks.
And in Santa Maria di Leuca, there is La Festa della Madonna di Leuca. Each year on 15 August, the Madonna of Leuca is carried through the streets of the town in a great evening procession. The parade is followed by a spectacular fireworks display at midnight.
More fireworks follow as part of the separate festival – Sagra Pirotecnica della Valle d’Itria – in Locorotondo. It’s a hugely popular event with tens of thousands of spectators (both Italians and tourists) coming to watch the display. It doesn’t start until midnight but it’s definitely worth staying up for!
Other festivals running in August include Fiera di Sant’ Oronzo in Lecce, a lively event with music, food stalls and fireworks and La Cvalcata di Sant ‘ Oronzo in Ostuni, a celebration of the town’s patron saint when the saint’s statue is paraded around the the town with an escort of knights on horseback.
Finally in August is La Ghironda, 3 weeks of music and culture from all over the world that takes place in the various towns within the Valle d’Itria including Martina France, Ceglie Messapica and Locorotondo.
The festival season comes to a close in September with the Festa te lu Mieru in Carpignano Salentino, described on the organisers site as ‘The Mother of all Festivals’! It’s an extremely popular wine festival packed with opportunities to try the wine and food delicacies on offer. There is also plenty of other events to keep the younger family members entertained including shows, live music and folk dance.