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Puglia, Italy

The oldest carnival in Europe

Posted by Luci Ackers on Jan 05, 2016
Carnival in Europe
Carnival in Europe
  • Carnival in Europe
  • Image: Wikimedia Commons (


Puglia is the south-eastern region of Italy and is renowned for its festivals. One of its most famous annual celebrations is the Carnevale di Putignano.

The carnival is said to not only be the longest (sometimes running for up to two months) but also one of the oldest carnivals in Europe. Having originated in the year 1394, the tradition is said to have formed on the 26th December when holy relics of Santo Stefano, or St. Stephen, were transferred from their resting place in the Castle of Monopoli and moved inland to Putignano, a town over ten miles away.

The Knights of St. John made the decision to move the relics away from the coastline where it was feared they would be vulnerable in the event of a Saracen or Turkish attack. The story goes that the curious locals and peasants who welcomed the new arrivals were honoured to be receiving the precious relics and joined the procession to accompany them to their final resting place in the Church of Santa Maria La Greca. This event, now a tradition, is known as Propaggini and signals the start of the carnival. Shrove Tuesday marks the end of the carnival and, depending on when it falls, the celebrations last for roughly two months.

Over the centuries the carnival has adopted traditions and customs that include both pagan and religious elements. The Propaggini opens the festival and is a way for the religious celebrations to be combined with merry-making, lively revellers, profane performances and satire. Throughout the course of the carnival there are a number of events including four main parades: three on the Sundays leading up to Lent and one on Shrove Tuesday night. There are also floats with a variety of large papier-mâché figures, not to mention live music and masked performers.

Events are packed in to most days. Each Thursday during the celebration period is dedicated to a different social class such as Monsignors, priests, widowers, nuns, married women and married men. Then Shrove Tuesday signals the end of fun and the beginning of the time of reflection during Lent. The last minutes of the carnival are marked by the bell of Campana dei Maccheroni which tolls 365 times and the last dances and sharing of food and drink takes place before the end. If you are in the region at the time of the festival, it is certainly an event worth witnessing!

The area itself is steeped in history and culture. Many people use this celebratory period as a great excuse to explore local hotspots such as the UNESCO World Heritage Trulli of Alberobello, the Grotte di Castellana or the beautiful city of Ostuni.



For 2016 the key dates are the 24th - 30th January and the 7th - 9th February. Find out more about what will be going on during the Carnevale di Putignano on the website here.

Or find out how to stay in Alberobello for yourself by following the link below.

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Luci Ackers
Author: Luci Ackers

Luci loves getting out and about for a good cycle ride or easy-going walks in the countryside, and thoroughly enjoyed the time she previously spent working for the National Trust. Her love of writing started from a young age and on rainy days nothing beats curling up in a secret corner with a good book.

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