It is not just in Venice that locals dress up this time of year. Carnival in Abruzzo is celebrated with parades, colourful floats and traditional costumes. For many centuries, the town of Castiglione Messer Marino in the Chieti province has been keeping the custom of the “Maschera castiglionese” alive. It is a performance that takes place along the streets of this small town.
Men dressed up as Pulcinella Abruzzese (i Pulgenèlle, in local dialect) announce the start of the “Maschera” marching around the town, singing and playing traditional instruments. Locals treat the procession participants and spectators to wine, panini sandwiches, biscuits as they walk around the town.
The most striking feature of the Pulcinella Abruzzese is the elaborate high headgear decorated with bright colourful pompoms and ribbons. It symbolises the connection between earth and heaven, religious power and ward off evil. Pulcinella Abruzzese costume has other symbolic accessories: a magic wand that brings natural order and makes whatever it touches burst in flowers, the boots (a symbol of power as peasants could barely afford even simple shoes), bells to keep evil spirits at bay and symbolise fertility. Anthropologists say that the character of Pulcinella goes many centuries back and had always represented the deceased ancestors.
In the old days, Carnival in Abruzzo meant the awakening after the cold rigid winter and, according to popular believes, the dead ancestors and underground spirits were the guardians of the land’s fertility who helped seeds’ germination.
Although there are some similarities with the Neapolitan commedia dell’arte character Pulcinella, the Abruzzese one is connected to the archaic Carnival figures typical for the Central Apennines and has more ancient origins and symbolism.
Recently, the town of Castiglione Messer Marino has asked UNESCO to recognise the Pulcinella Abruzzese as an intangible cultural heritage.
In the video below you can see a procession of Pulcinelle Abruzzese. Turn the sound up to listen to the beautiful bells attached to the costumes.