Salento in Puglia is an area steeped in culture and ancient traditions. This is particularly evident at Easter, where many rituals and customs, their origins rooted deeply in the past, still take place in the villages, countryside and sunny beaches of this lovely land.
In this part of Italy, the local population takes Holy Week very seriously indeed. It is an intense time and widely participated in, the locals continuing a tradition of religion and pagan rituals that has been going on for centuries. Come over during this period and you’ll definitely have a very packed diary!
Everywhere in Salento, from the smallest seaside or country village to the largest Baroque city, joins in, organizing all manner of activities and traditional religious events. Tourists are transported back to a long-gone rural fisherman’s world. This is far from boring, in case you were thinking that. In fact, the fun-filled festive atmosphere makes even the most hardened observer cheer!
In Otranto, they prepare the piattu pe lu sibburcu. This involves germinating grain in a dark earthenware pot. This way, the plant takes on a yellow color and is then used to adorn the sepulchres.
The Ritual of the Sepulchres
This begins on Holy Thursday. Statues of the saints in city churches are respectfully covered then a tomb is set up, which is meant to represent Jesus’ tomb. It is adorned with flowers, garlands, scented candles and votive offerings, all symbols of The Last Supper. In Otranto, pilgrims go from church to church, paying homage to the tomb, ending up in the majestic Norman cathedral, the largest in Puglia.
In Lecce, the narrow streets of the old town are full of the faithful and curious who go about their business then quietly visit the churches, to say their prayers and to reflect on the tomb. It involves the whole community and always gives visitors goose bumps.
Good Friday to Easter Sunday
On Good Friday, every village holds a procession which wends its way through the ancient and narrow streets, accompanied by songs, music and wailing. It’s an unforgettable experience.
One of the most famous of these processions takes place in Gallipoli. The so-called “Processione dell’Urnia”, starts on Friday afternoon and finishes at 2 am in the morning! The barefoot, hooded participants suffer the pains experienced by Jesus, purifying themselves by beating themselves around the shoulders with flails.
In Galatina, the Good Friday procession is an exciting affair, brightened by traditional music and the different coloured robes worn by members of the local monastery.
On Saturday and Easter Sunday, bells ring, colorful fireworks explode along the shoreline and village roads are invaded by people running to Mass and swapping traditional Easter gifts: baskets filled with blessed eggs.
On Easter Monday, families and friends gather for a picnic in the country or to have fun at the beach and enjoy a beautiful spring day in great company. For example, in Porto Cesareo, Easter Monday is traditionally spent on the Isola di Coniglie (Isle of Rabbits), enjoying nature and surrounded by clear blue sea.
Salento’s Easter customs charm and conquer every visitor. As well as the pagan and Christian events there are also carnivals and gastronomic fairs galore, giving everyone the chance to try some delicious traditional dishes!
Stay tuned to find out more about all the exciting things going on in Salento this spring and summer. And remember – follow the Salento sun!