Gaetano Salvo, who helps out with Blog from Italy, drew my attention to a particular festival that takes place annually in June in the town of Nola (click to see where Nola is), down near Naples in southern Italy.
You can see some pictures here, here and here.This festival sounds spectacular and if you look at the number of people present in the pictures on the Nola Festival site you will see just how popular this event is, even though it is not all that well known outside of Italy, although similar celebrations have been set up in the US by ex-Nola immigrants.
The highlight of the festival is the carrying of the eight ‘Gigli’, intricately decorated twenty five metre high wooden obelisks in the form of lilies, around the centre of Nola throughout the day of the festival. Each of these obelisks is carried by a team of 120 men who slowly march around the town in rhythm to the music provided by a special band. In addition to the Gigli, there is also a boat which is transported around the town. This boat explains, in part, the origins of the event, in that the craft represents the boat used by a certain St Paolino to return to the town after having freed all of its male population.
It Started with the Hun
As the story goes, the men of Nola were captured by the Hun, enslaved, and taken off to North Africa. St Paolino, who was of French origin, managed to save the town’s children during the Hun invasion. However, when St Paolino returned to the town with the children, he was approached by a mother whose child had been captured. St Paolino negotiated with the Hun for the release of the child, but freedom was only granted after St Paolino offered himself in exchange for the child. After some years, and after becoming the personal slave of the leader of the Hun, and after having used his apparent gift to predict the future to save the Hun from impending disaster, St Paolino was liberated. However, St Paolino only agreed to his being freed on the condition that the men of Nola also be liberated. The Hun leader accepted this and St Paolino sailed back to Nola. As you might imagine, the people of Nola were rather happy. When they came to greet St Paolino’s ship upon its return, they were all carrying Lilies, hence the name of this festival or feast. And this is how the festival started – it was held to remember St Paolino’s good deeds.
The town of Nola has kept up this tradition to the present day, and the festival has continued to grow. Now, on the day of the festival there are also lots of supporting events and traditional music is played. Mix all this in with the beauty and atmosphere of an unspoilt Italian town and you have an electrifying mix which is well worth checking out.
An Appointment for late June
If you happen to be on holiday in the Naples area in late June and would like to get a feel for the ‘real’ Italy, then this is an event that is not to be missed. It would be a good idea to get there early though, because there will be a huge number of people. And those of you who like taking photographs are bound to find some interesting subjects for your lenses.
There is also the possibility for business to get involved and the festival would be an ideal occasion for some subtle brand-building down in the south of Italy. Today I spoke to one Angelo Amato de Serpis, the president of the Cultural Tourist Association in the area, about this and he told be that anyone interested in sponsoring this event should contact the Ente Festa Gigli section of Nola town council. English is spoken too, should this information be of any assistance.
If you would like to know a little more, then here are a few links for you to have a look at:
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Information about the festival – Official Nola Festival site – In English and Italian
Contact Information – Angelo Amato de Serpis, President of the Cultural Tourist Association Meridies – cell phone: 335 633 79 63 (I don’t know if he speaks English, but it is possible)
International Calls: 39 338 847 31 93 – Information about Nola and the Gigli Festival Fax: 39 081 823 65 09 – Information about Nola and the Gigli Festival
Nola Council – Festival Organisation – in Italian
Giglio Feasts – US site – In English
Born to Giglio – Article from Voices – Journal of New York Folklore about the origins of a parallel festival in the United States – In English
Even if you do not manage to get to the festival, Nola is still worth visiting, as it looks as though it is quite beautiful. Although I have never been, I am, after having written about the place, very interested to see what it is like. But that is Italy for you: fascinating, fabulous and endless. You could spend a lifetime here simply exploring all that Italy has to offer.
If you do go to Nola, let me know how you get on.