Italian traditions: The Pizzica and the Night of the Tarantula

Aug 19, 2018 535

The sultry heat, sand blowing in the morning air, and the parched land of Salento, a small subregion in Apulia. The women here, bent over to work in the fields, are marked by fatigue. A tarantula bites one of their ankles, so she runs to grab a tambourine and dance without inhibition, until all the poison finally exits her body. 

This turns out to be a real, live musical catharsis, and the origin of the tradition that the region of Apulia celebrates every summer: the pizzica tarantatapizzica-scherma and the most well-known, pizzica-pizzica.

Today an attraction of international renown, the pizzica as danced by Pugliese grandmothers was not merely a dance, but a type of therapy; like the dances of the bacchanals of Dionysus – the Greek god of wine and drunkenness – the dance was an act that unleashed a certain sense of oppression shared by these women. 

In summer the pizzica makes its way through the entire heel of the Italian boot: Calimera, Carpignano Salentino, Soleto, Sternatia and Zollino. Late into the night, a folk orchestra accompanies the Notte della Taranta (this year on Sunday, August 25).

The main event takes place in the town of Melpignano, which is normally home to just 1,000 people; however, numbers swell to an incredible 100,000 during the festival as people of all generations unite to enjoy the traditional music. Several other smaller events will also be taking place across Puglia, in towns and villages south of Lecce, in the lead up to the main night.

La Notte della Taranta translates to ‘Night of the Tarantula’, and is a tribute to the Pizzica. According to legend, the region’s field workers found that the only way to flush out the poisonous venom from a tarantula bite was to dance like your life depended on it, giving birth to the dance and the festival as a result.

People head to the festival not only from all over Puglia but also all over Italy, making this a musical event of national importance. Melpignano’s backstreets and alleyways crowd with stalls which overflow with foods, drinks and crafts, preparing the throngs of people for the entertainment that lies ahead.

Generations of family and friends unite before the performances begin on the stage at around 7pm. Singers and dancers continue to entertain as the crowd goes wild well into the night, with the headliners not making an appearance until the early hours of the morning.


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