The Carnival of Putignano in the province of Bari is fast approaching its 625th edition and they are proud to claim that theirs is one of the oldest and certainly the longest in Italy, if not the world. Experts have pinpointed the date of the first carnival to the 26 December 1394 and, while it finishes as many others do on 'martedì grasso', the celebrations start on this same day with the tradition of 'Propaggine'.
Carnival of Putignano
View of old Putignano
The protagonist of the carnival is 'Farinella' who first appeared on the scene in his current form in only 1953. He wears a green and white suit with a three pointed hat and the obligatory mask, along with bells on the end of his shoes. The colors represent those of the town and refer to a cat and a dog at peace, for at least one part of the year.
'Farinella' actually is an ancient type of food. A flour made from toasted barley and chick peas which became the base for a tasty sauce of freshly picked figs, and the typical meal for those working in the fields. Do try the recipe for the carnival biscuits of Putignano. Also look out for the 'Sagra del fungo di Bosco di Putignano' usually on the 3rd weekend of October. The event also includes processions and music.
More about the Carnival of Putignano by Dan Hostetler:
One of the oldest Carnivale celebrations in the world (claim the city fathers), having initiated in the year 1394. There's a fabulous parade of floats in what is also considered to be one of the longest of carnivals. According to a secular tradition, the Feast begins on December 26th, with the propagini, (a celebration for a good crop) and closes on Shrove (Fat) Tuesday with a whimsical funeral parade. The opening date commemorates the date of the transfer of the relics of Saint Stephen to the monastery of Putignano. Dominico d'Alemagna ordered the transfer in 1349, in order to protect the relics from the raids of the Turks. The two months of festivities terminate on the evening of the last day of Carnival season, with the spectacular parade of allegorical floats amidst the singing of folk-songs. This long celebration has absorbed two holidays which used to be very important in their own right and are still observed in a diminished state: the Festa di Sant'Orso on February 2nd (which used to feature a live, dancing bear which was recently substituted with a dancing man in a bear costume) and the Campana dei maccheroni on Fat Tuesday (during which the monastery brothers cooks up a giant pot of macaroni with meat sauce and serve it up free to any hungry mouth all day long. This signals the beginning of the Quaresima). Putignano is becoming well-known for its manufacture of papier-mâché, which is used in the construction of the floats for the parade.
Visit old Putignano
The rest of the year Putignano is worth a stop just to see the fascinating old town hidden, almost forgotten, behind the typically modern box buildings which now dominate the view from the countryside below. Enter the 'centro storico' from the huge empty and modern square along Corso Umberto where it intersects with Via Roma.
In contrast, the medieval structure of the historical center is narrow and twisty, full of typically Mediterranean 'vicoli' and 'corti' dotted with wells, balconies and huge solid doors. Look out for Palazzo del Bali' (seat of the Cavalieri di Malta) and the long road dissecting the zone (la Chiancata) linking the old medieval gates of Porta Barsento and Porta Grande.
Putignano is, however, just 40km south east of Bari and is well positioned for an itinerary taking in the Murgia hills arriving at the cute seaside resorts of Polignano al Mare and Monopoli. On the way take in Gravina di Puglia, Altamura, Santeramo in Colle, Gioia del Colle, Noci, Castellana Grotte and Conversano.Before you leave Putignano, however, do visit the Grotta del Trullo, the first grotto open for tourists in the region (since 1935).