Easter is a wonderful time to explore Italy. Perhaps the most important holiday of all, Easter (Pasqua) is celebrated for a full week, with rites starting on Palm Sunday and finishing on Easter Sunday, a period known as La Settimana Santa (Holy Week).
In the past, we’ve written about some of the destinations for those interested in experiencing Easter in Italy, from Sicily to Sardinia to Abruzzo. While the South of Italy is particularly well-known for its celebrations and traditional Easter sweets, Puglia often remains in the shadow of Naples and Sicily. But the region offers many opportunities for visitors to experience traditional Easter celebrations too.
The most famous rites take place in Taranto, starting on Palm Sunday when local fraternal orders bid in an auction for the honour of carrying the statues of Christ in the Holy Friday procession. Beginning at midnight on the Holy Friday, members of the fraternities dress in white robes, covering their faces with hoods with only two slits for their eyes, which render them unrecognizable. Following an ancient route through the town, the fraternities walk barefoot, carrying the heavy statues representing the Stations of the Cross until dawn.
Friday is also the day to visit San Marco in Lamis (province of Foggia) to see “le fracchie”, the massive wooden torches created by splitting a cone-shaped tree trunk in two and filling it with sticks, which light the way for the procession of the Madonna Addolorata.
The seaside city of Molfetta also offers numerous ceremonies for visitors to experience. On Tuesday, a theatrical re-enactment of the Passion of Christ takes place throughout the city, with roots reaching back to over 1,000 years. Each scene is performed in a different area of the historical centre and the audience is accompanied from scene to scene by a live band. Two days later, the town congregates to visit the “sepolcri” (The Sepulchres), temporary structures set up around one of the altars in the church to simulate the place of Christ’s burial and decorated with artistic offerings of bread, wheat, eggs, flowers, candles and lights.
Another interesting tradition can be found in Salento, called “la Quaremma”, meaning Lent. At the end of Carnival, in order to mark the beginning of Lent, a puppet is hung from the town’s balconies and terraces, depicting an old, ugly woman resembling a witch, dressed in black. She holds a distaff and spindle for spinning wool in her right hand and an orange in her left hand, or sometimes at her feet, to symbolize frugality during this period. Seven feathers are stuck into the orange to represent the seven-week period of Lent. Each week one feather is removed until Easter Sunday, when the puppets are hung on a pole and burnt as a symbol of the Resurrection.
In addition to the Easter rites performed throughout the region, numerous typical foods can be found during this time of the year. In the past, we’ve highlighted traditional Easter sweets found in other regions such as the Pastiera napoletana, Cassata siciliana, and Pardula sarda.
The most typical Easter sweet in Puglia is “scarcella”, made of flour, eggs and sugar and shaped into typical forms such as eggs or doves, or simple doughnuts, then topped with colourful sprinkles.
Other traditional pastries include “pastatelle”, made with local oil and homemade jam, and “mostaccioli”, typical biscuits from Taranto made of almonds and topped with chocolate icing.
Puglia, an important producer of durum wheat semolina, also offers many traditional types of bread during this period, all of which are decorated with eggs, including a stuffed focaccia woven into a garland. Another traditional Easter food is “panzerotti”, a sort of calzone stuffed with ricotta and fried.
If you’re looking to try something more unusual, check out the chocolate Easter eggs in the Pasticceria Schiraldi in Minervo (Bari). At the request of a British customer, the pastry shop once prepared a dark-chocolate egg stuffed with diamonds as a surprise for his girlfriend, costing a total of €30,000.