Through the Mazzaroni Kaleidoscope – Schiavi d’Abruzzo’s Carnival Traditions

Carnival in Italy has many interpretations across the regions, the most famous on the tourist map is Venice, full of elaborate masks, opulent costumes, and events, but head down to Schiavi d’Abruzzo and you catch a playful community celebration of Spring and the giddy unfurling of nature.  Schiavi d’Abruzzo’s carnival fosters a strong sense of belonging among residents, who cheerfully embrace their rural and agrarian roots and the cycle of the seasons.

Hats of Cultural Identity

The Mazzaroni ( L’Mazzaroun) are those who don the distinctive headdress known as the Cimiero (C’mir), a dazzling display of various shapes adorned with coloured paper flowers and ribbons, also known as zagarelle.  The allure of the Cimiero, with the kaleidoscope of colours and intricate designs, creates a visual symphony that captivates both young and old, locals and visitors alike. The zagarelle flutter in the wind as they are wrapped around trees and building, casting a spell of joy and merriment throughout the streets. Each headdress tells a personal unique story of the creativity and individuality of each of the wearers.  What better way to see out winter than design a headress that splashes colour to you each night as you embellish it.

Schiavi d'Abruzzo (Ch) Mazzaroni carnival
The Pulcinella

Central to this lively spectacle is Pulcinella.  This iconic figure of the Schiavi carnival leads the procession with charisma and flair and reveals the region’s ties to Naples and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies where the character was created in the 17th century. He carries a mace, a mazza, a symbol that transcends mere ornamentation and embodies the divine, fertility and the future flourishing crops in the fields.

Bumping Hips

The procession weaves through the streets and the surrounding hamlets, musicians playing folk instruments including the accordion and bagpipes as the Mazzaroni dance the ‘Spallata’.  This traditional dance which is thought to date back to the Renaissance is performed across the villages of this part of southern Abruzzo, but each village has its own slightly different version.  Schiavi d’Abruzzo’s interpretation is characterised by bumping hips and the beating/stamping of the foot on the ground by those in the dance circle and parallel rows.  Like all of Abruzzo’s itinerant music performances, dance and music are exchanged for food which is then shared by everyone.

When to Attend

 The event is a double celebration that takes place on the Saturday before ‘Carnival’ and Shrove Tuesday. Do have a look at the itinerary and visit!  Expect the air to be filled with laughter, traditional music, and the unmistakable scent of local delicacies, creating an atmosphere that transcends time and bridges generations.

Schiavi d’Abruzzo’s chapter in ‘Abruzzo in Festa’ by Roberto Monasterio

Buy the book

Photo Credits

A huge thank you to members of our Fb group,  Anna Anconitano who teaches Abruzzo’s traditional dances to locals and visitors to the region, and Roberto Monasterio, whose book Abruzzo in Festa shows off Abruzzo’s little-known ancient festivals so well.

Sam Dunham
Author: Sam Dunham

Sam is a very lucky midlife 'mamma' to A who is 12 and juggles her work as a self-employed freelance SEO food and travel copywriter and EFL teacher. She is the founder of the Life In Abruzzo Cultural Association, co-founder of Let's Blog Abruzzo. she is the founder of the 'English in the Woods' initiative, teaching English outdoors in a forest style school.

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