Ciociaria Music and Culture in the Wild Heart of Italy
This is a timeless region seeped in history, spanning the Medieval, Roman, Etruscan, Megalithic and Neolithic eras. Just a one hour drive from Rome, and halfway between Rome and Naples, the Ciociaria region within the greater Lazio region of Central Italy boasts its own culture, customs, cuisine and dialect.
It’s a region that is rediscovering its own ethnic roots, with many of the mountaintop villages celebrating individual festivals that date back to Medieval and Roman times (and some have been traced back to the Etruscans and possibly even further), as well as many grassroots ethnic music festivals and events.
[Source and images: Ciociaria Turismo]
The traditional Ciociarian costume comprises breeches with criss-crossed leather leggings, woollen cloak and peaked cap for men, and red skirt with white blouse, black apron and white headkerchief for the women.
During the various village festivals and events throughout the year, people wear traditional costumes with the typical footwear of the region, the ‘cioce’, which lent the Ciociaria name to this region and its inhabitants in the 18th century. The handmade cioce sandals were the traditional footwear of the hepherds of the Lepini and Ausoni Mountains and the Valley of Comino and were made from donkey or horse leather, and have been traced back to the megalithic Ernici tribe of the region.
Apparently the thick woollen socks that are worn with them were excellent for guarding against the cold of the mountains while herding sheep through the mountains and from snake bites.
To defend themselves against brambles and rain, the shepherds of Ciociaria also wore ‘guardamacchia’, a long goat skin placed over the pants and tied to his belt and leg calves. Interestingly, similar footwear is still worn by some rural populations in Albania, Greece, Romania and Russia.
PHOTO CREDITS: Radici Popolari and Franco Caracci
The folk music of the region is an experience for all the senses, with Mediterranean, Gypsy, Celtic and Arabic influences reflecting the myriad waves of migration the region has experienced since Megalithic times. Have a listen here >>.
There’s currently a blossoming revival of the centuries-old ethnic music of the region, with many of the younger generation picking up traditional instruments such as the pizzica accordian; the shawm, a medieval woodwind instrument; and most groups will also include Zampognari (pipers) of the Roman bagpipes, and tambourines and drums.
Local groups such as Radici Popolari are bringing traditional music into the arms of an enthusiastic 21st century audience through regular gigs at local towns and villages and by staging the annual BroccoEtnoFest (ethnic music festival) in June on top of a mountain in the piazza of the medieval village of Broccostella.
This town has a strong link to music and song, with one of its more famous sons – the tenor, Evan Gorga (1865-1957) – starring as Rodolfo in the premiere of Puccini’s Bohème, directed by Arturo Toscanini and famed for his large collection of ancient musical instruments.
There’s also still a very strong link to keeping the traditional folk songs of the region alive, which can be quite rowdy and bawdy at times.
There’s a type of duelling duet sung by two men facing each other in the street, which consists of increasingly picturesque insults about their mothers and wives and the state of their faces and clothes being flung at one another. This usually inspires a crowd to gather to join in the good-natured fun, and there’s lashings of wine involved. So something not to be missed really!
A fabulous traditional folk dance called the ‘tarantella’ is accompanied by a particular type of music that makes you just want to get up and dance, and dance and dance. It’s linked to a legend of a girl in medieval times being bitten by a tarantula and having to dance out the poison all night before she collapsed from exhaustion, but cured.
It’s very wild ethnic music with a real gypsy and arabic influence, hypnotic and intoxicating. If you get a chance to see some performers, JUMP AT IT!
You’ll be fascinated to see not only professional tarantella dancers on stage, but the entire crowd will be dancing in the particular tarantella style. Words can’t really describe the mood of tarantella festivals, you’ll have to experience it for yourself.
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