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Photo Sebastiano Barbagallo

Carnival is the celebration time that precedes the holy Lenten fast in Catholic traditional countries.
For a long time, the origin of the term “Carnival” was believed to be the italian “ Carne levare” ( “to remove meat”). Actually, the common view is that the Carnival represents a Christian adaptation of ancient purifier celebrations held by the pagans.

The historical reconstruction of the carnival, in a city as Acireale, is an hard matter. First news about hypothetical celebrations of carnival in Jaci land dates back to 1594, as you can notice on a payment mandate ordered by Giurati in favour of Cappuccini for the “Festi di Carnilivari” (Carnival celebrations) (payment mandates, vol II, 1586-1595, book 6 page 72v).

A document dated 1612 states even that during acese carnival they used to play throwing oranges and lemons. In addition, this document bans this tradition but, in spite of it, people of Acireale continued to play for several years, as we can see in other documents. This habit is still living in the city of Ivrea (Italy), in the so called “Battle of the Oranges”, held during the traditional Carnival.

In the Seventeenth century in Sicily, a singular mask appeared for the first time: the Abbatazzu, also called Pueta Minutizzu. The actor plays the role of aristocrats or ecclesiastics, keeping a big book on one hand, pretending to read and acting satirical and teasing jokes.

Thanks to the Priest Cherubino Alliotta’s book “The three crowns”, printed at the age of the earthquake in 1693, we know that the city of Aci made a vow with a notarial document to “not to wear costumes during the Carnovale, neither during the St. Peter, St. Paul and St. Sebastian celebrations”. This event marks the dividing line between the Carnival in 17th and 18th century.

In 18th century the tradition was taken up again. New masks were born: i Baruni (the Barons) came up beside the Abbatazzu to fool aristocracy. The mask was made of a costume similar ( in a derisive way) to the noble ones. The Manti mask was a costume covered by a lot of frills, in order to remain anonymous.

Photo Sebastiano Barbagallo

The Urban Police’s Rules say us that, in the middle of 19th century, “During Carnival, the ones who were caught throwing bran, flour or ash to other participants, were been punished” ( Quot. Prof. Antonio Patanè).

In 1876, during the governance of Cav. Giuseppe Grassi Russo, also called “Sun”, the popular dances started to be performed in Duomo Square with the Cremation of Carnival ceremony.

The entire aristocracy and the high bourgeoisie came down in the square to begin this still living habit. “Quadrille in the elegant Duomo Square parlour while the band played mazurka and valzer. In the last of the celebrations night, Carnival used to appear with his sons on the float decorated by flowers. Fat and bloated by food and wine, he was the king of the revelry. The hero used to smoke his cigar in the middle of the square, while dances were coming in succession. The pinwheels going around, the firecrackers were exploding and Carnival was dying with his family.” ( Quot. Doc Alfio Fichera “ Sicilian people”, February 9, 1993).

The 21st century is the one of cassariata, that is the carriages parade (landaus) of the nobles who used to throw multicolour confetti. Later, the Landaus were removed from the papier-mâché with their owners. First floats made of papier-mâché were fabricated in 1880 in Acireale.

From that day to this, Acireale has maintained this tradition thanks to several workshops founded by passionate artisans that are realizing floats more and more curated.

In 1928, the Chief of Police Dr. Vaccaro, classy official of Catania’s prefecture, was supporting the destiny of the city. He was doubt about removing the cost of Carnival celebrations from the scarce balance sheet, that was amounting to few thousands of Lire.
Vaccaro reunited some voluntaries, Dr. Fichera and Peppino Zappalà were among them, to spend the budget in the best way possible, laying the foundation for the first edition of the Carnevalone in 1929.

The edition of 1930 shows the first trace of kindness with the flowers covered cars, included the Cav. Caro Grassi’s one, President of Tourism Institution in Acireale. In 1929 we can see a more institutional organization: in fact, the “Azienda autonoma della Stazione di Cura” gets commission to organize the yearly Carnival edition in Acireale.

In February 1948, after the dramatic break cause of the war, the Carnival is organised again by the “Azienda di Cura”, the weakly magazine “Libera Parola” (Free Word) with an offer of 400.000 £ and with the collaboration of “Circolo Universitario”. Into the program figures out the “Palio”, a competition taking place at Cappuccini’s sports fields. The race saw thirteen donkeys ridden by young university students, the parade of the flowers float and the official dance on the municipal square.

Dr. Alfio Fichera says: “ These are sad and uncertain days, and the acesi celebrations are a bright light in the darkness where we’re living in, a rest, escaping from the captivity of our thoughts; a fast euphoria, as you can feel tasting a chalice of good wine with blonde and scented foam. Once in a year, once, when a smell of Spring crosses the skies dancing and warming up with a pale sun…Welcome back Carnival, the best Carnival in Sicily, as you’re known, welcome back!…” ( The awakening, Acireale 1944 – 1960).

In the postwar period, with the economic boom and recovery of ‘50 years, the flowers covered subject is introduced on the cars.

Foto Sebastiano Barbagallo

The participants designed and curated their subjects with great imagination and mastery. Iron, wood, metal nets and polystyrene later, were the basic materials of the structure decorated in the last phase with flowers.

The experience, imagination and the antagonism of the builders increased the quality and the complexity of the subjects, with the addition of a pulling structure. In the same period, seeing some casual moves of some arms of the structure due to the wind, the builders thought about the introduction of the mechanic motions of the entire subject. Nowadays we can see flowers covered floats with entirely mechanical structures that are as good as the old ones (pride of the best Carnival in Sicily) made of papier-mâché thanks to their technique, elaboration and beauty” (article of RealCarnevale – Logos – by Aurelio Grasso, Katia Trovato and Santo Bella – year 1995). In the ‘50/’60 years, some mini-floats join the allegorical and flowers covered floats. Called “lilliput”, they carry kids as their commanders. During these years, new masks like Cola Taddazza and Quadaredda made their own story marking the history of acese carnival thanks to their spirit and personality, worthily succeeded a few years later by Ciccitto.

From 1970 to 1995, “the best Carnival in Sicily” perfects itself and begins more and more important, increasing the quality of its allegorical floats (now more sophisticated and coloured) and flowers covered floats ( bigger and bigger), reaching the same importance than the old ones. In 1996 Acireale, for the first time, has got its own national lottery with cities of Viareggio and Putignano. This is the perfect situation to take “ the best Carnival in Sicily” to a national dimension.

*Thanks to Seby Pittera for his support.

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