Palio dei Natalecci; every year on the 24th December the night sky in certain parts of Garfagnana is lit up with large fires. These are the Natalecci. Huge circular towers, often 10 to 15 metres tall and sometimes even as high as 20 metres, made up of trees and covered with branches of juniper which are then set alight.
Villages try to outdo each other by building the tallest Nataleccio or the one that burns the longest.
The origins of this ceremony have long since been lost but probably dates back to a pagan rite to the god Mitra but which was then appropriated by the Christian faith and given meaning with the fires now warming up the newly born Jesus
Mithra, also spelled Mithras, Sanskrit Mitra, in ancient Indo-Iranian mythology, the god of light, whose cult spread from India in the east to as far west as Spain, Great Britain, and Germany. The first written mention of the Vedic Mitra dates to 1400 bc. His worship spread to Persia and, after the defeat of the Persians by Alexander the Great, throughout the Hellenic world. In the 3rd and 4th centuries ad, the cult of Mithra, carried and supported by the soldiers of the Roman Empire, was the chief rival to the newly developing religion of Christianity.
As the church bells ring out across the valley to announce the birth of The Messiah, the people around the Nataleccio start to sing “Oh! Oh! Nataleccio! Oh! Oh! Nataleccio!” and the fires are lit. The air is then rent with the sound of fireworks, sirens, shouts and the unmistakable sound of gunshots.
Click on some of the videos below to get some idea of just what it was like this evening on the mountainside above Gorfigliano as the flames noisily rushed up in to the sky from the kerosene soaked juniper towers.
From the archives of barganews back in 2002 – the “cultural centre” of Gorfigliano – Bar Casotti. Run by the effusive and well informed Daniele Casotti, the bar is where you have to go to for information, a loaf of bread, some pasta and of course a glass of his red wine.
Daniele’s bar is also the first port of call each year when the barganews team goes up to document the annual Natalecci event in Gorfigliano.
An added surprise as they found out of the blue that Daniele was also a writer and has published his first book with the L’Autore Libri Firenze publishers in Florence. The book can be bought on line here
Il segno del serpente by Daniele Casotti
“La nostra continuazione dipende dalla capacità di pensare senza l’utilizzo dei pensieri. La nostra esistenza non si consolida verso l’alto, l’apprendimento non ci rende migliori. L’esperienza sviluppa il senso dell’estetica, che raggruppata in un essere umano diviene saggezza, poi con il tempo muore. Ho sempre rimandato e per tanti anni mi sono detto che in fondo c’è sempre di meglio e qualcuno può fare di più. Mi sbagliavo…”.
Palio dei Natalecci 2006
Palio dei Natalecci 2007
Palio dei Natalecci 2008
Palio dei Natalecci 2010
painter and photographer - started barganews.com, the first on line news site in Tuscany, Italy back in 1996