Carnival is an opportunity to sing, dance, eat and make everything more colorful: how could the happy Neapolitan people not like this celebration? Even though the traditions are very old, they are still very felt.
In this article, you will find out everything about Carnival in Napoli and the evolution of its traditions.
The origins of Neapolitan Carnival are very old, and as every Italian Carnival it dates back to the pagan rites. In spite of this, with all the dynasties ruling the throne of Napoli, the carnival in this city acquired its own shape.
Carnival in Napoli during the Aragon dynasty
During the reign of Aragon, Carnival was a celebration limited to aristocratic families. The royal family used to throw parties during which people danced, sang and ate, but they also hunted. Of course, only aristocrats could take part in those events, leaving normal people out of them.
Carnival in Napoli during the viceroy period
During the viceroy period in Napoli, Carnival celebrations started gaining popularity also among normal people. Originally, they were organized by art corporations, which were financed by aristocrats. That’s how Neapolitan people started to animate the streets while singing, dancing and dressing up. Then, the carri della cuccagna (floating parades) started to appear: not only were they decorated, but they also carried food for the people. Noblemen had fun watching the hungry population fighting for food.
Carnival during the Bourbon period
As the fight for the food started to be too violent, the carri della cuccagna started to be regulated by legislation, until Charles of Bourbon established that they had to be organized in a place with guards. With the passing of time, the carri became bigger and bigger as they could carry more food.
In 1764, there was a tragic event. The city had previously gone through a famine, and when they saw the carri they started to assault them in order to get more and more food. The king was forced to interfere and that celebration ended with a lot of victims. Since then, carri della cuccagna has been banished.
Even though cuccagna was banned, Carnival in Napoli still went on with the other traditions, such as the tofa. It was an instrument made with shells, whose sound was a signal for the people to go on the streets to sing and dance.
Carnival in Napoli in 1900
The Neapolitan Carnival evolved with the passing of time. In 1900, many floating parades were realized, which represented important figures and jobs. Furthermore, the tradition of fantoccio del Carnevale was very spread. A puppet made of sausages and meat representing Carnival was brought to the streets and followed by hired mourners, who were crying for its death.
Carnival in Napoli nowadays
Nowadays, Carnival in Napoli is more quiet, even though there are still some traditions that must be respected.
“A Carnevale ogni scherzo vale” (at Carnival anything goes) says a famous proverb. This is the reason why, at Carnival, people make numerous jokes. Be careful of the little scugnizzi, whose creativity in jokes is unrivaled.
Every year, children dress up and walk among the city streets. You can often meet some children imitating famous scenes that have been representative of the past year so that you can laugh while passing by.
There is a dish that can’t be missed on Neapolitan tables at Carnival: lasagna. As the origin of this food is shared by Campania and Emilia-Romagna, in Napoli it became popular thanks to King Ferdinand II: people gave him the nickname of “King Lasagna” because he loved it very much. This dish is evergreen, and it is often accompanied by eggs, meatballs and ricotta.
Neapolitan patisserie will not disappoint you at Carnival. There are many desserts, which are loved by adults and young people. The most famous one is surely Chiacchiere, which are eaten all over Italy. Sanguinaccio is a typical Neapolitan dessert instead, which consists of a cream made with dark chocolate and, in the past, with pork blood (now banished).
Pulcinella is the spirit of Neapolitan Carnival and it’s one of the oldest masks, as it dates back to 1600. His name means “small chick”, referring to his voice and his hooked nose. Pulcinella is lazy, clumsy and opportunist, but he is also shrewd and talkative, especially when there is food on the line. He is dressed with a white shirt and white trousers, with a black mask on his face. The connection between Pulcinella and Napoli is very strong, as it is also trackable in famous expressions such as “il segreto di Pulcinella” (Pulcinella’s secret): it refers to something that is classified as a secret but it’s not properly one since everyone knows about it. This is so typical of Pulcinella, who is a gossiper and can’t keep his mouth shut.